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Ethan Rodriguez
Ethan Rodriguez

Mastodon Crack __FULL__ The Sky Album

Mastodon has five albums to its highly respectable name and they are all excellent. If I had to choose a favorite, however, it would have to be Crack the Skye. The music in it is unique, consisting of classic rock elements as well as doom metal and stoner rock jams. Mastodon is an extraordinarily gifted band and hopefully they will have many more musical masterpieces to offer in the future throughout their career.

Mastodon Crack The Sky Album

Although MASTODON's new album, "Crack The Skye", is a conceptual piece in the same vein as the band's previous releases, it is not about air but "ether." "The whole story has little to do with what the album emotionally is really about," clarifies Dailor. "But everything in the lyrics and the story is metaphors. We wanted to stick with elements and we wanted to do the 'ether' record. Ether is what the soul is made out of and it took a few months to connect all the dots."

First off, a warning: the best way to encounter Mastodon's Crack the Skye for the first time is with headphones. Reported to be a mystical -- if crunchy -- concept record about Tsarist Russia, this is actually the most involved set of tracks, both in terms of music and production, the band has ever recorded. "Ambitious" is a word that regularly greets Mastodon -- after all, they did an entire album based on Moby Dick -- but until now, that adjective may have been an understatement. There is so much going on in these seven tracks that it's difficult to get it all in a listen or two (one of the reasons that close encounters of the headphone kind are recommended). It may seem strange that the band worked with Bruce Springsteen producer Brendan O'Brien this time out, but it turns out to be a boon for both parties: for the band because O'Brien is obsessive about sounds, textures, and finding spaces in just the right places; for O'Brien because in his work with the Boss he's all but forgotten what the sounds of big roaring electric guitars and overdriven thudding drums can sound like. The guitar arrangements on tracks like "Divinations" and "The Czar," while wildly different from one another, are the most intricate, melodically complex things the band has ever recorded. There are also more subtle moments such as the menacing, brooding, and ultimately downer cuts such as "The Last Baron," where tempos are slowed and keyboards enter the fray and stretch the time, adding a much more multidimensional sense of atmosphere and texture. Still, Crack the Skye rocks, and hard! Its shifting tempos and key structures are far more meaty and forceful than most prog metal, and menace and cosmological speculation exist in equal measure, providing for a spot-on sense of balance. Some of the hardcore death metal conservatives may have trouble with this set, but the album wasn't recorded for them -- or anybody else. Crack the Skye is the sound of a band stretching itself to its limits and exploring the depth of its collective musical identity as a series of possibilities rather than as signatures. And yes, that is a good thing.

The first track on Mastodon's fourth studio album begins with an ominous sound indeed. The tri-chord has formed the basis of classic metal since time began (well, the late 60s anyway) and the opening of 'Oblivion' links us back to the canon via Slayer's 'Dead Skin Mask'. It feels like it is making the bold claim: you're going to be listening to this album in ten or twenty years time. Perhaps it is true that great art is born out of periods of intense upheaval and uncertainty - two things that Mastodon have had in spades since the release of their last album, Blood Mountain on Warners. After appearing at MTV's Video Awards Show in 2007, frontman Brent Hinds (guitars/vocals) ended up in hospital after a brawl that reportedly involved Shavo from System of a Down and the musician William Hudson. Whatever the story (the band have refused to talk about the incident), after a life-threatening brain heomorrhage Hinds was lucky to recover sufficiently to be able to record this album. Add to this the fact that the band have been operating recently as a three piece after the other guitarist Bill Kelliher had to go back to Atlanta with that most musicianly of disorders, 'exhaustion', and you get a picture of a real rock & roll band - for better and for worse. Anyway, some of this dynamism seems to have crept onto this disc, as if by unstoppable osmosis. However, on the evidence of the first track, their experiences have made them more considered rather than angry or wild. There is an exciting and vital solo by Brent, which seems to say, 'Fuck you, I'm better, this thing didn't touch me.' But as a whole, this is certainly more restrained than anything off Blood Mountain. Surprisingly enough, the band whose name came up when I initially heard this record was Soundgarden.

There is a staccato introduction on what sounds like a ukulele and the kind of proggy, folk metal with Eastern tinges that System of a Down specialize in. As we all know, Mastodon is all about Brann Dailor's drumming - as great as the other members are - and if his stick work took a back seat on 'Oblivion' it's right out at the forefront here, where it should be. He is in fact in Buddy Rich vs Animal of the Muppets with a side helping of Dave Lombardo and spirit of John 'Stumpy' Pepys. And if you don't know who he is then you shouldn't even be reading this. The shredding on this track is a lot more far out. It's as if they've done a classic underground album (Remission), they've done a classic death metal album (Leviathan); they've done a classic, let's-throw-everything-into-the-mix album (Blood Mountain) and now they're going for a classic popular metal album. And if on 'Oblivion' they sounded slightly like sulky teenagers who actually would sooner be doing anything else, by 'Divinations' it sounds like they've warmed to the task entirely.

i) UsurperApparently this song was inspired by little black lacquer boxes that the band bought while on tour in Russia. The theme extends out of the lyrics and into the sonics given that it has a sombre, totalitarian feel and a hint of Eastern European folk to it. This is not a million miles away from being a reach-clench-press-fist-to-chest power ballad and as Brent tells the listener to "runaway, don't stay" while warning of "assassination", you can't help but wondering if this was one of the first songs written in the sessions for the album when it was rumoured that it was going to be about the mad monk, Rasputin - who was certainly a usurper in the Tsar's court.

iii) MartyrOMG!!! The intro to this song, with loads of multi-tracked close part harmonies through loads of effects is really reminiscent of 10cc's 'I'm Not In Love'! This is a very classic rock friendly section and it's not just the vocal harmonies but the windswept, 'November Rain' style solo as well. There are a lot of prog references on this album and I'm not talking 'trendy, it's alright to own up to listening to this prog' but Yes, Rush and King Crimson style prog. But this song . . . well, it's only a gnat's chuff away from being like Marillion and that won't do. I can't work out how I feel about 'The Czar' and I'd be surprised if another 28 listens made the situation any clearer.

iv) SpiralGentle, icicle shattering percussiveness gives way to power metal riffola. To call this section pseudo-classical is to do it a disservice. It has all the sense of occasion of Ravel; all the depressive grandeur and bombast of Mahler. The section works fine on its own but I'm starting to wonder - is too much of this album progressive, neo-classical metal? Where are the tracks for those who want to raise the horns and rock until their balls drop off?

This may start off as a chiming low bpm number but its full 13 minutes lead us through an ever changing landscape of post metal texture. If the start of the album showed a band who were slightly unsure of their task to deliver a complex, prog-metal album to a mainstream audience, they certainly end with fire in their bellies. As a dyed in the wool fan of the band I've got to say that my gut feeling is that I'd sooner see them dealing in more post hardcore death metal, meting out anvil heavy breakdowns like, for example, 'Blood and Thunder' or 'Battle At Sea' or 'Slickleg'. This said, I'm also aware that you can't be the sort of person who just wants bands to continuously repeat themselves, to be the person still wanting Reign In Blood, 24 years after the fact. As it is we have one of only two bands (the other being SOAD) delivering relatively complex and heavy music on a mainstream stage and seen in that context their new album is, by and large, a success.

While Ghost of Karelia and The Last Baron are truly prog, the rest of the album, while infused with some very good guitar playing, slogs through in simple 4/4 time, with somewhat mundane composition. And what's with this tendency for metal bands to use vocals that sound like someine throwing up into their mouth? It appears to me to be an easy way to not have to compose a melody. Thankfully, Mastodon has kept this singing confined to just a few annoying moments. I'll be relieved when prog-metal bands grow out of this style. social review comments Review PermalinkPosted Sunday, March 29, 2009 Review this album Report (Review #209216)

I don't want to say the album is bad. It's good, especially if you listen to it song by song, all ofthe songs are sooner positive than negative, but as an album it's sooner negative than positive.Good everyday album for metal fans, but it lacks of something really special and astonishing. Myrating goes for something between 3 and 3.5 stars, more likely about 3.1 - 3.2 stars! social review comments Review PermalinkPosted Monday, March 30, 2009 Review this album Report (Review #209289)

My introduction to Mastodon was a 3 hour ride in the tattoo chair under the hands of a fanboy who claimed he'd inked up a few of the boys in the same booth. He had numerous posters of their not so beautiful mugs for me to consider while he drug needles through my skin and we shot the breeze about music. I'm not exactly sure what impression that left but I subsequently tried to get into them a couple of times. Each individual song I sampled was fine enough, but never totally grabbed me. Then the explosion of praise for the new album erupted this spring so I thought I'd just dive in. Crack the Skye is hard to categorize - it's not tech, it's not really extreme, it's not really all that prog, but lawdy lawdy is it good. It contains great riffage to crank in the car, music that makes you want to air guitar or go home and learn the tab. For those not into guitar, there's plenty to just yodel along with the now remarkably melodic music. The refrain "I'm lost in oblivion" in the very first song is as great as heavy hooks come, and actually the pre-chorus of that song is as good as some band's best refrains. The music sounds more like sludge metal than any other specific genre, but there are certainly some prog elements. There's an infamous section in the middle of "The Last Baron" that is prog-improv craziness that sounds more like the beginning of the song "Close to the Edge" than anything traditionally metal. Two extended epics are both excellent. Several band members' multi-timbred vocals are the best of the band's career, spanning barks and growls to tasty harmonies to Ozzy-like whine. The guitars sound great, raw toned but precisely played. The band definitely has its own distinctive sound and just oozes rock-n-roll. Attitude, love of loud, attention to good riffs, mixing of aggression and love of fantasy topics, it's everything that attracted me to metal when I was the teenage male target audience 20 odd years ago. Listening to this album makes me think of the great concerts of my youth.This is also the work of a clearly mature band. They've spent the time to get the compositions right, make the instruments sound great, nail the vocal takes. While the production is very modern, Crack the Skye doesn't sound micro-corrected to death at all. It maintains a live intensity and fire, a vibrant looseness that the best studio albums capture. Four of the seven tracks are truly great songs, and the remaining three are good. Not quite a masterpiece, but an excellent piece of work, one of the better offerings of the year. social review comments Review PermalinkPosted Monday, May 4, 2009 Review this album Report (Review #213851)


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