Mastodon - _Crack the Skye_
(Warner Music, 2009)
by: Daniel Cairns (9.5 out of 10)
The word "prog" conjures up many images in the mind's eye. Long, complicated guitar solos, cat suits, keyboards, capes and lots and lots of hallucinogenic drugs. It is a form of music impervious to the ravages of time or image. And thank christ for that. Could you imagine an age where music consists mainly of all the cool kids leaping about, swinging guitars around their midriffs like utter wankers, playing the same three chords? Oh.

Yes, times are indeed grim for music. People, we live in an age where the kids of today will reminisce about Nickelback's "Rockstar" from the comforts of their hoverchairs. Do you want to live in a society that looks upon Chad Kroeger-- the harbinger of musical AIDS -- fondly?

Of course you don't, which is why something should be done. We need to snap our fellow humans out of their idiot music malaise. We need to show them that there is more to music than three chords, a nice chorus and an expensive haircut.

In other words, we should introduce them to _Crack the Skye_.

First, a word of warning. If you're hankering for the same band that pummelled and annihilated with _Remission_, then I'm afraid you're properly out of luck. Mastodon are an entirely different beast nowadays. Where once they bulldozed and crushed, they now soar like a nebulous mist through the ether. Or something.

Mastodon you see, have finally succumbed to the prog demon that's been threatening to fully possess them since 2004's classic _Leviathan_. Nowhere is this more apparent than the album's concept. I won't spoil it, but I will say it involves wormholes, the ether, the journey of the soul and Rasputin. Pitchfork are probably circle jerking with glee.

And by God, let's not beat around the hairy bush; it's incredible. After the relative disappointment of _Blood Mountain_ (a competent album that felt lacking), _Crack the Skye_ sees the band hit strident form once again. Seven songs, fifty minutes, and not a duff moment. Whilst _Blood Mountain_ had standout tracks dovetailed to some pretty shonky ones, _Crack the Skye_ is a triumph from start to finish. Songs segue into each other effortlessly, leaving the whole thing feeling like a giant, mad opus about crazy cultist Russian monks.

"Oblivion" kicks off proceedings. Starting with a melancholic opening hook, it's a world away from the raging openers that appeared on the band's previous records. And then bassist / vocalist Troy Sanders starts singing. Yes, singing. Mastodon have fully eschewed the bellowing of old and adopted vocal harmonies that are somewhat reminiscent of Alice in Chain's Layne Staley, albeit a Layne Staley interested in mythical beasts and the ether, rather than smack. After its relatively quiet start, it builds into a more up tempo melodic piece that constantly shifts tempo and key, courtesy of drumming overlord Brann Dailor (who named the album after his deceased sister), whilst still maintaining the same mournful air. Bear in mind that this is the same band that opened a record with a dinosaur roaring.

"Divinations" is next, and it's the album's pop song. It basically sounds like a song from _Leviathan_, with more banjos and less Neil Fallon. It's good, but things really kick off with "Quintessence". Quite simply, it could be the best thing they've ever recorded. Mastodon have always flirted with progressive rock elements before, but on "Quintessence" they grab the genre by the tits and bonk it 'til its teeth fall out. If they don't wear capes whilst playing this song live, I'll be pissed. Some of it sounds like Rick Wakeman, with its ascending atmospheric keyboards and arpeggios. It'd be ridiculous if it wasn't so good.

Next up is "The Czar". Running at a hefty ten minutes (still only the second longest song on the album), it starts off gently before turning into a funk inspired rock-out that recalls Seventies prog-rockers Yes. That's a good thing, believe me. Then there's a bit that sounds like a heavier version of Alice Cooper's "Poison" and then... well, just listen to it yourself.

In fact, I'm not even going to bother describing the next tracks. This really is an album that needs to be heard to properly appreciate. To paraphrase Elvis Costello, writing about the album is like dancing about architecture. I couldn't say anything that'll come close to describing just how good this is.

What I will say though is this: Mastodon are so far ahead of the game now, that to call them a mere metal band is a disservice. They've looked to the past for inspiration, and made an album that guarantees their bright future.


(article published 15/4/2009)

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