Not too long ago, I downloaded Mastodon’s albums Remission and Leviathan from emusic based on a general recommendation. With song titles like Mother Puncher, March of the Fire Ants and Blood and Thunder how could I not like this band? I was pretty certain I was going to be strong armed into liking them because nothing but badassery comes out of the speakers and gives you no choice but to love this band. For fuck’s sake, guitarist/singer Brent Hinds has a face tattoo that make it look like a shark is eating his head. Not something I’d ever do, but badass nevertheless.
I was eagerly awaiting Crack the Skye’s release and when Tuesday came, I went to iTunes and downloaded the album like a fine, upstanding citizen. I had actually spent the majority of the day reading the reviews and how some fans didn’t like it because of the clean vocals. Other said it was simply a step forward without compromising any of the values that make them what they are. Like I always say (you’ll have to trust me, but I always say this), when an album creates a stir like this it’s at least worth listening to. Either you’ll hate it or you’ll love it.
What I can tell you is that Mastodon’s Crack the Skye is a bona fide masterpiece. It’s a seven song album but there’s a lot more packed into those seven songs than I have any right to expect. This is an album that will reward each and every listen. There’s layer upon layer of fast and furious songwriting, lyrics about Rasputin and paraplegics traveling through time, and plenty of different vocal styles.
The first time I listened through it, I wasn’t really able to digest what I had just heard. I have to admit I was completely biased going in. It was one of those albums that I had sky-high expectations for and yet knew I was going to love it before I even knew what I was listening to. After a once through I found myself thinking about the album more and more and couldn’t get Oblivion out of my head. The chorus is mesmerizing and sounds like something out of the grunge era, and to these ears that could not be farther from a bad thing.
Crack the Skye is a concept album that only the minds behind this band could have come up with. Here’s a description from the band’s amazing drummer Brann Dailor:
There is a paraplegic and the only way that he can go anywhere is if he astral travels. He goes out of his body, into outer space and a bit like Icarus, he goes too close to the sun, burning off the golden umbilical cord that is attached to his solar plexus. So he is in outer space and he is lost, he gets sucked into a wormhole, he ends up in the spirit realm and he talks to spirits telling them that he is not really dead. So they send him to the Russian cult, they use him in a divination and they find out his problem. They decide they are going to help him. They put his soul inside Rasputin’s body. Rasputin goes to usurp the czar and he is murdered. The two souls fly out of Rasputin’s body through the crack in the sky(e) and Rasputin is the wise man that is trying to lead the child home to his body because his parents have discovered him by now and think that he is dead. Rasputin needs to get him back into his body before it’s too late. But they end up running into the Devil along the way and the Devil tries to steal their souls and bring them down…there are some obstacles along the way
Whoa. Let me just sell it to you this way: there is a four part movement called The Czar that is about Rasputin running for his life. The title track has Neurosis singer Scott Kelly guesting on vocals and though I haven’t gotten into them yet, I definitely plan on it. Any band that has a burger named after them at Kuma’s Corner is a-ok in my book.
The album has one last wonderful surprise. The final song, called The Last Baron, is a thirteen minute roller coaster ride that leans heavily toward prog. Essentially they had a bunch of sweet riffs that they didn’t want to let go to waste and so they culled them all together and made this song that has too many Oh Shit! moments to count. Check out the riff at 8:19 as proof of just one of those moments.
Mastodon is playing the Metro in Chicago on April 30th. They’ll be playing Crack the Skye in its entirety. Tickets are only 20 dollars.