on March 26, 2009
Without getting into the debate as to whether Crack the Skye is Mastodon's best album to date, one would be wise to just point out its differences, both strengths and shortcomings, and leave it to the fans to do the ranking.
On first listen, Crack the Skye will immediately stand out for its easily noticeable absence of screamed vocals. Troy Sanders uses his clean voice on almost all the tunes, with very few exceptions. Without doubt, it will take some time to get used to his style, but repeat listens only serve to solidify one's opinion that the songs on this disc have been composed in such a style to sound much better with this approach. Pain-ridden vocals pop up only to provide contrast to the more melodious direction taken in spots. The chorus on "Ghost of Karelia", for instance, proves all the more powerful as the vocals shift from the mostly clean style to somewhat aggressive outbursts.
The guitar tandem of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher lend the songs a solid, unbreakable facade, which elevates them to a whole new level. From the apocalyptic opening chords of "Oblivion", chock full of despondent riffs and rock-based guitar solos; to the calculated riffery of "Divinations", they implant dynamics to the compositions through and through. Rather than entirely focusing on heavy, punishing jackhammer riffery, this time around they also utilise progressive metal-like jam sessions and blues-inflected passages. As a result, the constant shifting of dynamics on "Quintessence" renders the tune more creative and interesting.
The ten-minute epic "The Czar" is built upon flawless songwriting and mood construction. Broken down into four parts, it launches into an unadulterated groove from the mellow "Usurper" to "Escape", though the vocal melody on this one is not among Mastodon's best. With "Martyr," things retreat back to clean acoustic lines before picking up the trademark Mastodon riffs and seguing into a wonderful blues-inflected solo.
Scott Kelly from the amazing Neurosis continues the tradition to guest on Mastodon discs (he also sang on Leviathan and Blood Mountain) and appears on the title track, among the album's most progressive pieces as it strangely recalls 90's King Crimson in the way the guitars have been arranged. The guitar solo on this track is among the best ever!
As stated above, how Crack the Skye will rank in Mastodon's catalog remains to be seen. However, from a production standpoint, it is by far the band's best-sounding album. It was produced by the great Brendan O'Brien whose resume includes all kinds of different artists, from Pearl Jam to Stone Temple Pilots to Bruce Springsteen to AC/DC to Aerosmith to name but a few. O'Brien has managed to create a dense album with many layers, thick guitar tapestries, and heavy, solid drum and bass battery. He was also unafraid to render sound effects on Sanders' voice with great results.
The album title is a homage to drummer Brann Dailor's sister Skye Dailor who committed suicide at the age of 14, so this is obviously among the more personal musical statements of the band.
on March 29, 2009
I, like many, wasn't sure what to expect from "Crack the Skye." Early reports described it as "spacey" and "creepy," with a classic rock feel, and the introduction of mainstream producer Brendan O'Brien raised further questions about the sound. Having heard the album, I can say that the change is fundamental: "Crack the Skye" is a metallic prog album, whereas Mastodon had previously been a metal band first and foremost, though one with progressive and technical tendencies. Fortunately, the album is not entirely lacking in the old Mastodon feel, with guitarwork and drumming that should be easily recognizable for any serious fan. The basic songwriting, however, is radically different. Whereas earlier works were primarily horizontal, emphasizing the progression through various sections, "Crack the Skye" is much more spacious and vertical, with densely layered arrangements of guitars (sludgy power chords, acoustic arpeggios, frantic leads often all at once) atop synths and unconventional percussion to aid the conventional rhythm section. Perhaps most significantly, the vox, originally barked and howled, are now almost entirely ethereal, gliding melodies at the center of the instrumental maelstrom. The feel is finally different: while "Blood Mountain" and "Remission" charged over the listener, "Crack the Skye" engulfs him. Because of this, nothing on "Crack the Skye" has the sheer visceral power of "Workhorse," "Blood and Thunder" or "Capillarian Crest," and those, like myself, who are primarily metal fans may not find the change totally ideal. Personally, though I can't permanently rank it after only 15 or so listens, I seriously doubt I will ever like "Crack the Skye" as much as I do their previous three albums. This, however, speaks more to the excellence of those albums than to any weakness on this album's part. On one level, this makes "Crack the Skye" even more impressive: while Mastodon have deemphasized much of what drew me to them initially, they've still crafted a terrific album that is sure to be amongst the year's best, and which further secures their position as the metal band of the 00s.
All that said, I was not overly impressed on my initial listen. This isn't surprising, as any dense album requires many listens to appreciate, but the relative weakness of the opening tracks is also a cause. "Oblivion" and "Divinations" are the most straight forward songs found here, making them both accessible and not particular striking. They're solid, enjoyable songs, but, in spite of the elaborate production, amount to little more than an extended intro, a few riffs and vocal lines followed by a lead break. It's always wise to include a relatively straightforward track or two on a dense album like this, but they aren't as either ferocious or catchy as they ought to be. Here the more layered, less bruising production holds the album back, but the only other option would be to make these songs sound radically different from the others, an unwise stylistic choice.
Fortunately, from "Quintessence" on the album is terrific. Here the dynamic range is opened dramatically, with quick alterations between spidery licks, ghostly acoustics, and knotty, pounding riffage. Even better is "Ghost of Karelia," which ratchets up the eerie eastern feel and adds rapid-fire time changes, while the title track creates a droning space-sludge atmosphere where the simple vocal melodies and piercing leads occasionally rise above the mass of sound. None of these three songs was especially striking initially, partially because they are so organically structured, but after a few listens the plain melodies insinuated themselves, and the dense arrangements are more fully revealed. These are great songs, and I've no doubt I'll come to like them more.
Interestingly enough, the epics are actually the most immediately memorable songs. They are quite distinct: "The Czar" is probably my favorite track, with repetitive, instantly memorable vocal melodies paired with a driving, groovy middle break. Conversely, "The Last Baron" is the most conventionally Mastodon-style track despite the extreme length, with a brutally intense tech-metal middle break that reminds greatly of "Blood Mountain" and is highlighted by Dailor's frenetic, fill-heavy drumming. (Which, somewhat sadly, is generally deemphasized here.) These tracks draw attention to themselves in a way that the others do not, but not so much that they seem out of place. They are meant to be the centerpieces of the album, and fulfill this role beautifully.
As good as the individual tracks are, "Crack the Skye" is better than the sum of its parts, largely because it is a concept album, which naturally seem more grandiose than conventional works when executed properly. The plot, a rather peculiar tale of astral projection, occult rituals and WWI-era Russia, doesn't interest me much (though at least it isn't so stupid as to detract from the album [Operation: Mindcrime, anyone?]), but it does manage a level of unity rare in the genre, and lacks the fat and senseless pyrotechnics that mar many prog metal albums. "Crack the Skye" is a concept album, but it never feels as though it has artificially been transformed into one, if you catch my meaning.
I will be curious to see where Mastodon go from here. They've already achieved a level of popularity far higher than I would've thought possible when I first heard "Remission," and considering the surprising resurgence in prog, Mastodon may continue to rise. Again, part of me would prefer that they head back into more metallic arenas, but "Crack the Skye" is so good a first attempt that it's conceivable that they could surpass those earlier works later in this new style. Whatever they do, I will look forward to it eagerly.
Check it out.
on March 24, 2009
Mastodon is a rare band in the metal community; one that both enjoys and is cursed by a sort-of ongoing "sophomore album" syndrome. Every release is so punishing in it's technical proficiency and expertly crafted songwriting methods that the inevitable question is asked on the dawn of each new release: "Can they top that?" Ye of little faith prepare to be destroyed. However much Leviathan reinvented metal for you or Blood Mountain took your preconceptions of extreme music and spun them upside-down into a product which seamlessly blended infectious hooks and world-class musicianship, Crack The Skye has Mastodon outdoing themselves once again.
The sound quality has become significantly better than past Mastodon releases with A-list producer Brendan O'Brien behind the mixing board, utilizing cutting edge sound manipulation while maintaining the gritty, raw sound which captures the massive wingspan of the ferocious musical beast that is Mastodon. The instrumentation follows in suit and will be no surprise to longtime fans. Hinds and Kelliher's guitars weave fluidly together like a pair of crushing pythons locked in a twisted yet beautiful discordant harmony, backed by Troy Sanders' dependably thundering basslines and Brann Dailor's jazzy and seemingly 8-armed drum style.
As for the album itself, it's structure lays waste to the modern music critic theory of the concept album being dead. With lyrics weaving together a violent plot of Czarist Russia and out-of-body terrestrial experiences which simultaneously convey deep meaning and utter ambiguity, the room for interpretation is limitless. In a world where music is cheaply stolen off the Internet with few consequences, this most cohesive of "was that just 1 song or 10?" recordings demands your hard-earned money and a spin on a good stereo. And no, your iPod doesn't count. When buying, expect exactly what you got last time you bought a Mastodon album: positively shattered expectations and the deja vous-like conviction that they'll never be able to top themselves this time. Of course, you were wrong then and will doubtlessly be again as long as the Mastodon breathes.
Mastodon's last album (Blood Mountain) displayed their nastiest chops ever, but got a bit showoff-ish and self-indulgent. But now Mastodon is dead serious, and Crack the Skye is no laughing matter, lyrically or musically. A convoluted lyrical concept about space travel and czarist Russia is actually a cover for Mastodon's most haunting thoughts ever, inspired by the childhood death of Brann Dailor's sister and the recent severe head injury suffered by Brent Hinds. The band's music is becoming less flashy and more dramatic, played with an epic grandeur that easily becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. The four players have surrendered to the sound, with less hot-dogging and more teamwork. Even the monstrously hyper Dailor on drums has slowed things down a bit, reminding the listener less of a speed demon and more of a coiled snake. The vocals are more in tune with the mood of the music, and this album's lyrics are surprisingly deep and introspective. Mastodon have surely become big-thinking and forward-looking pure musicians.
All of the above has given Mastodon the biggest and most compelling sound in modern metal, and this album is sonically imposing and unforgiving from the first note. They even make a banjo sound ominous at the beginning of "Divinations." Epic grooves and jarring time shifts add to the success of the rifftastic "Quintessence" and the especially disturbing "Ghost of Karelia." And after dozens of listens I'm still trying to comprehend the two 10+ minute epics "The Czar" and "The Last Baron" and I know that these tracks will unveil new musical surprises for months and even years to come. And that's what makes this not just Mastodon's best album yet but also one of the best metal albums in recent memory. It will surely reward repeated listens. Mastodon's huge sounds and huge thoughts have come together in terrifying ways. [~doomsdayer520~]
on March 10, 2010
Dating all the way back to 2001's "Lifesblood" EP, and on through subsequent full-length releases -- 2002's steamrolling "Remission," 2004's beastly "Leviathan," and Ought-Six's commercial breakthrough "Blood Mountain" -- Mastodon have proven to be one of the most consistent metal bands around. They are simply not capable of making bad (or even mediocre) music, and it has gotten to the point where a great album by them is matter-of-factly. Furthermore, one might even venture to say that this Georgia-based quartet are among the top five reasons why it's good to be alive in recent years. Unfortunately, with such high achievements come equally-as-high expectations. Fans everywhere have to wonder one thing: On 2009's "Crack the Skye," can they match -- or possibly even surpass -- the excellence they captured on previous releases (especially on "Blood Mountain," which was not only a major-label debut, but also received high praised from fans and critics alike)?
Absolutely! "Blood Mountain" and "Crack the Skye" are similar releases in that they both leave a big smile on the face of whoever hears it. That said, let it be known that the latter of the two has many unique attributes that make it the group's most ambitious and progressive work to date! Yes, its production job may sound extra-polished, but the real ground broken here comes courtesy of brilliant songwriting. First of all, only seven tracks are presented this time around, and only one of them (#2) is less-than five-minutes in length, and two of them (numbers four and seven) reach well-past the ten-minute mark. Next, virtually all unnecessary changes in direction and tempo have now been scrapped, making the songs much more hooky and cohesive. As a result, no matter how good that aforementioned 2006 effort was, this one marks a definite step forward from it in terms of memorable guitar parts and contagious grooves.
And lastly, in a move not unlike what Gojira made on "The Link" in 2003 (and also similar to, say, Black Sabbath's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," Down's "Over the Under," and Jesu's "Conqueror"), Mastodon opted to make these new songs substantially more progressive and psychedelic and less brutal and viscerally satisfying than anything heard before. Indeed, unlike anything heard before, these songs possess a certain concerted level of tunefulness. This is in a large part due to a large increase in the use of melodic vocals. Sure, frontman Troy Sanders' unique, throaty growl remains as strong as ever, but it is now most of the time put on the back burner in favor of surprisingly accomplished proper singing. But fear not, because Mastodon's core sound - ginormous, rampaging grooves, beefy, inexorable rhythms, great, Sabbath-y, pure doom riffing, powerful and booming bass lines, and really energetic and technical drumming -- remain firmly in tact here. Hence, the new material sure doesn't skimp on heaviness. All of this considered, "Crack the Skye" is definitely a smashing success, the sound of a band at the top of their game, and, in this reviewer's opinion, the winner for the year's absolute finest piece of heavy music.
"Oblivion" begins on a momentous and thunderous doom-laden note before kicking things into high gear with a stream of propulsive, buzzsaw riffs, bullying grooves, and pounding skins. It eventually transitions into soaring melodic choruses with infectious clean singing, and a batch of blistering guitar solos caps it all off. "Divinations" quickly follows-up a funky, banjo-plucked intro with thunderous, and near drum-roll-esque drumming, hard-hitting guitars, and big, fat, chugging rhythms. An excellent, wailing solo crops up here, too. Next up, "Quintessence" has the record's most basic and predictable song structure, making it probably the simplest song you will find here. But that doesn't mean it's bad by any means! It skilfully trades off harmonic twin guitar leads, and Brann Dailor's deft, up-tempo, and jazzy drumming, with heavy, guitar-driven segments (i.e. crunchy, rollicking, Sabbath/Wolfmother-like, hard rock-flavored guitar leads, a distorted bass bottom, and lumbering rhythms) and occasional dreamy acoustic breaks. And in a final unexpected twist, Sandoval tosses in some cool robotic vocals to end. Track four, "The Czar," is nearly eleven minutes long, and is broken up into four parts: "Usurper," "Escape," "Martyr," and "Spiral." And even though it is one epically epic and indisputably multi-faceted number, it could not flow more seamlessly from one part to another. Nice, lightly-picked guitar melodies looming overhead a relaxed, crashing drum beat making it initially rather tranquil and ambient. However, Mastodon's patented heaviness lurks just around the corner: a rip-roaring groove, fiery, thrashy guitars and fast, flowing bass lines storm onto the scene around four-minutes in, greeting the listener like a kick to the noggin. And then, sans for an unexpected melodic breakdown around 6:50, and a subsequent unorthodox guitar solo section, the remainder of the tune plays like an Alice in Chains cover.
Then comes my personal favorite, "Ghost of Karelia," which is highlighted by amazing crescendo. It builds from a grungy-sounding bass intro into towering climax composed of excellent, carefully-calculated sludge riffage, dense, churning rhythms, tight and precise drumming (including ample punishing double bass work), and strong bass lines that grumble from below. An effective bit of crooning is tossed into the mix, and it works as a very nice contrast to the heavy music. But unlike most songs on "Crack the Skye," in "Ghost of Karelia," Sanders primarily focuses on using the same harsh, guttural style that he used on earlier material. The result is another chorus that is guaranteed to rattle around your head for quite some time. Plus, his dissonant snarls of lines like "holding skulls" and "bulls' bloodshot eyes" are also really cool and get tattooed to your brain after just one listen. Although the vocal melody in the title track is not one of Mastodon's strongest, it is made-up for with ample heavy, doomy, chug and churn guitar licks, and thick, crunching rhythms that evoke vintage High on Fire, as well as a few blazing solos and well-placed harmonies. Finally, set closer, "The Last Baron," marries brisk, Slayer-esque riffs, pummeling rhythms, and a Crowbar-by-way-of-Neurosis-style groove with several "math-y" tempo changes, some proggy fretboard noodling, and even a few keyboard flourishes.
In brief, this is yet another excellent instalment in Mastodon's already amazing (and nearly untouchable) discography. But hey, what were you expecting? They have already established themselves as a truly great band, and one of the most preeminent metal acts of the 21st Century. And as long as they keep knocking masterpieces out of the park like this, the "Skye" is the limit.
on February 26, 2016
I've had an interesting journey with Mastodon. I almost flat out hate Remission and Leviathan (which I consider one of the most overrated metal albums of all time) and wanted to write the band off as just criminally overrated crap. Then I gave Blood Mountain a listen and was shocked to find that the band expanded their sound to be...actually interesting.
Crack the Skye represents the growth a talented band with passion can achieve. It still sounds like Mastodon...but with an injection of pure inspiration. Always interesting. Always heavy. This is just one hell of a kick-ass metal album. I can't really add anything other than this album converted a straight up hater to a genuine fan.
on May 2, 2014
Following two of the best metal albums of recent years, albums that catapulted Mastodon to the top of the NWOAHM of the new millennium, the band created this progressive epic, a complex tale involving astral travel. BLOOD MOUNTAIN (2006) was significantly more progressive than LEVIATHAN (2004), but CRACK THE SKYE marks a leap beyond the riff-fests of the two previous albums to a sound that transcends metal.
It's ambitious, and much of it is quite impressive. Scott Kelly of Neurosis makes his mandatory guest appearance on the title track, one of the best, contributing vocals and lyrics. Paul Romano once again knocks it out of the park with his spectacular art work.
However I find some of the clean Ozzy-esque vocals on tracks like "The Czar" to be melancholy and demoralizing. I realize that the story was partly inspired by a personal tragedy, but it limits how often I want to listen, as compared to the previous two albums. The first three tracks are strong -- "Oblivion," "Divinations," and "Quintessence" -- the latter sounds very Rush-like.
It's my impression that CRACK THE SKYE was the best-received Mastodon album in the broader music world beyond metal, which makes sense given both the band's upward trajectory at the time of its release and the fact that it is less traditionally metal-sounding than most metal.
I salute the band for its sense of adventure and experimentation. It's a fine album, but not their best in my opinion -- those remain LEVIATHAN and BLOOD MOUNTAIN.
on February 14, 2014
Despite never listening to Mastodon prior to Crack the Skye's release, I heard such good things about their fourth full-length effort I just had to check it out for myself. In many ways, I am glad Crack the Skye was my first Mastodon album. For one, I didn't have to fight off the very understandable reaction many established fans of the band had upon hearing it- namely, "where's the harsh vocals?!" and "why is Brent singing so much?!" For another, I had nothing to compare it to and was thus able to enjoy it for what it is: a progressive masterpiece.
To say there is not a bad track on this album would be one of the most incredible understatements ever uttered. There's not even a bad moment on Crack the Skye, let alone a whole song. Every riff, every fill, every bass line, every SOUND is executed with the most particular intentionality; the intricacies of Crack the Skye are such that even after listening to it over a hundred times I still notice things I have never noticed before.
Crack the Skye is incredibly diverse, both in its structure and its content. It contains just seven songs, but these range in length from 3:39 to 13:01. Clean riffs are blended often with distorted ones in true progressive fashion, and there are a wealth of other sounds and effects going on in the background of every song. Particular examples worth mentioning include the hazy intro and exit of "The Czar," the otherworldly vocal effect in the middle of the title track, and Troy's outstandingly psychedelic bass. In a word, Crack the Skye is innovative.
Vocally, Brent carries a lot of the load on Crack the Skye. While his nasally tone may annoy some (and he sounds awful live almost without exception), his style meshes perfectly with the darker, haunting timbre of the record. Troy's silky smooth lower vocals coincide beautifully with Brent's, making for many a tasty harmony. Interestingly, drummer Brann Dailor delivers a capable lead performance on "Oblivion," and Scott Kelly (of Neurosis) makes his annual appearance on the title track to lay down the harsh vocals.
Crack the Skye exceeds in quality everything Mastodon has done before or since. Not only does it delve into areas prog has never gone before, but it pushes the very boundaries of metal itself. To top off the remarkable musical ingenuity demonstrated throughout the album, the lyrical concept tackles wormholes, astral travel, the pain of loss, and Rasputin's role in the downfall of Tsarist Russia. Try to wrap your mind around that (or, on second thought, don't)! Crack the Skye is, without a doubt, one of the finest pieces of music to ever grace my ears. The only ones who lose are those who have too specific an idea about how Mastodon is "supposed" to sound to appreciate its greatness. Don't join that club. Buy Crack the Skye right now.
on February 20, 2013
Recently building my vinyl collection up. I decided to tackle my favorite albums before I go for albums mainly to add quantity. This is one of the best productions of this band. I still think it tops their latest effort 'The Hunter'. I read that they worked their tails off on 'Crack the Sky' and that 'The Hunter' recording sessions were more relaxing and they just want to do rather than re-work everything. Great album, every album is different and this one has the most work put into it, obviously. Also a great piece visually.
on January 23, 2014
This album is loaded with creativity and it really is a mind-altering album. When I listen to this album, I start with "Oblivion" letting it wash over me and start my journey into this album much the same as the protagonist in the album becomes lost in that song and I don't regain my senses again until "The Last Baron" finishes. This is a must have album and I believe everyone needs to treat themselves to something this awesome at least once in their life. "The Last Baron" is the band's magnum opus IMHO. It wheels and turns violently inside your head like a fighter pilot trying to shake a bogie on his tail. No other song has left me staggered like that and no other song has had the same effect after repeated listenings. The only problem with this album is that it sets the bar so high that I don't think it can be topped. Definitely one of the greatest prog metal albums of all time. I would say it is in contention for the title of greatest album ever made, but I'm sure some Beatles fans or Pink Floyd fans would disagree with me.