Mastodon – Crack the Skye

As I mentioned before I’m going back to doing more instrumental music. And the next installment in this series is a review of the brand new Mastodon album : Crack the Skye .

Mastodon is one of many bands falling under that elusive “Progressive Metal” label. They are influenced by bands who are called the inventors of that genre ( Isis, Neurosis…) and their debut full length (Remission,2002) still sounds very much like these bands.  They also take elements from hardcore acts like Coalesce. But to me,  Mastodon are generally a heavier, faster and more technical stoner rock band. Their sound developed as such on the second full length (Leviathan,2004), which appealed to a much wider audience and was generally heralded. Their big label debut (Blood Mountain,2006) though their most mature production to date, mysteriously failed to deliver in the sales departement. Let’s see how their new full lengths holds up to this impressive discography.

Mastodon always work around a concept with their albums. This time, Tsarist Russia and Rasputin serve as the base for the listening experience. But don’t let that scare you as some of the lyrics are not nearly as deep as you’d expect with such thematics.
The band has a tradition to open a record very hard and loud. They certainly surprised me this time. “Oblivion” is a very melodic track, reminiscent of “This Mortal Soil” on Blood Mountain. Indeed, this is probably their most melodically complex album yet.  Second track “Divinations” proves me right after again catching me by surprise with banjo notes in the intro.  This track also still hints back at their previous release. Any further comparison is harder though.
In “Quintessence” the hardcore influences in the band are most apparant. The chorus brings me back to late ninetees early 21st century hardcore.  At the end the song slips into a sludgy vibe which I really liked.
Main piece on the album “The Czar” is up next. This 11 minute monster starts out with a synth intro and slowly builds up. It then schifts into a jazzy jam with splendid moany vocals.  It then seems to slip into more traditional Mastodon sound, only to surprise me again with it’s less complex third part.
The slower “Ghost of  Karelia” is easier to digest as it is again very melodic and catchy.
Title track “Crack the Skye”  has a relaxed opening but is the hardest track on the album. The band finds the middle ground between Neurosis and their own sound on Blood Mountain.
The epic closer “The Baron” is similar to “The Czar“.  Though it is denser and murkier, more complex even, than that track. It is probably the most technical track on the album and all the musicians go full out on this one which for me made it one of the best tracks.

Overall, I found the shorter, melodic tracks suiting me very much. I do think this album will further alienate them from their original fans. And the complexity of the longer songs (though certainly not complexer than their previous  full length) might be too much to handle for some of the newer fans. The strong melodies on the album though are certain to appeal to many people. If Blood Mountain was considered an experimental album, then I’m not sure how to classify this. The band has stretched its musical abilities even further and might have lost some power along the way. This album is less technical than their previous work  but more cohesive than Blood Mountain in my book. Though no album of the year, they sure deliver once again. But Blood Mountain has proven that is no guarantee for big sales.


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