Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mastadon - Crack the Skye

Melody. Vocal harmonies. Keyboards. Brendan O’Brien. These are things I am not really interested in, especially in relations to a Mastodon record. And yet, all of these elements are here and I’ve managed to survive. A co-worker had an advance copy of this record and I listened to it once and wasn’t thrilled by it. I only played it once because Mastodon is one of the few bands that I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to. I wanted to wait for the final product before dismissing it.

I’m happy to report that my initial instinct was wrong. This thing has really grown on me and I like it more and more each time I give it a spin.

Crack The Skye is Mastodon’s 4th full length record and their most adventurous to date. Some of their older fans may be turned off by the overt prog and classic rock tendencies here but I think they’ve done a better job assimilating those influences than on Blood Mountain. If you’re gonna go prog, you gotta go the whole hog. That’s not to say that Mastodon have turned into Magma and forsaken their Voivod roots. Just look at the way that band evolved from War and Pain to Dimension Hatross.

If you’re familiar with Mastodon the opening track “Oblivion” will throw you for a loop. When the song kicks in the riff is kinda like Leviathan’s “I Am Ahab” and then an unfamiliar voice starts singing. At first I thought it was a guest vocalist but it turns out to be drummer Brann Dailor. This was not what I was expecting at all but it works. Guitarist Brent Hinds comes in after a verse with his familiar vocal style to tie the whole thing together. There are some trippy parts that remind me of Pink Floyd’s Animals record.

“Divinations” starts off with a heavy Thin Lizzy riff with a very melodic chorus. At times the backing vocals are a little too produced for my tastes but it’s still a good song. If you took them away it would sound like something off of Blood Mountain. “Quintessence” slows the pace a little bit before getting faster and heavier. There’s another melodic chorus that reminds me Torche but produced by Alan Parsons.

“The Czar” starts off with an organ part that sounds a lot like the Butthole Surfers song “Strangers Die Every Day” (from Rembrandt Pussyhorse). As you’d expect from a 10 minute song divided into 4 parts, this one is a real trip. Some of the heaviest riffing can be found on this one and the vocals are less restrained on this one. I really have no idea what the lyrics mean on this one or the entire record. I know there’s a convoluted concept in here somewhere but I’m too busy trying to keep up with all the musical layers and changes to delve too deep into the words. A lyric sheet is included for those brave enough.

I got really excited at the start of “Ghost of Karelia” because it reminded me of the intro to Anvil’s “Metal on Metal” but Anvil was never like this. It’s a real swirly song that must have been inspired by Brent’s head injury as a result of an altercation following the MTV video music awards in September 2007. He said he suffered from vertigo and euphoria for about 8 months. Just listening to it will make you dizzy.

Scott Kelly from Neurosis makes a guest vocal appearance for the 3rd Mastodon album in a row on the title track. The influence of Neurosis is strong on this heavy pounding jam. The backing vocals on this one are a little over produced for me. It’s an interesting contrast but I’m not sure if it’s totally successful. At times it sounds like 3 Doors Down singing on a Neurosis album. There are some cool cyborg vocals that could be off of Zappa’s Joe’s Garage to make up for it.

The album concludes with another long one. The last three Mastodon have all ended with a moody instrumental. Blood Mountain’s “Pendulous Skin” was kind of like “Ashton Park” by the James Gang and that’s where “The Last Baron” picks up. This time there’s vocals and the song is over 13 minutes long. Lots of tempo and mood changes on this one including a section that sounds like one of Frank Zappa’s bands from the 80’s playing “YYZ” by Rush before ending on an epic Joe Walsh style guitar solo.

Like I said before, this album is a grower. A few other people I’ve talked to also said it took a few spins before they really started to get into it. This thing is getting great reviews in mainstream publications like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly which is never a good sign for a metal band. On the other hand, some of the stoner/doom metal police are saying that it’s a total sell out. Basically, if you’re a Mastodon fan you owe it to yourself to check it out. On their upcoming tour they’re playing this thing live start to finish. I’m sure when they play this stuff in front of an audience it’s going to be much rawer. If Mastodon is serious about incorporating classic rock into their sound then they need to do a double live album where they can let it all hang out.


buy here: Crack the Skye


Crystgal said...

Great tracks and videos, thanks for sharing!

JeffSanders said...

This album is amazing. Been listening to it nonstop since it came out...the storyline that runs through it makes it even more interesting. They go into detail on the DVD. Easily one of my all-time favorite albums.

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