Music Reviews
Crack the Skye

Mastodon Crack the Skye

(Reprise) Rating - 8/10

Mastodon’s Crack the Skye has caught some flak from diehard fans regarding its pristine production and clean vocals (those metalheads are so hard to please). Well, it should be said that expensive production doesn’t necessarily equal lazy production, and clear vocals doesn’t equal selling out. Who the hell listens to Mastodon for their crooning, anyway? If Crack the Skye was a full-on instrumental piece, you could still tell me it was a concept album about Czarist Russia and I’d believe you. It’s a monarch all on its own, commanding your senses and marching you off to war with its machine-precision pyrotechnics and thunderbolt power. There’s nothing lazy or sell-outish about it.

If I had to question one thing about Mastodon after all these years, it is how in the great name of Ronnie James Dio they have managed to straddle that incredibly fine and quivering line between kick-ass-and-take-names metal and mystïc-bïrd-wïzärd Spin̈al Tapitis. They are a bit like a harder-edged Rush; those that are willing can completely turn aside the skull-and-crossbones bullshit lyrics and just enjoy the downright spellbinding musicianship at hand. Of course, even the music can fall prey to cliché (see: Dream Theater), and Crack the Skye follows Mastodon’s uncanny tradition of crafting a brand of heavy metal that is unabashed, mazelike, and above all, fresh.

Of course, that also means it is an exhausting album, despite its moderate (for prog-metal, anyway) 50 minute running time. It will drain you like a good metal album should, but it will also rack your brain. With the exception of the two epic tracks, The Czar and The Last Baron, the album is also conveniently split into small, easily-digestible portions. As for those two behemoths, they are certainly mountains worth climbing, even though they probably could have been split up.

The vocals, it should be noted, are indeed a bit problematic (when has a prog-metal band ever possessed a strong vocalist?). The band may know this, which would explain the march of guest vocalists that appear on the last couple of albums. The tandem of Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor (and Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, who appears on the title track) trade guttural growls and hoarse Ozzy Osbourne impressions that don’t get in the way but don’t really add anything to the labrynthian musical acrobatics. At least the band has the good sense to shut up for prolonged periods of time and let the music take the reins, and these are the best moments on Crack the Skye.

Aside from that fairly inconsequential annoyance, there is nothing on this album that could not please a metal fan or a prog fan. That is Mastodon’s secret. Stories of Moby Dick and now, Rasputin, give the band the same mystique that keeps Tool fans so engaged, and that leaves the band to focus on their next monolith. They are really convincing in their grandeur. The riffs, the solos, the booming drums – it all provokes a sincere sense of awe. In a musical age that is dominated by bluntness and simplicity, it’s increasingly difficult for prog rock to avoid extinction. Mastodon has; they always were, and still are, the real deal.