Crack the Skye (2009)
Rating: 9.0 (out of 10)
There are few better feelings than just really getting into something. You know, really letting it get in your skin, flow through your veins. When you can just let your raw emotions be hijacked, taken over by grace or force, it's a glorious thing. You can lose your constraints and just let go for just a little bit. You can forget your thankless job, your interpersonal problems, your inability to communicate, your terrible golf score last Wednesday, or whatever else it is that's been bothering you. Everyone has been there, where you just lose youself in a whirlwind of...something. For me, my whirlwind has always been comprised of music. From time to time, the right song or record hits me so, so hard that it hurts (in the good way), and for the third time in a half-decade, Atlanta's fantastic Mastodon have beaten me to within an inch of my life (again, in the good way).
Since their inception into the metal realm, Mastodon have been getting progressively, well more progressive. Gone is much of the gutteral howling, some of the relentless churning, and a few of the moments of complete and total mean-ass facefuckery. I don't mind at all, though. This is a band that's done balls-to-the-wall, face-punch metal before, and it's okay that they're calming down just a little bit on Crack the Skye.
Don't get me wrong, though; Skye still kicks ass. Whether it be the post-noodling riffage of "Oblivion," the giant hammer drop after the intro on the title track, or the more mind numbing portions of "The Czar", Mastodon haven't lost their ability to really tear shit up. All I'm saying is that, in the tradition of 2006's Blood Mountain (now probably adorned with my 2006 Hindsight Album of the Year tag), there are more sonic shifts here, more attempts at singing, and more opportunities to try and dissect the usual bizarre story the band is trying to tell. The other well-documented factor in play here is the production change from Matt Bayles to mainstream stalwart Brendan O'Brien. Rest assured, O'Brien's presence is not a problem. Despite this one really awful dream I had, he doesn't have Troy Sanders wearing a wig, and there aren't any songs that have shit to do with anything Papa Roach might write about.
This time around, drummer Brann Dailor has decided to go completely off the rails in his concept for the album. From my understanding, what we're dealing with here is a conceptual story about a parapalegic boy who inhabits the body of Rasputin through time travel. Yeah. More to the point, the record's name pays homage to Dailor's late sister Skye, who died far, far too early. So, while I haven't been able to decipher any metaphors explicitly pointing to it, Dailor may have another storyline under the floorboards here. At any rate, Crack the Skye features more actual singing, so give the lyrics and a listen and see what you come up with. It's fun if nothing else.
Another Mastodon trademark that remains untouched is the musicianship in place here; the band weaves between time signatures and in between song suites like they came out of the womb doing this shit. One minute the band has digressed into a psychedellic breakdown, the next they're churning through something that might scare a child or senior citizen. It's truly amazing, and it makes me love music. "Divinations" is one of the strongest tracks here, showcasing equal parts screaming and singing, equal parts proggy barrage and metal scowl. It makes me want to drive really, really fast and not bother stopping for anything at all. "The Czar" turns a hazy introductory segment into a mood-altering force to be reckoned with, while closer "The Last Baron" just fucks with us over and over and over again, jumping all over the map and leaving the listener wanting more of the juiciest parts. It's almost like Mastodon leads us to the figurative well to get some water and then pushes us in, only to later offer a hand to help us out. But we know better than to take it.
Crack the Skye is another tour de force from a band that has grown to specialize in such. It falls slightly short of Blood Mountain and probably Leviathan (2004) for me, but that's not a bad thing. Each of the last three Mastodon outings possess their own identity, their own strengths. All of the progressive, jazzy, and psych elements present on this album leave me inclined to wonder exactly what these southern bastards intend to do next. All I know is I'll be awaiting it with open arms and ears, reading to receive my bloody beating once again.