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Mastodon: Crack the Skye

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.

Track Listing
1. Oblivion
2. Divinations
3. Quintessence
4. The Czar: I Usurper, II Escape, III Martyr, IV Spiral Listen
5. Ghost Of Karelia
6. Crack The Skye
7. The Last Baron

Added: March 27th 2009
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2949
Language: english

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Mastodon: Crack the Skye
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-03-27 17:46:56
My Score:

It should come as no surprise that Mastodon is a band that is highly regarded here at Sea of Tranquility, and their latest Crack the Skye has been highly anticipated by many of our staff for quite some time. Leviathan and Blood Mountain were pretty close to works of genius, and I'll be so bold as to proclaim that Crack the Skye, though a totally different beast, falls into the same category of greatness. More a progressive rock or progressive metal CD than the bands more extreme early output, Mastodon at this stage of the game is somewhat of a fully realized, heavier, and slightly more commercial King Crimson for this generation. Their approach to their craft seems somewhat similar to what Crimson tried to achieve in the early 80's and throughout the 90's. Weaving, highly complex dual guitar work, relentlessly intricate drum patterns, inventive bass lines, a desire to stretch into unchartered waters, and unique vocal styles-sound familiar?

First thing you'll notice is that both Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders are favoring clean vocals this time around, with very little growls and screams to be heard on the CD except in a few well picked spots. Guitar wise, things are kicked up a notch, and though there's not as many pummeling, heavy doom riffs, the complex and intricate nature of the guitar passages & riffs will really please the prog metal crowd. Tunes like "Quintessence" and "Divintations" see Hinds and Bill Kelliher weaving all sorts of textures and tones, one minute delivering a gorgeous Yes-meets-King Crimson passage before unleashing a lethal onslaught of heavy, complex riffery. Other tracks like the epic "The Czar", "Oblivion", the intoxicating title track, or moody closer "The Last Baron", show just how far the songwriting skills of the band has matured, easily keeping up with their incredible instrumental abilities. As always, Brann Dailor is a house of fire behind the drum kit, flailing away in true prog/fusion/metal fashion like a cross between Keith Moon and Tony Williams, but with a metal flair.

This is one of those CD's that upon first listen, you'll instantly recognize how different it is from past Mastodon releases, but then you'll be totally captured by the beauty of it all. Call it metal, call it prog, whatever the tag, in the end it's Mastodon, who are quickly becoming a genre upon themselves. Excellent production by Brendan O'Brien, superb artwork from Paul Romano, and once again an incredible performance from Mastodon makes Crack the Skye a must hear album, and one of 2009's strongest to date.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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