Mastodon - Crack The Skye

Destined to become the stuff of legend...
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Be not misled by others proclaiming their wares as the stuff of legend: no metal release of 2009 is likely to be as important as ‘Crack The Skye’.

The Atlanta foursome have, over three previous LPs, began to establish themselves as a force for genuine progression within their chosen field; each album has brandished a considerable arsenal of riffs, designed for even the most meat-headed skull-banger to hook onto, yet the band’s pursuit of a higher level of appreciation has seen them embraced by corners of the critical collective who’d rarely ventured into such sonically acerbic territories. At every turn they’ve upped their own ante, conceptually and in terms of their accomplished execution. Last time out, on ‘Blood Mountain’, you could either enjoy the surface level thrills, or delve deeper for some serious lyrical exploration.

‘Crack The Skye’ dares to dream grander, to build bigger; it delivers the sort of first-impression excellence that leads only to second, third and fourth plays in a single sitting. ‘Oblivion’ opens the album with cascading percussion – think a thousand metal drummers plus kits tossed off the edge of a particularly high precipice. Actually, fuck that: a million of ‘em falling from the heavens in a shower of sticks, skins and sinew. It’s breathtaking stuff, placed perfectly to grab the attention of the hardcore acolyte and sceptical newcomer alike. Ignorance is impossible, indifference futile: the track belts you about the mug and straight-up demands you pay it respect.

And then, ‘Divinations’, maybe the most brilliantly absurd single you won’t hear on daytime Radio 1 this year – something about Viking spirits, perhaps, and a video featuring a Yeti. Drummer Brann Dailor had previous told reporters that ‘Crack The Skye’ was shaping up to be a creepier affair than its immediate predecessor; this track seems to suggest the four-piece achieved that particular goal, as it exudes an atmosphere of uncertainty, of nervous creeping towards something that may or may not rip your head from your shoulders. Of course, come decision time all levels are so set beyond safety that thoughts of fleeing are tossed to the wind: head down, buckle up, get on with the indulgence either way.

Indulgence is an appropriate adjective when it comes to much of ‘Crack The Skye’, but never do Mastodon completely disappear up their own arses. Fans may miss the savage temperament of debut album ‘Remission’, but that Mastodon is long gone; today’s band prefers to play about with the formula they cracked first time of asking, rather than repeat its former glories. And play with the formula they certainly do on the four-part prog-metal epic ‘The Czar’, a ten-minute beast that bucks so wildly you’ll see stars one second and taste dirt the next. Vocalist Troy Sanders’ claims that this album would explore the ethereal world beyond the everyday isn’t entirely backed up by what’s on show, but there’s no doubt that there are times during ‘The Czar’ when you’re certain its makers were somewhere else entirely during the creative process – in not in body then surely in mind. How a band gets from raw-knuckle metal to here is… mystifying, basically.

Only, is it? Mastodon never set their stall out as typical metal sorts. Their second LP, the critically adored ‘Leviathan’, took the tale of Moby Dick as its inspiration; ‘Blood Mountain’ was centred around being lost in an alien environment – aesthetically recognisable but many a mile from home. So they’ve never been the types to boil their material down to base-level elements and play dumb for the commercial gains; instead, they’ve made it to the top of the pile by persevering, and by never compromising their art. And ‘Crack The Skye’ is just that – a work of art. Metal might have its detractors, but when it’s presented like this, it’s the most perfect form of musical enjoyment in the world.

It’s an album to lose yourself in, totally. In this respect it’s unique in its makers’ canon of work – whereas previously they offered listeners the opportunity to take what they wanted from their wares, here the music stretches forth from stereo speakers to wrap itself about its audience, tangling them in an inescapable grasp. If all of this sounds a little OTT, it’s only because ‘Crack The Skye’ encourages such enthused outpourings via its mix of ambition-realising revelry and rock-reshaping tangents and textures. But for all its expressive, technically astounding passages, one can also hear the record as a deeply personal piece – Dailor’s sister, who committed suicide aged only 14, was called Skye. Make of that what you will when this LP leans closer to the heart than any preceding Mastodon release.

Ultimately it’s this heart – rock out as hard as you like, but there’s no doubting the emotional effect ‘Crack The Skye’ can have given repeat plays – that positions this epic as Mastodon’s finest work to date, and therefore sets it up as the release of the year in its field. Thirteen-minute closer ‘The Last Baron’ looks, on paper, like a 1970s prog-rock nightmare, but as the vocal declares “We can set this world ablaze”, you’re completely with the band as they begin the closure of this expansive, unprecedented release. Drums run, guitars slide, voices unite; fists, surely, will clench and rise, defiant and proud.

You’ve never heard anything like ‘Crack The Skye’. It writes its own acclaim with its evident achieving of ambition almighty. It is, to bring us full circle just as the album leaves the listener reaching for repeat, surely destined to become the stuff of legend.

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Watch the video to 'Divinations' here...


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