Crack The Skye

Written by: AP on 27/04/2009 04:15:00

One spin is enough to remember why Mastodon was nominated for a Grammy, why they continue to raise the eyebrows of critics worldwide with every release, and why they are unanimously considered one of the most important metal bands to have surfaced in this decade. Once again the Mastodon treads where others falter, toasting their epoch with yet another album of absolutely enormous proportions. Faithful to tradition, "Crack The Skye" is of course a concept album, chronicling the life of the last Russian tzar, Nicholas II. Faithful to tradition also, it's quirky, experimental and absolutely fucking phenomenal. This band writes its own acclaim now.

On the first listen one cannot conceive of any way that this, or any other album for that matter, could be any better, and those sentiments remain unchanged even now. Other than tell you that it is one of the most invigorating, intellectually challenging and complete albums you will have listened to, let me dissect this colossus into its constituent elements, no less complex themselves than the whole of which they are part. For such is the nature of this band's music: not as distressing and intense as Meshuggah but equally, if not more unique in its delivery. Both of these bands stand out of reach on the fringe of contemporary metal and defy what is thought possible in music, but while the former does it to maintain status as one of the most extreme and experimental bands on the market, Mastodon wants to (and succeeds in doing so, it should be said) be the eclectic and elegant, poetic and refined, merging styles from far and wide to sow the most perfect quilt work.

At its centre is Brann Dailor, whose prowess behind a drumkit is second to none. Those who have witnessed it live will agree that looking elsewhere is out of the question from strike one and indeed even on the album it's difficult to divert one's ears to the infinity of other things going on when he unleashes his trade. Jamming exclusively with guitarists in his youth, Brann has developed an entirely unique style of drumming that is impossible to attribute to any one genre. In fact, the constant progressions and changes in tempo, not to mention the complete lack of a typical rhythm section (there is no following the bass line here; no, Brann traces the two guitars, and if you have no idea what those sound like, prepare to be blown off your seat) suggest that he might as well have improvised all of it. But it's not jazz, either; it belongs to him, which may explain why no drummer before or since has been able to replicate the sound.

It certainly doesn't hurt Mastodon either that it boasts guitarists like Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds, who are among the most innovative riff-smiths in today's trade. Their melodies spiral out in askew, odd-size patches in every direction, entangled in the two's sludgy growls, strange interplays and vocal harmonies that bring forth the rainbow of colors in this quilt we have imagined. Finally, bassist and other lead vocalist Troy Sanders sows together this mosaic of music with what might just be the most atypical and instantly recognizable voices in modern metal and bass playing which, anonymous though it may sound beneath the immensity of the surrounding soundscape at times, like his rhythmic companion behind the skins, refuses to conform to any kind of presumed pattern, as if keen to prove the worth of the four-string in a band (and yes, although occasionally it's hard to believe it really is a four-string).

"Crack The Skye" is not an album that can be tackled in one, two, or even three consecutive listening sessions. This is because it follows no norms other than those set by the minds of the band members, which is good news for those of us who are more than just a little tired of gallop-chugging and staccato riffs. What's on the menu here is an asymmetric guitar universe where the rules are meant to be broken and what comes out of it are not burning frets and hyper speed shredding but melodies with a distorted brilliance that raises the hairs on your back and tempts you to rewind and listen to what just happened there again to make sure you didn't miss a little piece of genius. And did I mention that drumming? It's plays like a forty-five-minute solo and is by itself enough to afford Mastodon the praise they have once again proven to deserve. Seriously, strip this disc of guitars and bass and there would still be enough jaw-dropping instrumentation to complement the vocals, which, by the way, are used to similar effect themselves.

While it is true that the wall of text above describes "Crack The Skye" in somewhat loose and general terms, it really is an album that deserves the full, undivided attention of the listener. No single song stands out as such (apart from the otherworldly "The Czar", which is now officially a nominee for, and the likely winner of best song in our imaginary award ceremony which will not take place in the end of this year), and nor should they when "Crack The Skye" plays without pause, like storytelling - like the concept album it is. It's Mastodon's finest. It's an album to lose yourself in. It's legend in the making. And it's out of this world.


Download: Divinations, The Czar, Ghost of Karelia

For the fans of: Baroness, High On Fire, Isis, The Melvins, Neurosis

Listen: Myspace

Release date 24.03.2009


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