In honour of the release of their seventh LP Emperor of Sand this Friday, we’re celebrating all things Mastodon this week. One of the finest 21st century metal bands, the Georgian quartet’s career has been markedly consistent; not without flaws, but nevertheless focussed and of exceptional quality
Where better to start than with a primer for each of their previous six studio albums?
Next up: modern prog metal classic, and many people’s favourite…
Crack The Skye
(2009) Reprise Records
Many will count Crack The Skye as their favourite Mastodon record. After the anything-goes acid fury of Blood Mountain, Mastodon reigned in their weird-out tendencies and dug deep into their prog roots to produce something more architectural, textured and desperate.
More so than any other of their records – with a possible exception for The Hunter – Crack The Skye is rammed full of rad hooks. I find my self singing “no escaaaape! Trapped in tiiiiime spaaaaace!” whilst in the shower on a fairly regular basis, and it’s testament to their versatility that there are identifiable catchy moments on a concept record about astral projection featuring 13-minute songs.
And what a concept – time-travel! Russian revolutionaries! Barons! You don’t need to know anything about the ideas and themes for it to work as a record, but it’s another angle to an incredibly deep, cathartic record. It’s also fucking batshit, but somehow not prohibitively goofy.
As Chris has mentioned in this series, Mastodon have always been an organic-sounding prog band. Crack The Skye is proof positive of this; from the sombre “Oblivion” to the narrative-heavy “The Czar” to the frenzied jazz of “The Last Baron“, everything is incredibly tightly worked-out but, hidden under an acid-prog sheen their machinations are obscured from view. Everyone is on incredible form on this record and there are quite a few career highs; guitar champion Brent Hinds really gets a chance to shine on “Oblivion” and his banjo parts on “Divinations” add texture and aren’t incredibly fucking stupid, somehow.
The record was a watershed moment. It might be erroneous to call it their ‘breakthrough’ – they were doing pretty well beforehand – but this record was certainly a boost. A retrospective outlines this as the end of a Mastodon writing philosophy; they’ve never done anything as ballsy or as out-there as this since. After this they abandoned a lot of their prog leanings and went on to do The Hunter, a much more straightforward alt-rock record in their established style; the shift set some teeth on edge, but Crack The Skye is such a personal, once-in-a-career record. Is it worth anyone’s time to ask for Crack The Skye II?
It’s a shame that Crack The Skye is often regarded as “the last good Masterdun album LOL.” - but it’s easy to see why it’s held in such high regard: it’s colourful, psychedelic and incredibly inventive, and though many of its style references are from 40+ years ago it’s a remarkably fresh-sounding release. It’s prog rock, but not for dads.
Stay tuned for the rest of the week for much more from Mastodon Week!