There is only one word for the new Mastodon album and that word is ‘fucking stunning’.
There is only one word for the new Mastodon album and that word is ‘fucking stunning’. Maybe that’s technically two words, but that may be because ‘Crack The Skye’ is two different albums, and which one you’re listening to depends entirely upon how you do it. Without headphones, ‘Crack The Skye’ could easily pass for a sprawling, incoherent Frankenstein of an album, lashed together by four insular mad-scientist types trying to out-prog each other. With a couple of exceptions, the non-headphones ‘Crack The Skye’ seems like a bunch of parts and riffs – albeit some fantastic ones – slammed together without regard for coherence, cohesion or, you know, songs. But the headphones version? Best fucking Mastodon album ever.
In circumaural sound, the Atlanta metal band’s fourth and latest full-length suddenly takes on the kind of cosmic synchronicity generally reserved for planetary orbit. Not only can you feel every fluttering, palpitating, skyscraping riff, the supersonic snap of every dizzying drum workout, the oft-subliminal keyboard effects, the celestial vocal harmonies – you can hear the ecstatic pulse of electromagnetism that holds them all together. We’re talking goose bump-inducing shit here.
‘Crack The Skye’ is comprised of seven tracks with a total running time of 50:25, and even the album’s twin epics, ‘The Czar’ (9:46) and ‘The Last Baron’ (13:03), do surprisingly little meandering. Like the rest of the album, they’re expertly cloven into meaty, glistening slabs of metallic and even horoscopic resonance. While it’s not a stretch to say this is Mastodon’s proggiest album yet, it’s also their most soulful.
Instead of bassist Troy Sanders handling the bulk of the vocals with one or two tracks given over to guitarist Brent Hinds’ distinctive wail, we get a more even split between the two. Even über-drummer Brann Dailor has a go on opener ‘Oblivion’, while longtime friend and collaborator Scott Kelly of Neurosis roars his way through the title track. On the former, the Masto-trio trade hypnotic passages (over oscillating vanes of hypersonic guitars) about their own personal Icarus’s fall from grace, the first chapter of the record’s deft lyrical weave of personal tragedy, quantum-leaping and 19th century Russian mysticism.
The album’s second and shortest track, ‘Divinations’, is a soaring astral anthem, a certifiable face-ripper that kicks off with, of all things, a fucking banjo – and, somehow, it works. The song itself more than works; it does back flips (the vocals), parkour (the guitars) and full-on Olympic gymnastics (the drums). However, it’s ‘Quintessence’ that almost steals the show. Colossal riff after colossal riff crashes through the listener’s now-fragile psyche as Hinds and Sanders describe the ether that couches The ‘Don’s dramatic freefall into self-realisation. The track closes with a haunting keyboard outro that segues ominously into the gargantuan four-part skull riot of ‘The Czar’, possibly the best song the band has ever written. Along with its predecessor and successor (‘Ghost Of Karelia’) it constitutes ‘Crack The Skye’’s brilliant back-to-back-to-back trifecta.
It’s also not like the chiming, vocoder-ised space-soul of the title track ruins the mood. Instead, it’s as though horror-flick maestro John Carpenter (composer of the Halloween theme) joined Neurosis – if only because Scott Kelly handles half the vocals – in the particle accelerator at CERN to soundtrack a hallucinogenic film about dream warriors with, like, Jerry Cantrell on lead guitar. No shit. If there’s a moment on ‘Crack The Skye’ that doesn’t live up to the album’s towering quality standards, it’s midway through closer ‘The Last Baron’, when The ‘Don get a little too Zappa for anyone’s good. It’s a mercifully brief lapse, though, in the mind-erasing awesomeness that is unquestionably the band’s most spectacular release.