Mastodon CD/LP reviewed by Luc Rodgers

Music Reviews
Mastodon CD/LP reviewed by Luc Rodgers
May 15, 2009, 08:04

Mastodon - Crack the Skye

MASTODON Crack the Skye CD/LP

Atlanta's Mastodon have ascended the great stairway towards stardom as far as underground metal is concerned. Beginning behind the shadows of former labelmates High on Fire, Today is the Day, and Neurosis, Mastodon have surpassed all of them in notoriety, number of fans, and sales (insert mock-masturbation motion here). Talent and songwriting are obviously not the issues concerned with Crack the Skye but the simple debate of singing and its place in metal; should a backlash from the original fans be expected or are they gleefully riding this hell train into the infamy with their brethren? Both can be had, but it is a personal issue that each fan must face one-on-one with the product itself.

The biggest difference between …Skye and the rest of the catalog is the overwhelming presence of clean, melodic vocals. Brent Hines's (guitar/vocals) versatility is the most recognizable; his Ozzy-esque melodies can be heard on every record as can his howling scream, one that is more unsettling than most metal vocalists out there. Sharing the duties, Troy Sanders (bass/vocals) also remains clean, though his shimmering voice constantly seems forced and lamenting the lack of a good, hard yell. Together, these lads intertwine and work off of each other in a seasoned and comfortable way, playing off the sheer wall of sound that has become the Mastodon musical nomenclature. As it adds to the progressive metal aspects already evident in the music, the classic fans will miss the sheer terror of classics like “Workhorse” (from Remission, Relapse 2002) and “Blood and Thunder” (Leviathan, Relapse 2004). Destruction does eventually come but is delivered by the un-fuck-with-able Scott Kelly of Neurosis on the pounding title track.

The depth and sheer scope of the music itself remains awe-inspiring and unique, something honed after their relentless touring schedule, and it is here that Mastodon remain untouchable. With freshly grown bank accounts, the boys have invested in some neat new effects and toys (the Moog bass organ played by Sanders is quite the foreboding sound) and is played with both reckless abandon and careful selection as to where and how much. The heavily processed bass on the intro to opening cut“Oblivion” is a perfect combination of raw tone and wacky wah/flanger (?) creating both a singular groove and forewarning to the head-dizzying trip that has only just begun. The Rick Wakeman-esque starry-eared keyboard intro to the monolithic “The Czar” shows a stretching of genres and ambition what with its pussyfooting into the eventual fire pit that the eleven-minute monster becomes. Tying in all the parts to a smooth flow is a second nature, as evidenced in the transition to the complete Motorhead-groove-meets-early-Floyd scary psychedelics. Thankfully, Brann Dailor's drums have simplified, something he attributes to “chilling out a little…not going full-frontal all the time.” As amazing as he is (one of the best all-time drummers in metal, period), one does not need to flaunt it constantly. As each member is equally talented, the overall sound has substantially solidified with Dailor's backing the fuck up and playing with rather than on top of. The twin guitar attack of Hinds and Bill Kelliher (both rhythm/lead) is something to really pay attention to. Their cooperation and admiration for the other is evidenced in the even flow between riffs and solos, speaker to speaker.

Each song brings something both new and eerily reminiscent of earlier jaunts into the outer limits but with a larger budget, ever-growing anticipation of what they'll do next, and bottomless well of talent and ideas a realization has finally occurred as to who these guys really are and where they want to go. The vocals, as stated before, are the most disappointing for fans of the past albums, though it should be said that they are in no way surprising; the reasons surmised include the aging of the members, the desire for a larger audience, or just a natural progression for a band that is more song-oriented rather than riff-. There is something for every metal fan on this album—heavy, Southern chugs, twiddle-dee jackoffery (six minutes into “The Last Baron” is a little too much with the snare and guitar matching up for a, “Hey, check this shit,” moment), and pure rage. As all fans of metal digest this slab, it is surely a debate to last until the next one comes out, that is if Brent Hines can avoid getting his head bashed in again.

-Luc Rodgers


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