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Mastodon have always been strange territory for me. Their mythical lyrical subject matter is deeply appealing to me, however I’ve always found something not to like about their music. Their early releases usually had a few songs that were pounding enough to get my head moving, but those moments weren’t frequent enough to hold my interest. Unfortunately, their sound has gone from bad to worse since the groove-laden wankfest that was Blood Mountain. Crack The Skye shows a brand spanking new Mastodon, one that has abandoned nearly all traces of their metal past. Doesn’t that sound interesting and ambitious? Read on.
I am always willing to welcome changes and reinventions within bands, but only when it is well planned out. It surprises me how widely accepted this massive shift in Mastodon’s music has been among fans, because it really doesn’t grasp me. That said, I commend them for not making Blood Mountain Part Two, because that certainly wouldn’t be interesting. The first big change one would likely note upon listening to Crack The Skye is that this is definitely more melodic than previous Mastodon albums. Then again, I don’t feel ‘melodic’ is the right word, because what’s melodic music without catchy melodies? I would say that words such as ‘softer’ or ‘pussier’ would be more accurate.
Oblivion kicks things off with a slow, gloomy intro, only to make way for the most irritating vocals in recent memory. These are a plague throughout the album, and even get worse on songs such as Quintessence. Despite the lousy vocal performance, the chorus of Oblivion manages to be the catchiest moment on the album, making it a highlight, despite the half assed, afterthought of a guitar solo. I don’t know why this wasn’t the lead single because I would definitely say it’s better than Divinations. The Czar is the second longest song on the album, clocking in at just under eleven minutes, but mostly sounds like a song your mother used to play quietly at the side of your bed to help you fall asleep. The title track is the only other song worth mentioning, because it’s the closest thing you’ll find here that resembles extreme metal (a genre of music that didn’t used to be so foreign to Mastodon). The heaviness in this track is courtesy of Scott Kelly (Neurosis) who does a fine job of injecting some variety into the mundane field of vocals.
As far as instrumentation goes, I found a lot to be desired. The guitar work, as a whole, is what I would call sub-par for a Mastodon release. None of the riffs ingrained themselves in my mind, like the way March of the Fire Ants did the first time I heard it, and the solos mostly seem awkward. I think I’ve talked enough about vocals for you to get an idea of my opinion on them. I’ll just add that I miss the harsh screaming of Remission, combined with the old, ultra heavy/sludgy riffs.
I think it’s a shame that Mastodon chose to tread this safe path of unheavy mediocrity, because I always saw potential in this band. I think I’ll stop checking out new releases from Mastodon because I seem to just get more and more disappointed with them.