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This is one of my favorites already, really. After I saw the video for Oblivion, which may be my favorite on here, I knew I was in store for something special, never listening to Mastodon because I passed them off as a simple death metal band in the past. I already had high expectations when I tracked Skye down, and it not only met those expectations with a full fist to the face, it bullied past them with such energy, balance and intensity that once the fifty minutes were done, my mind was thoroughly melted. Never before has there been such a perfectly performed progressive, groove metal album, defying Mastodon's previous heavier standpoint and replacing it with an even sturdier and just as penetrating sound as before, a change rarely pulled off well. In fact, I would dare say that there's no way to put this album to words truly.
The first, most obvious change (and at this point, over iterated) is the complete absence of death vocals, which is a welcome change in my opinion. The second is that Crack the Skye is much more progressive than their previous efforts, two songs reaching at least ten minutes and all of the rest but one reaching five. I believe the progressive styling of this album is very appropriate Mastodon's sound, more so than their more straightforward anthems of old. The writing of the album is extremely inspired, never feeling repetitive or familiar. There won't be a lot of "that sounds like-" moments, because Crack the Skye doesn't really sound like many other projects out there. One comparison that can be made is the occasional similarity to the music of Opeth, particularly the first 30 seconds of the title track, something tolerable because of the great talent of that group as well. CTS is largely it's own beast, though, being unique more often than not.
Fear not metal minions, as Crack the Skye still retains a certain level of heaviness, sometimes in great amounts, especially on the song Crack the Skye. The guitar and the drums on the album will be the heaviest elements on it, which are always rocking, and I don't need to mention how good of a drummer (and vocalist, as it turns out) Brann Dailor is, who felt especially inspired on this release since it dedicated to his sister who committed suicide at age 14. There is no ballad on here, so no need to worry about that. The entire album uses this kind of classic distorted tone, and even the musical direction can be described as 70's style, particularly Quintessence and The Last Baron. These are probably the softest, yet super-progressive, tracks on the album. Every song destroys on this record, and it might be the first time I've heard all of the songs nearly achieve the on the same level, and what a great level it is.
Oblivion is one of the best openers I've ever heard, an atmospheric journey without a misgiving. The catchiness of the whole song is surprising considering the dark and gloomy tone that dominates Crack the Skye in entirety. Divinations is overrated, and the worst on the album, but it's still great, of course. I guess what gets to me is it's simplistic nature and short duration. Quintessence is one of two songs on here that I believe to be underrated masterpieces, with a classic composition of old-school rock. The Czar is absolutely incredible, the best of the two lengthy ones on here. Split up into four awesome parts, The first is my favorite, with the most memorable rhythm of the album ("don't stay, run away"- stuck in my head every time.)
Ghost of Karelia is the perfect encore, with an awe-inspiring opening rhythm and overall dark feel. Good vocals on this one, too. Crack the Skye is fully inspired by Brann's sister, and the anger and pain there is represented perfectly as the heaviest song on the record. Very memorable verses. The Last Baron finally finishes this (literally) perfect album, and the singing comes fast into the song, which is kind of ironic considering that it is the longest at thirteen minutes. Sometimes I think it might be a bit overlong, but that certainly doesn't take away from this fine closer.
Guitar solos are performed very adequately, the best of which I believe grace Oblivion and Divinations, but the leads and rhythms are the highlight in my opinion. They are always perfectly written and fit the other instruments well, a large piece in the overall puzzle of Crack the Skye’s perfect sound. The production is the glue that keeps all the varying parts together and conformed, infusing every last element into a seamless quality that knows no planetary bounds. In the end, it all comes off as an intelligent deep-space sound with a substantial meaning underneath the layers of heaviness; nothing less than epic through and through.
Two words for this album are “mature” and “inspired“. The staggering atmospheric volume of the record is elevated with keyboard touches and occasional vintage synth rhythms in the background of a few songs, being especially effective on Crack the Skye and The Last Baron, adding yet another dimension to the infinite sound of the album. However, this won’t be one of those albums that impairs your ability to enjoy it due to sheer technicality and complexity (see Twisted Into Form.) The songs never feel like there is too much going on at one time, but there is enough to raise it past a simplistic nature.
This will be an album that is listened to religiously, several times every day, unlike those all-too-many CDs collecting dust after just a couple of listens. And yet it is also not for everyone. With the sudden complete change of direction, it is likely that some people will hate Crack the Skye. My advice to all fans of the previous Mastodon albums is to precede with caution but also with an open mind, because it would be a shame to miss such an overall achievement due to pre-conceived doubts of the melodic progressivism performed here, which has taken place of the fast and screaming pace that held the majority over previous works. Just dim the lights and feel the flow of musicianship coming off in waves. Those who do won’t be disappointed!
Crack the Skye exploded out of the starting gate early upon it's release, backed by a couple of the greatest singles ever (Oblivion, Divinations), and it finished first by a mile. Crack the Skye will stand forever among my hierarchy of favorites, as I hope it will rank for you if you hear it. Any questions?