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A massive improvement. - 70%

hells_unicorn, March 9th, 2010

Mastodon is a band that I have long loathed and have written off as a trailblazing predecessor to that of The Sword, both of which have been putting out sub-par versions of traditional doom and sludge respectively and have amassed a legion of religiously devoted fans, comprised primarily of pseudo-metal hipster types. Mastodon’s transgressions against the gods of steel guising as albums are noted for excess showboating by the drummer, meshed against songwriting that is either garbled and lacking organization, or so woefully steeped in cliché and outwardly formulaic that they were largely unbearable to any ear trained in the interpreting the sonic nuances outside the pop or jam band paradigm. Nevertheless, while The Sword has continued to sully the good name of Saint Vitus and Black Sabbath mercilessly, these Georgians have managed to make the rounds a bit and have put together an album that is actually reasonable to listen to.

“Crack The Skye” is all but a full fledged throwback in terms of style, hearkening to various 70s influences to augment an otherwise mud drenched sound, as can be guessed by the similarity that the album title shares with a somewhat obscure American rock band from said era. Bits of mid-70s Black Sabbath, most particularly that of “Sabotage” intermingle with some pieces of Manilla Road and Rainbow. The atmosphere is quite dense, as the riff work ventures frequently from Groove drones to more Progressive rhythmic devices, while a dense bass production and a thick haze of cymbal crashes and drum work covers the 4 corners of the outworking sound like oil over loud pumping engine pistons. But while all of this is only a moderate departure from the band’s sound as heard on “Leviathan”, the ears of all who love coherence will be pleased to hear that Brann Dailor has finally decided to settle down and keep the beat rather than drown out everyone else with pretentious fills every 4 seconds.

In spite of all the noteworthy improvements going on here, this is pretty far removed from a perfect album. The clean vocals have still retained a rather unpleasantly excessive nasal quality to them, often being akin to Ozzy Osbourne meets Mark Shelton with a really bad fit of the common cold. It’s not quite as offensive as was the case on “Blood Mountain”, but on a lot of the more vocally oriented songs like “The Last Baron” and “Divinations” it is pretty damned pervasive and draws the ears away from some otherwise intricate music. There is also an occasional tendencies towards over-ambitiousness, particularly on “The Last Baron”, which suffers from having a few too many ideas for its own good. Picture a really contorted mixture of Kyuss, Dream Theater, Trouble, and a host of 70s Progressive outfits and you’ll get the idea. It’s not outwardly terrible like some other overlong songs that are in this band’s back catalog, but it gets pretty awkward after the first 6 minutes.

If someone wanted to give this band a first time listen, this would be the album to start with, and in my opinion the only one really worth getting. It is definitely geared towards an audience comprised of psychedelic stoner rockers and progressive rock nuts, ergo a lot of people with beards, ponytails, and tucked-in t-shirts. It’s not the earth-shattering masterpiece that many are hyping it as, but for what it is, it gets the job done. For what it’s worth, this album has turned one of this band’s most hardened skeptics into one that sees a bit of potential looming for future releases, provided that they maintain this stylistic direction of course.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 9, 2010.