It’s been a very, very long time since I wrote a music review, mostly out of laziness and indecisiveness. I hope to break that streak with today’s edition: Mastodon’s cosmic and acid-laced magnum opus, “Crack the Skye”. I chose this album on the fly and despite my not having heard it in full for a while, I am very familiar with it, and also because I can’t think of any other album to write about. So without further ado let’s get started.
Let’s start with the album art. Mastodon’s prominence and popularity, in my opinion, stems not only from their unconventional musical nature and direction, but also from each album’s captivating and very intriguing artwork, and “Crack the Skye” is certainly no exception.
The mastermind behind the album cover and beyond is longtime collaborator Paul Romano, but somehow I feel “amazing” is insufficient to describe his work, and that speaks for itself. What I like the most about it is that the imagery throws the listener off at first glance (“This looks to me more like an underground psychedelic band’s album more than a metal band’s,” I said) in terms of the music, but with each listen it gradually accumulates coherence.
Again, this is musically speaking. As far imagery and lyrics are concerned, the answer to that question is rather clear, as we’re about to find out. That red and angry-looking ethereal bear that looks like it was pulled out of Skyrim? Put two and two together and tell me what you get (Hint: the answer is “Russia”). That bearded figure who swallowed a flashlight and took a family photo with his clone and pet bear? That’s Rasputin. Yep, from there it’s pretty clear that this album is set in Tzarist Russia, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
The album deals with astral projection (hence the nature of the album cover and lyrical matter), namely with one rather unfortunate paraplegic who flies too close to the sun while in the middle of an out of body experience and somehow ended up in the company of Grigori Rasputin. Ample mention is made to him and a good number is quite spot-on, not to mention they make him out to be a pleasant and benign fellow. Still, I’d have reservations about leaving my valuables-let alone my very essence-with Rasputin, but I digress.
Our reluctant traveler drifts between dimensions and even into Hell (we’ll get to that in a while) before either making it back home or continuing his journey into the unknown, whatever tickles your pickle. It’s therefore safe to say that Mastodon’s taken a very…different approach with this album as a whole when compared to their previous works. With no shortage of heavy riffs, memorable melodies and insane drum fills (as is customary of the incredible Brann Dailor), spaced-out psychedelic influences, and vivid symbolism woven into the lyrics, “Crack the Skye” is a definite pleaser and intellectual treat for the musically-minded and inclined.
What makes “Crack the Skye” even more interesting is that it was written partly with personal reasons in mind: “Skye” refers to drummer Brann Dailor’s deceased sister of the same name who died of a drug overdose while still in her teens. I feel that this is truly reflected in two tracks, opener “Oblivion” and the title track. “Oblivion” has two dimensions to it that both deal with the loss of a loved one, with one narrative (Dailor) lamenting said loss and other (bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds) taking the mantle of that loved one’s soul drifting into the unknown. “Crack the Skye” continues this, but this time with the loved one drifting through Hell and (I believe) both parties bargaining with Lucifer for the release of his/her soul.
Other than that, the rest of the album is one massive trip, but keeping the emotional element in mind better cements it in one’s mind and enhances the already otherworldly experience the album offers, and could also have the added benefit of providing closure for those in mourning-kinda like Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, except it’s heavier, faster, cryptic, and in English.
The only fault I found with this album is just the typical “I would’ve written that part differently”-grade issues one is bound to find in even their favorite album of all time; also, I feel most metal albums these days need. More. Bass. (unless you own a powerful-enough sound system of pair of headphones). Otherwise, “Crack the Skye” is a musical, artistic, and lyrical masterpiece-brilliantly composed, executed, and produced. While those among us (myself included) pray to the gods of Rock and Roll for them to record another album like this, just knowing that Crack the Skye exists is solace enough.
Final score: 9.8/10
Favorite tracks: The Last Baron, Oblivion, Crack the Skye, The Ghost of Karelia