So here I sit listening to the new Mastodon album, Crack the Skye. This is a pretty significant thing for me, as it is one of the few times that I have actually sat down and listened to a Mastodon album. I’ve heard bits and pieces from their past and do own a copy of Blood Mountain, but I think I may have spent more time watching them live than I have listening to their recorded work. Hell, I may have spent more time listening to The Taste of Chaos Ensemble Performs Mastodon’s Leviathan than any one Mastodon album. I neither love nor hate the band; I’ve either rocked out to the live show or shook my head as their sound was lost in a large arena or amphitheater. This is all just to tell you that you’re getting a completely middle-of-the-road view of the album from me.
I’m at the halfway point right now and still waiting for something amazing to pierce my ears. The single “Divinations” still hasn’t clicked with me, and the 10+ minute “The Czar” just seemed too meandering. My ears did perk up during the opening notes of the title track, but damnit, my lunch break is over.
OK, picking up with the title track again. That was some pretty good stuff, flowing right into the 13-minute “The Last Baron,” which I had little hope for based on the previous epic, but it moved surprisingly well, an enjoyable epic (which would have been moreso had my supervisor not interrupted my listening.) Well, back to album opener “Oblivion” which somehow seems better this time around, and I manage to complete the track before, once again, lunch break is over.
“Divinations” is finally making sense to me, and I’m realizing that “The Czar” requires one’s full attention to appreciate. This stuff is worlds away from tracks like “March of the Fire Ants” and “Iron Tusk.” Still having a little trouble with “Ghost of Karelia,” though. If I could just get one session where I could listen to this thing, uninterrupted, in its entirety, I would be set. This lunch break stuff would work much better if I were reviewing punk albums.
What better test of an album is there than the gym? With that in mind, I loaded Crack the Skye onto my trusty iPod and headed for my workout. I normally use meticulously constructed playlists for these cardio workouts, and never with music quite like this, so this was going to be interesting. Amazingly, it all suddenly came together. As I’m listening to “Oblivion,” it occurs to me that the band didn’t write this song – they just picked up their instruments and it poured right out of them. At times in the past they’ve sounded like they were trying a bit too hard to be aurally challenging, but this feels perfectly natural; progressive, yet gritty. Anyone worried that Mastodon has forgotten their heavier influences will be silenced by the hammering riffs of “Divinations.” It’s not so much that the song is heavy as that the band finds a rhythm which hits you repeatedly until you submit to it.
Alright, well, “Quintessence” leaves a bit to be desired after the preceding tracks. It has some cool instrumentation in there, though, the kind of stuff you can only pick up at high volumes or with headphones. At least it didn’t interrupt my workout. The real test of that would be “The Czar,” apparently performed in four parts. Wow, what a journey. Seriously, I felt as if I was on some sort of sojourn, and the time just flew by. I also liked how part four recalled part one musically, as that always helps tie together an epic. The almost psychedelic feel of that track is counteracted by the guitar-driven density of “Ghost of Karelia,” which from an aerobic perspective, pushed me to keep moving even after the previous journey. It’s another one that you mysteriously find yourself wrapped up in without even knowing it. The title track takes that density, makes it even heavier, and continues to work its magic on you. This would easily be the album’s standout, if not for the fact that . . .
. . . goddamn, “The Last Baron” is amazing. I should add that by now I’ve moved from cardio to weights. I always knew progressive music was good for studying, but I didn’t know how it would help my pump. Would you believe I started doing my reps in time? That last time I was this wired-in to a song I started headbanging on an elliptical machine (which wreaks havoc on your rhythm.) The previous six tracks were obviously all building up to this epic crescendo, which is more of a continuous musical idea than “The Czar”’s four parts. Around the halfway mark, this heavy part comes on that is just awe-inspiring. Shit, I’m getting flashbacks to Dream Theater’s “Metropolis Pt. 1” here, one of my all-time favorite epics. I really can’t say enough good things about it. Just listen to it for yourself.
The Day After
Wow. I came home with complete appreciation for this album. I couldn’t even finish writing this on the same day because I needed that extra time to process what I had just experienced. Needless to say, I concede that Crack The Skye is one hell of an album, one that will easily make the fanboys cream their shorts and convert more than a few naysayers. If I recall my history correctly, it only took Cleopatra three days to seduce the mighty Julius Caesar; it looks like it only took Mastodon four spins to break me down with Crack the Skye (and any of my friends will tell you that I can be pretty bullheaded about such hyped things.) Don’t fight the greatness – just give yourself over to it.