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Album Review: Mastodon, "Crack the Skye" (Reprise)
I distinctly recall my excitement as a jean-jacket-clad, 12-year-old metal poseur, unwrapping my cassette copy of Iron Maiden's "Powerslave" and discovering that the last track was almost 15 minutes long. Metal and prog have always been intriguing bedfellows, and Mastodon--who, with their 2006 breakthrough record, "Blood Mountain," seemed primed to take their commercial viability to the next level--have gloriously defied that expectation with "Crack the Skye."
It sounds like commercial considerations weren't anywhere on their radar screen at all, actually. As vocalist Troy Sanders recently said to Stereogum, "... we kinda strapped on our aeroshells and departed from Earth for a while, and then captained to the ethereal element of the universe and kind of slept on the roof of the world for a while to get a perspective on this record. ... We're dissecting the dark matter that dominates the universe ...." (Possible translation: we dead-bolted the studio door and consumed copious amounts of drugs.)
In its distended, sludge-heavy way, the story "Crack the Skye" tells is apparently one that combines Stephen Hawking's theory on wormholes, astral travel, out-of-body experiences, and the art aesthetics of Tsarist Russia. The great thing about prog-metal is that not only can you get away with this kind of kitsch-en sink approach--the sub-genre flat-out demands this level of convoluted over-complexity. Although not quite as forceful a punch in the face as "Blood Mountain," "Crack the Skye" is definitely an album to be reckoned with. With its winding song structures, often sounding like the band wending its way to the top of a massive musical mountain, it's easy to get lost in this thing. I wouldn't recommended it as a starting point for potential new fans, as nothing leaps out quite like the first track, "Oblivion," but it's a grower.
And like all the best prog-metal, it's worth the time investment. So strap on your chain-mail armor, hoist that cat o' nine nails over your head, and dive headfirst into the bizarro wormhole that is "Crack the Skye."