After emerging from the muddy underground in a wonderful muck of sludge, prog, hardcore, and doomy weirdness out of Atlanta in the early aughts, Mastodon built up a strong reputation after their crucial third album, Blood Mountain (Reprise). They were not shy about embracing their proggier side, and they never needed a push over the edge to go fully away from most conventional types of metal they were known for at the time. Their second major label album came at a time of transition that would alter the course of the band and see them leave the underground and embrace a different path. That change led to the creation of Crack The Skye (Reprise) which is now ten years old.
Mastodon had already written two full-blown concept albums, and this has become their specialty. Crack The Skye is something on a different level. Several stories all baked into the plot, all with several deep meanings. A deeply personal record stemming from Brent Hinds’ traumatic brain injury recovery and Brann Dailor’s trauma of his sister’s suicide, the added fantasy and physics elements of the story just create a swirling mythology to get lost in. This draws the listener close on repeat spins. Although Dailor now regrets sharing such a personal story of loss with the media, the album has ensured that Skye’s story lives forever.
Musically and lyrically, the album is incredible. All of the things the band did well in the past, they turned up several notches. Masterful playing, great vocals, complex poly rhythms experimental time changes, layered guitar parts, insane lead guitar, and workshop level drumming are all prominent. Dailor’s personal stake to the story may have also led to him becoming a prominent lead vocalist within the band. He totally killed it and now his voice is one of the dominant forces in the band and a great balance between Hinds and Troy Sanders. It seems like after this album Bill Kelliher got his full due as a writer and player for adding his brilliant parts as well. Producer Brendan O’Brien pulled things out of the band members perhaps they didn’t even know was possible. Bringing keyboards in with Rich Morris as a full-time performer on part of songs and even on the ensuing tour to follow was a great way to expand the style. Different instruments and reaches such as Moog Taurus pedals, Dick Dale (RIP) surf guitar solos, and vintage gear added a mystic quality to some of the performances. Of course, “the fifth member” of the band Scott Kelly of Neurosis turns in a crushing turn on the title track, taking it to another level.
In the ensuing years, the band has grown in stature and respect to become a headline act. They have had other heady, heavy albums filled with highs, lows and much weirder shit than this. Although the album is far less heavy than its predecessors, Mastodon retained what made them interesting in the first place while evolving their sound. They were never ever going to be a normal, meat and potatoes, paint-by-numbers metal band. Now they can explore and do whatever they like and they have cultivated a fan base willing to take that journey with them. From the intoxicating trippy album artwork by Paul Romano, and all the intricacies that make it a masterpiece, Crack The Skye will stand the test of time as perhaps that decades best album. It was so sprawling and well executed, it was on occasion hard to perform live, and pulled off very well a few times, including their Live at the Aragon album (Reprise). Similar to Pink Floyd or 1970s Genesis, Mastodon has rarely asked, “should we do this impossible thing?” and instead jumped up and said, “let’s do this!”. This is the difference between great bands and the rest of the pack.