After releasing 3 of the most heavy and interesting metal albums of the 2000s, by the time Mastodon got around to writing Crack The Skye, they pretty much proved they were a mainstay in the world of heavy metal and hard rock. They were one of the very few bands of past 20 years that I’d say has really kept the genre fresh and interesting and free from redundancy, which metal can, at times, tend to be. The point I’m pretty much trying to make here is that they proved their worth, and they could’ve easily rested upon their laurels and ridden off the coattails of what was accomplished with past efforts. However, with Crack The Skye they continued to trail blaze, still had a tremendous amount to say, and refused to set sail to the sea of past glory and instead set sail to a sea of a whole new imagination. Many fans and even the band themselves regard this to be their finest work, while it also proved the band had more tricks up their sleeve and weren’t afraid to expand their sound even further and challenge the listener. Mastodon is the perfect example of the band that you initially think you have figured out, and then they turn around and surprise you with a plot twist. Crack The Skye is what I consider to be Mastodon’s plot twist record, and I’m here to discuss why after ten years, its brilliance is still as relevant and fresh as the day it was released upon the masses.
The elephant in the room that I have to get out of the way first is that this album sounds nothing like the previous albums. For fans that were expecting Leviathan (2004) Part II or a logical successor to Blood Mountain (2006) were either pleasantly surprised by this album, or they potentially could’ve been disappointed. However, I’m going to probably assume that most people were pleasantly surprised. While there are still plenty of heavy moments found on songs like “Divinations” and “Quintessence,” songs like “Oblivion” and “The Czar” find the band going into new territory, and a much more progressive one. There definitely was a higher emphasis on the progressive element and generating an atmosphere that the listener finds them being taken to another place.
The thing about Mastodon that I probably love the most isn’t even the heavier moments. It’s the moments where they interweave clean/acoustic interludes with an atmospheric tinge, while the rhythm section of Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor establishes the groove behind it. This is an element of their sound they have been tapping into since their debut record Remission (2002), but on this album, they really took that element and ran with it and expanded upon it, while still keeping their sludge metal part of their sound still in the mix.
The best way I can probably describe the sound of this album overall is if you took Rush, and put it through a Neurosis filter. I’m not simply saying this because Neurosis’s Scott Kelly is featured on the title track, but with a song like “Ghost of Karelia,” I find myself feeling like this particular song was heavily influenced by albums such as Rush’s Permanent Waves (1979) or Moving Pictures (1980) but inevitably Mastodon infuses those influences with the sludge metal elements that they’re known for. Even though that particular song might be displaying that influence more obvious than others, the whole entire album has little sprinkles of those elements. They definitely took a page out of Rush’s production rule book in terms of layering, and what I like to call “sonic Easter eggs” where they’re little sounds in the background of the song to emphasize more of the album’s sound and give the listener a large palate of sounds and colors to choose from to feast their ears. This is probably the thing I love most about this album. All the sounds are wonderfully crafted, everything has a purpose, and nothing feels out of place. While this element wasn’t entirely new for Mastodon, they definitely perfected the art by this album and took it to an entirely new level.
I have to admit, personally for me, this album was a grower. I didn’t particularly feel like it was quite at the same level of Leviathan or Blood Mountain, with Blood Mountain still probably being my overall favorite Mastodon record. That being said, over time I kept coming back to this record, as well as listening to it once again leading up to me writing this article. Now I feel like it’s one of their best, but for an entirely different reason. I find it to be one of their best simply because of how well it was crafted and really hearing how much more effort was put into this album. It demands a listen from start to finish. I find myself getting lost in this album, and before I know it, it’s over and then “Oblivion” comes on once again and I’m like, “Here we go again, round 2!” I recommend to anyone who’s just recently getting into Mastodon to listen to this album with an open mind, and not compare it to the previous three. It’s an album that really stands apart from those albums and comparing it to their previous efforts would simply be doing it a disservice. However, listening to the previous three and then going into this album, it might be relatively easy to see the progression. It probably has far more in common with Blood Mountain, but even then, Crack The Skye is entirely its own thing and Mastodon has gone on record to say this album was a very special one in their catalog, and after ten years, it’s safe to say that statement still reigns true.