I need heavy at the moment, y’know something to do with the state of the world I currently inhabit and so the 1537 train has just pulled onto the Mastodon line, heading fast for Crack The Skye station. Toot, toot!
I find Mastodon a really tough band to listen to and like. I was an early buyer of a few singles around the Moby Dick era, but a lack of tunes and a certain nuggety gnarled quality* buried any incipient fandom they might have cultivated. Good artwork though. I tried occasionally as folks I know and trusted started to really dig them, but that video with the models and stuffed toys freaked my tits off and the drummer’s neck tattoo scared me. Plus I met a real dick who was into them, who I christened Major Mastodong**. Ah well, so it goes.
As is so often the case, lust found a way of bridging the divide. My local discount record shop was selling the picture disc versions of Blood Mountain, Crack The Skye and The Hunter … and they are mighty fine looking set of gewgaws. Over a few weeks last year I managed to collect them by accident and when I got them home alone, after stroking them gently for a while I finally got around to listening to them – who knew, you could actually do that?
Crack the Skye is my go to album of theirs. It isn’t for the individual tracks, which run together for me a lot, or for the concept about heady times in tsarist Russia (I think) and various phantasmagorical transcendental tripped-out shit – none of which I truly understand, it is for the sense of the LP as a whole; more so than almost every other heavy album I can think of.
Taken as a unit Crack The Skye is tremendous, proper breezeblock riffing counterpointed by soaring melodies, passages of intense churning deathiness giving way to swooping calm and some definite defiant classic rock tricks and flicks sneaking their way in. All those out there time signatures making perfect sense when dragged across the vast soundscape of the likes of ‘The Czar’. And dig those crazy prog jazzisms on ‘The Last Baron’ – Emerson Lake and Harmer? Thunderous.
The playing is astonishingly good throughout, none more so than scary-throat-tattoo-dude Brann Dailor, he hits those drums hard enough that they don’t get back up again afterwards. The album is named in large part after his sister Skye who took her own life at 14, the title track sung superbly well by Scott Kelly from Neurosis^ is by far the heaviest and most intense thing on offer – the account of what he did to sing it right for her is on Wikipedia and a very moving read.
Maybe over time and hundreds more listens I will find myself more immersed in the individual tracks and tunes, I suspect not. For me Crack The Skye is a vast planetary-sized entity, to be enjoyed as such and not broken down and analysed into its’ quadrizillion component molecules; to do so is simply reductive.
If you forced me to pick a favourite here I would be torn between the melodic opener ‘Oblivion’ and the last/vast hurrah ‘The Last Baron’, which at 13 minutes never outstays its welcome; the same can be said for ‘The Czar’^^.
It is all good though, constantly changing, constantly challenging, constantly consistently testing. Just when you feel you have a hold on it, what makes it tick, the music twists again and you lose your certainties, your ceiling becoming floor which lurches up to hit you square in the kisser.
So what do you brand Crack The Skye as? prog metal? technical metal? those are thin chains indeed to bind such a behemoth as this. Mastodon are utterly definition defiant and I have come around to cherishing exactly that awkwardness. All hail.
There, I am Mastodone.
PS: Now to crack these other beauties and to find cheap enough copies of their other LPs on picture disc. After all Crack The Skye is from 2009, I’m only rocking out a decade behind.
PPS: A big double all hail to the cover artist Paul Romano, I love his work.
*not unlike those horrid misshapen nut-covered chocolates I hate. Excretia of Satan.
**being Captain Mature, myself.
^a band that skirt just the other side of ‘too heavy’ for me, but I love their blend.
^^especially the rockin’ last part of it.