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.

1537 meets his spirit animal …

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. 

956 Down. 

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.

27 thoughts on “Definition Defiant

  1. Like what I have heard of Crack the Skye — watched the video — it is challenging and energetic music and changes when it needs to. Love your blog as it reminds me what groups I need to go back to explore and provides new groups to follow-up on. Good deployment of mixed meter and key change.

  2. Didn’t like this one as much as Leviathan or Blood Mountain… but it was good enough to make up a trilogy of decent albums. Just decent though, never been mad for this band. ANd The Hunter was total pish so I gave up on them after that.

  3. This might be their best album. I have listened to it several times and I have to agree, I don’t know how to categorize them either and maybe that is a good thing. I look at them as Metal and dang they bring it on this one. These are Atlanta boys, my home town for 45 years, so I dig these guys. I haven’t listened to them in awhile as they have kind of lost me musically, but this one is always a good one to go back to.

  4. This one is hands down my favourite Mastodon album… and I would agree that it’s one of those complete listen albums… no one song really stands out more than any other. That said, I know it really well and reckon every song is a winner. Though you do mention my picks for playlists and the likes – Oblivion and The Czar.

  5. Great post. Have had this on CD for a while but didn’t know it well until I saw Mastodon play it live in its entirety a couple months back. It was awesome live, so I BOUGHT THE PICTURE DISK AT THE SHOW! And now after some post show listens, I realize it is awesome not live as well.

    1. Cheers Vic, I’m pleased I finally managed to burrow my way in to their sound. I knew they were a good band, but just couldn’t find the front door.

      You just have to love a picture disc.

      Were they good live?

      1. It was an awesome show, and my third Mastodon live experience. Re finding the door, I get it. The first time I saw Mastodon live — in Pittsburgh with my son on the 2014 Once More ‘Round the Sun tour, I was not impressed, even to the point of toying honestly at the time with the idea of begging off any future “loud” metal concerts. Have seen them twice since however and been blown away both times — I can only think it must have been the horrible muddy acoustics that put me off the first time. The dedicated burrower eventually gets the worm?

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