Album: Crack the Skye by Mastodon
Released: March 24th, 2009
Mastodon is a progressive metal band from Atlanta that was formed in 2000 from the ashes of two disbanded acts. The group has had the same lineup since its formation which consists of bassist Troy Sanders, guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, and drummer Brann Dailor. Mastodon has released seven studio albums to date; four of these have been concept albums. Initially known as a stoner and sludge metal band that used growling vocals, Mastodon has sought to expand their musicianship and genre with each record. Each musician brings a masterful and unique style to their instrument and Mastodon is noted for having three vocalists (Sanders, Hinds, and Dailor). Though the that band recorded on 2017’s Emperor of Sand sounds very different than the one which released Remission in 2002, the same four amazing musicians continue to persevere and carve their own unique place in music history.
**Spoiler Alert – Story Details Ahead**
The Story and the Songs:
Mastodon’s 2009 album, Crack the Skye, is often lauded as the band’s magnum opus, and rightly so. “Oblivion” kicks off the album telling the story of a quadriplegic who is able to travel by astral projection. The story mimics that of Icarus in that he soars too close to the sun and the umbilical chord that attaches him to his body is severed, causing him to lost his grip. This song features an emotional guitar solo by Hinds and keeps a chugging pace throughout while featuring Dailor on vocals for the first time in the band’s history. Strangely enough, banjo starts the heavy-metal-meets-surf-rock power of “Divinations” that creates a juxtaposition of styles as the protagonist is sucked into a wormhole before things take a turn toward the esoteric and the story travels back in time to Czarist Russia. “Quintessence” tells of Grigori Rasputin, a Russian mystic, in the woods where he discovers the spirit of the protagonist and contains more musically psychedelic elements than the previous album.
Almost 11 minutes in length, the album’s fourth track is split into four sections. “The Czar: I. Usurper, II. Escape, III. Martyr, IV. Spiral” tells the tale of Rasputin’s assassination, how he is warned of it, and how he allows it to happen in order to help the protagonist get home to his body. Each individual section has a distinct riff that carries it through before circling back to the initial melody at the end of the song.
“Ghost of Karelia” floats in with the taps of a triangle before a gong disrupts the intro and moves into more harmonizing guitar riffs. Sanders takes lead vocals as well as showcasing his mastery of the bass guitar as psychedelic soundscapes slither in the background. The album’s namesake, “Crack the Skye,” introduces the Devil who is hot on the protagonist’s tale and is held back by the spirit of a young girl who died tragically. The intentional misspelling in the title of the song and album are an homage to Dailor’s younger sister, Skye, who committed suicide when she was a teenager; “Crack the Skye” also features Dailor on lead vocals in addition to Scott Kelly from experimental metal band Neurosis. “The Last Baron” is a fittingly majestic end to the band’s heartfelt prog-rock powerhouse. Much like “The Czar,” “The Last Baron” is split into different movements including a prog instrumental break (you’ll know it when you hear it) and a haunting guitar solo by Hinds to put a note of finality as the protagonist returns home and the story ends.
Crack the Skye was followed up by two stand alone albums that were not concepts and it makes sense that the band would want to branch out from the trend. What has become a landmark album for the band and the genre, Crack the Skye stands as a masterful work of song-craft and showcases the ability of the band to put difficult subjects and personal tragedy into their art in order to work through tough emotions. The time, love, and care that went into this album can be heard in every note played; I guess they would say we could set the world ablaze.
Please enjoy some song recommendations, a song from the album, and check out the band’s social media accounts below!
Song recommendations: “Oblivion” , “Ghost of Karelia” , “The Last Baron”
Previously: Blood Mountain