the rock i dig the most ’09: Mastodon

February 11, 2010

My most played album of 2009 is nothing short of an epic Heavy Metal mindfuck. An epic Heavy Metal mindfuck so unavoidably good that it even landed on the radar of someone that actually got paid to write about records for Time magazine. Though, their lame so-called review finds reason to apologize for it, as if admitting that it is good should be beneath you because well, it’s a Metal record by a Metal band. Who the hell reads Time magazine these days anyway, let alone for their music reviews? Still, I find it interesting that a record this downright heavy and “out there” is able to cross-over to audiences outside of the Metal world. Not a bad thing.

And heavy and “out there” it is. The limitations of the human body, astral projection, time travel(?), Rasputin, bodily possession, the limitless nature  of space…I don’t know that I’ll ever quite get my head completely around all of the themes and ideas presented on this record, but that is part of its depth. Crack The Skye is like one of those cool “pick-a-path” books I used to read in sixth grade where you turn to page 78 to fight the dragon on your own, or turn to page 112 to fall back and gather your wizard, barbarian and dwarf.  Aspects of the story this record tells can mean one thing to me on one listen and on the next listen, something completely different jumps out at me and in a completely different way. On one listen the story is a literal narrative, on another, purely metaphorical.

The fact that I am yet again blasting Mastodon’s Crack The Skye into my head via my headphones (and this is a true headphones record) as I write this and am still finding new details to geek out about is a testament to its greatness. There is just so much here to digest. Musically, Crack The Skye is a shape shifter of a record.  From traditional thrash Metal riffage to bursts of heavy prog to beautiful melodic stretches to atmospheric spacey interludes, Crack The Skye feels like the music itself is traveling and exploring. An aspect emphasized all the more when you listen to the alternate instrumental “score” version of it. The vocals, though, lend themselves to this vibe. With 3 of the band’s 4 members handling lead vocals at any given time plus guest Scott Kelly of Neurosis showing up on the title track, this multi-faceted recording benefits from its multi-faceted and distinctly different voices.

I’m now three paragraphs into talking about this record and I haven’t even brought up the guitar work or the guitar solos yet. For all its adventurous complexity, Crack The Skye is a Heavy Metal record after all, and Mastodon is downright fucking brutal (a compliment). The twin-guitar attack (that’s never not fun to write) of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher creates a bizarre symphonic tornado of sound so killer that it lands them on the covers of every guitar geek mag still in print. Don’t take my word for it. Check out “Divinations” stripped of drums, bass and vocals:

So not only do you have killer guitar work, Mastodon’s Brann Dailor is by far the best drummer in Metal right now. Which, if you’re the best drummer in Metal, that pretty much makes you the best drummer in all of Rock. Dailor’s work is constantly busy and always tasteful. Fills roll on top of fills on top of fills, all while pounding and spiraling through time signatures that are more at home in jazz and prog than in thrash. It’s as if Neil Peart and Dave Lombardo had a hyperactive, more artistic baby.

Troy Sanders’ bass lines seemingly hold all the cacophony of Mastodon together, sort of guiding the songs through their elaborate mazes. The centerpiece of Crack The Skye, the four-part, nearly eleven minute “The Czar” is a prime example of this. Plus, he’s the most versatile singer in the band, armed with a voice clean enough to be clearly understood (something not to be taken for granted in modern Metal) and able to, at times, lend a more melodic leaning to the vocals and yet rough enough to push the more aggressive moments over the edge…and he has a really cool beard.

Mastodon’s Crack The Skye is simply a band in their prime hitting on all cylinders. There are no weak links and the chemistry of the band’s four musicians is in perfect balance. This is Metal executed as a form of art. Not just one of the best albums of the year, and not just the best Metal album of the year, but one of the best albums of all time. Not even a full year since it’s release, Crack The Skye is already a classic.


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