Sound — 9
For much of their career, Atlanta's Mastodon have created music that is the sonic equivalent of dusting off centuries of accumulated dirt from a long-buried fossil. The leaden yet lengthy songs moved much like the extinct, mammothian beast from which the band borrowed it's name. Mastodon became the band du jour in both the extreme metal scene as well as among hipsters. With Crack The Skye, their second major label release, the band's tradition of artsy metal remains in full effect. Noted producer Brendan O'Brien manned the boards for Crack The Skye, so there is an obvious polish to much of the music. It's unexpected, at least from Mastodon. The clean vocals on Oblivion remind us of Ozzy Osbourne, thanks to their nasally tone. But it's the oddity of the sound that allows the song to be so charming. There are jammy moments, a sprinkling of shred here and there and through it all, the band layers nuance atop nuance in a complicated, artistic way. Quintessence is a moody song that can lull you into a trance with it's hypnotic riffing. Mastodon are proof that metal doesn't have to be quite so lunkheaded without sacrificing an ounce of force and aggression to make it's points.
Lyrics — 7
Singer/bassist Troy Sanders has evolved the most in Mastodon. He's singing for his supper more than ever on Crack The Skye, but a song like Divinations is slightly hampered by what sounds like over processing of his vocals. It's a solid slab of hard rock, but the vocals are a bit too cooked. It might take one or two or 15 listens for the vocal style on this song to stop being discontinuous. Other than that, Sanders has boldly and bravely taken a step up here, emitting words that are much more decipherable than that of past Mastodon efforts. The band remains rooted in that mythical vibe, lyrically speaking, which lets Crack The Skye be a sonic journey through and through. The album, also reported to be a bit of an homage to drummer Brann Dailor's late sister Skye, touches on themes of the art of Tsarist Russia and Stephen Hawking theories. To say that it's thought provoking and extraordinary would be, well, putting it mildly.
Overall Impression — 8
What to make of Mastodon in 2009? They're still the same crusty and extremely talented metal dudes from Atlanta. Only they're making music for Warner Bros. Instead of Relapse. The band still has more in common with former Relapse bands like Neurosis than, say, current labelmates like My Chemical Romance or Disturbed. Signing to a major label didn't equate to selling out with Mastodon; they're still churning out leviathan-sized riffs, inserting unexpected twists in the middle of a groove that can loosen your teeth from your gums. There's a bit of polish added to Crack The Skye and what the hell? It's the band's prerogative and if we don't evolve and grow, we die. The mythic Mastodon creature didn't learn that lesson. It's a good thing that Mastodon the band did.