Sound — 8
I would say if you loved 'Blood Mountain' and 'Leviathan', you may be disappointed when you hear this for the first time. Sure, Brent Hinds' hybrid picking style is still there in all it's glory, Brann Dailor still fires off on the drums, but it's just missing something. And that something is power. Sure the album is plenty pretty with melodies and harmonies and lyrics you can actually hear, but it lacks the darkness and crunch that elevated their previous releases from just prog metal novelty. The huge riffs of 'The Wolf Is Loose' and 'Blood And Thunder' just aren't here, and neither is the fury from 'Siberian Divide'. Indeed both 'Quintessence' and 'Ghost Of Karelia' are reminiscent of the penultimate track from 'Blood Mountain' but both just meander around Brent Hinds' trademark sound, leaving you without the payoff of 'Siberian. 's huge riff towards the end leaving you unfulfilled. 'Divinations' is the obvious single and features some of the albums best riffs and a cool surf rock section towards the end. But it just seems like Mastodon by numbers, a bit formulaic. 'Oblivion' may be the best song on the album, heavy, churning riffs and a more metal sound than the rest of the album. I suppose you could call it a ballad, it's slow but there is a hint of darkness to it. 'The Czar' is one of the few songs which showcases Troy Sanders bass, on a light and ethereal track driven by Brent Hinds vocals and riffing. It chugs forward from intricate Radiohead-esque beginning, to a Randy Rhoads circa Bark at the Moon riff, to more angular clean riff and back to the beginning. Pretty Cool, but it doesn't really make you feel anything like, say the end of 'Capillirian Crest' did. 'Crack The Skye' the title track is a bit like 'Sleeping Giant', a bit like early Mastodon. It features Scott Kelly from Neurosis again and is a real standout. The sludgy metal riff of the verse gives way to a soaring chorus and a glimpse of what Mastodon are truly capable of. 'The Last Baron' is a good ending for the album. The intro reminds you of 'Pendulous Skin' but goes on a bit too long at 3 minutes. Then it steps up to the plate with a rapid riff and lots of bass drum from Brann. Then it does what Mastodon does best, rapidly and effortlessly moving from complex riff to complex riff in an impressive fashion.
Lyrics — 7
This is essentially a vocals driven album. Troy and Brent have obviously worked on their voices, and it shows. This album showcases much more clean vocals from the two than previous efforts, and it gives Mastodon a more unique vocal sound, separating them from their previous stereotypical metalcore screams. Like 'Blood Mountain' the lyrics are often atmospheric, but Brent and Troy craft a more meaningful series of songs through their improved vocals, and the lyrics now mean a lot more than previously. 'Oblivion' is a perfect example of this. Troy cries out with passion 'how can I tell you that I've failed? '. Brent sounds world weary when he sighs 'Now I'm lost in Oblivion' and the whole song is vocally a cut above what they've accomplished before. 'Crack The Skye' deals quite explicitly with Brann's sister Skye's suicide. 'Momma don't let them take her/ Don't let them take her down'. This is a departure for the band, as is the fact lyrics are clearly audible on this album. Before, they were really just a fifth instrument, without carrying much message. Problem is, there is little subtlety and rhymes seem clunky overly simplistic. For example 'Enemies poison deep within my second sight/ Wasting valuable time' which doesn't look too bad but it just sounds horrible on the album. The chorus of 'Oblivion' only narrowly avoids this fate.
Overall Impression — 8
This may be the rebirth of prog rock, but that's not why I bought the album. I wanted heavy, sludgy riffs and mad breakdowns and it doesn't deliver. However, this is an album that grows on you and it is a great achievement. 'Oblivion' and 'Crack The Skye' are what I'll be listening to for the rest of the year. Ultimately, though, as a bass player, there's nothing here I'm itching to learn unlike 'Crystal Skull' and 'Colony of Birchmen' from their previous album. In fact the whole rhythm section of Bill, Troy and Brann seem underrepresented on the album which is driven by Brent Hinds. Brann Dailor's madcap drumming just isn't as noticeable, Bill Kelliher's solid rhythm work and heavy metal sensibilities are missing, and Troy is barely audible for much of the album. So should you buy the album? Probably yes. Its a grower and features some great songs and riffs. But if you are going to buy one Mastodon album, I'd recommend you buy 'Blood Mountain'.