Sound — 10
Let me start this review out by saying that Mastodon is one of those rare bands where there are few things you can take from one album and say that it is similar to a past album. If you were to listen to their debut, "Remission", or even its successor, "Leviathan", and then listen to "Crack The Skye", you'd probably tell me that there are two different bands playing. But never fear, we have the same winning crew of four behind the music here. And boy do they hit a home run here. On those previous albums, Mastodon was heavy. I don't know how else to put it, those riffs were f--king heavy. "Blood And Thunder"? Head banging masterpiece if I ever heard one. Here on "Crack The Skye" we still get those headbanging riffs, but it's like the band took a step back and really ironed out what they wanted to sound like. Their prog influences really shine on this record. Songs like Oblivion go from thick and chunky to huge and spacey in the blink of an eye. You have two 10+ minute masterpieces in "The Czar" and "The Last Baron". You have a f--king gong in "Ghost Of Karelia". A gong! What more need I say? All in all, Mastodon nailed their sound on this album. I'm sure much of the improved sound quality comes from producer Brendan O'Brian, but these guys have definitely stepped their game up and this album is a force to be reckoned with.
Lyrics — 10
Drummer Brann Dailor wrote most of the lyrics for this one, and for the first time he provides lead vocals. He's the first voice you hear on this album, and you have to wonder how in the hell he stays in key while playing those monster fills he's come to be known for. He also does backing vocals on "Crack The Skye". Other than Scott Kelly's appearance on that track (which we'll get to in a moment), the remaining vocals are done by the usual team of bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds. In the past, their vocals could be incomprehensible at best, but they both really improved on this album. Hinds singing in the chorus for "Oblivion" is really catchy. You can actually understand what Troy is saying on this album. Now, Scott Kelly sings on the song "Crack The Skye". That song is absurdly heavy, matching even early Mastodon in terms of sheer force, and Kelly's vocals emphasize that. Lyrically, this album has two stories behind it. Like "Leviathan" and "Blood Mountain", it is a concept album. The first story, and the one that most people know, is about a paraplegic boy who gets lost in space after an Icarus-like incident while astral traveling. And if you think that was way out there as far as the topic of a song goes, you ain't heard nothing yet. I won't go into much more detail so as to not spoil the story, but I will say that he has a long, long journey home, and his tale is told brilliantly. The boys in Mastodon did a fine job with this story, although one has to wonder how much weed they were smoking while coming up with it. The second story is mostly about Brann. The album was named after his sister, named Skye, who committed suicide at the age of 14. Brann has said in an interview that most of the songs on this album are actually a fantasy narrative about how he could have saved her. This side of the album is much more apparent on the title track, but once you sit down and read the lyrics, it becomes a bit more clear. Skye would be proud of Brann though; "Crack The Skye" (the title track) sends shivers up my spine every time and I never get tired of listening. A fitting tribute for a loved one.
Overall Impression — 10
This is the best prog/metal album of the past decade. I would put it up against anything else in the genre. It has an amazing (although strange) story behind it. The execution from each band member is incredible. Brent Hinds in particular does a stellar job with his solos. The music itself is immaculate; you get the sense that these guys made no mistakes at any point in the recording of this album, and yet the technical level on display by each band member is amazing. This is probably about as close to a perfect album as you can get; I literally cannot find any faults in it anywhere, except that at just about 50 minutes exactly I wish it was longer. Do yourself a favor: log off UG right now, go to your nearest record store, and buy this album if you haven't already.