Of all the albums in Mastodon’s vibrant discography, “Crack the Skye” is the most distinctive. Its distinction isn’t due to a higher level of quality or a lack thereof, but its departure from Mastodon’s original identity. The unreserved sludge held in common by their first three records makes a precious few appearances in “Crack the Skye”. Interestingly enough, the occasional bellow and plundering guitar riff seem even more powerful among the often churning album. The grumbling bass guitar in “Ghost of Karelia” and the familiar screams of the album’s title track, are no exception to that. Instrumentally, Mastodon has demonstrated their instrumental prowess once again, delivering precise riffs, solos, and drum fills that outclass the efforts of other sludge metal bands. Nevertheless, “Crack the Skye” is best described as progressive metal with a healthy dose of space rock; certainly not sludge metal. The mash up of genres grants the record an immersive atmospheric quality which is deliberately broken to lend a commanding air to their guitar solos and vocals. For the first time, singing has taken center stage over Mastodon’s signature guttural shouts. Their harmonies can be glorious, but are sometimes awkward such as in the pre-chorus of “Oblivion”. Despite their relative inexperience with singing, it still manages to add to the record’s synergy. Each song flows seamlessly into the next.
“Crack the Skye “continues on with the bands tradition of following a concept. However, never have they undertaken one so personal. Make no mistake, the album may be chalk full of topics like astral projection and the legendary Rasputin, but its true inspiration was the early death of a bandmate’s sister. Unfortunately, the concept is a bit too fleshed out and outlandish. The band may have overdone it in this aspect. Apart from this, there is little to complain about. The album starts off strong and ends even stronger: in a thirteen-minute epic. There is hardly a low point besides a couple of transitions featuring over repetition, something that could be mistaken for laziness. Given the emotional investment in the album it is more likely a thorough attempt to stick to the albums unique tone, which the band does very well. They put their fan base at risk with this album by changing their sound, but musically it is a success.
Often when a metal band lightens up their musical palate, it is seen as an attempt to reach a larger audience or “sell out”, despite what they may claim. It is not uncommon for the quality of writing to decline too. The reasons for Mastodon’s decision to move away from their roots in “Crack the Skye” is unclear. The personal investment they have in the record, and its overall quality suggest that it could be their earnest attempt at something a little different. It’s not uncommon for artists to experiment with their ideas occasionally. However, looking at Mastodon post-“Crack the Skye”, it seems certain that the album was intended to test the world’s reception of a new sound before they committed to what might be called hard rock.
Album Review by Zach Norton, November 2016