Crack the Skye by Mastodon
Release date : March 2009
Reviewed by Eric Stephens
In February 2008, it was revealed that Atlanta, Goergia's Mastodon would begin recording its fourth studio full length album during the spring. Also, the following song title was revealed: “Ghost of Karelia”. During early April, studio footage materialized. By late May, it had been disclosed that Brendan O' Brien (who had worked with such acts as AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, and Velvet Revolver) would produce. Mastodon entered Southern Track Studios on June 19th to commence recording. In late October 2009, the album's title was revealed to be Crack the Skye, and its track listing was unveiled. Boasting seven songs, those songs would span across fifty minutes.
Crack the Skye was mastered at Gateway Mastering in Portland, Maine. Neurosis vocalist Scott Kelly lent guest vocals to the title cut, recording his part at 60 Pyscho Hum Studios in Medford, Oregon. Reportedly, the album's lyrical content touches upon the art aesthetics of Tsarist Russia, astral travel, out of body experiences, and Stephen Hawking's theory of wormholes. Crack the Skye has been proclaimed as a homage to the sister of drummer Brann Dailor, Skye Dailor, who took her own life at the age of fourteen.
Through Mastodon's official website, a teaser clip of the song “Oblivion” was made available for streaming during early January 2009. To promote Crack the Skye, limited, free t-shirts were made available midway into the month, and to be eligible for one, participants had to quote a code from a given music website - each code would only work a limited number of times. Designed by Paul Romano (who's designed artwork for Trivium, and Godflesh), the album's artwork was unveiled on January 26th. Via the January 27th installment of BBC Radio's The Rock Show, hosted by Daniel P. Carter, the song “Divinations” was premiered. Exclusively through Mastodon's official website, a bundle was available for purchase from that very same day. The bundle consisted of a two-track CD single (containing “Divinations”, as well as an instrumental version of the tune), and an exclusive album art T-shirt. Also, the single could be purchased through iTunes, and other digital retailers.
On February 16th, Mastodon launched the microsite CracktheSkye.com, with content based on Crack the Skye's artwork, images, lyrics, videos, and packaging. In early March, a fifty second trailer for “Divinations”' music video materialized. The music video was directed by Robert Schober, who worked on the music video for Metallica's “All Nightmare Long” (from 2008's Death Magnetic), as well as the video for Mastodon's “Sleeping Giant” (from 2006's Blood Mountain). Days later, the full music video surfaced. A limited edition twelve-inch picture disc of “Divinations” was available for purchase at select Hot Topic stores, supported by its instrumental version as well as artwork from Paul Romano. By mid March, all of Crack the Skye's tracks were available for streaming courtesy of Mastodon's official MySpace page.
A deluxe version of Crack the Skye, dubbed a “tunnel book” edition, came housed in a hard box case, a case featuring a third dimension worm hole design that contained exclusive and additional album art by Paul Romano. The package boasted Crack the Skye, as well as a DVD containing “The Making of Crack the Skye” with a photo gallery, track-by-track group commentary, and more from director Jimmy Hubbard. Also, pre-orders received a fourteen by fourteen inch exclusively designed lithograph unavailable anywhere else, with those who were first to pre-order having the lithograph autographed by all of Mastodon's members. From February 24th, Crack the Skye was available for pre-order through iTunes, with buyers being immediately able to download the song “Oblivion”. Also, buyers received an exclusive version of the song, recorded live for the United Kingdom's XFM Radio. Also, iTunes offered a deluxe pre-order package that included Crack the Skye as well as instrumental versions of all the album's songs, and the aforementioned live version of “Oblivion”. Beginning 20:30 EDT at Atlanta, Georgia's Criminal Records, Mastodon took part in an in-store signing session and performance.
Via the issue of fourth full length Crack the Skye, Mastodon is hoping to broaden their musical repertoire. Both growling vocals, and heavy, driving Metal, have been jettisoned. Instead, Mastodon has opted in favour of a Psychedelic / Stoner Rock approach, and Sander's clean vocals cement the group's musical u-turn. Inaugural cut “Oblivion” initially utilizes a purposely unbalanced mixture in terms of music and vocals, lending the track a spacey ambience. Hearing Mastodon favour clean vocals proves quite a surprise, though the outfit greatly deliver Zakk Wylde / Ozzy Osbourne type vocals. Upon “Divinations”, vocals push themselves right towards the very verge of growling in certain instances, but such dynamism is restrained marginally enough. “The Czar: I. Usurper - II. Escape - III. Martyr - IV. Spiral” begins courtesy of a chiming synthesiser, merely dredging along until guitars from Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher finally liven up the track slightly, leading the charge towards a Stoner Rock vein. As a whole, Crack the Skye fuses several musical elements against one another, spawning something very strange.
This material shares some of the same musical components prevalent within the likes of High On Fire and Today Is the Day to name a few, groups signed to Mastodon's erstwhile label Relapse Records. Airy, spacey sludge, and Psychedelic Rock, forms Crack the Skye's foundations. This reviewer experienced trouble following Mastodon's earlier works, though was eager to hear Crack the Skye after being informed that the opus travelled into a fresh direction for the group both musically and vocally. Having listened to the whole full length, Mastodon's stylings still inspire confusion. Within media articles, such acts as Thin Lizzy and Melvins have been cited as early influences, providing a slightly greater understanding of as to where the bizarre songwriting originates.
Crack the Skye might not be this reviewer's cup of tea, though due credit has to be extended towards Mastodon since the group has ventured beyond comfortable surroundings. Of the album's tracks, “The Czar: I. Usurper - II. Escape - III. Martyr - IV. Spiral”'s midway point supplies a more normal, unadulterated Rock section. Its guitars possess a Stoner Rock ambience, whilst its vocals lend the tracks' lyrics Metal grit. Generally speaking, this is Crack the Skye's prime cut. Using clean vocals and so forth, Mastodon tones down its musical preoccupations upon Crack the Skye, though it's still difficult to select which is the greater: Crack the Skye, or past outings.