Thursday, February 5, 2009

At Last . . . Crack The Skye

Thanks to a very cool and generous friend who got me into a listening session, I heard the new Mastodon album yesterday.

The band was there and they were very cool and friendly. I've met them in passing a few times, but this was the only time I got to really talk and hang with them. Really good guys.

Crack The Skye is everything the band said it was going to be- proggier, more psychedelic, not as hard/heavy, spacier/airier, more melodic, more emphasis on lyrics/vocals (both in the mix and song structure), etc.

I'm sure folks who know me are expecting me to say I was disappointed at this point, but I'm not going to.

Here is the most important thing I can tell you about Crack The Skye- It is definitely a Mastodon album.

When you hear it, there is no other band in the world that could have made it. The familiar elements are there, just utilized in different ways. The guitar parts are signature Mastodon, lots of high-pitched noodling with lots of deep, riffy chugging behind it. There isn't quite as much room for Brann to break out the fireworks as much as he usually does, but when you do feel him, it's classic Brann. Throughout the album, the vocals make up more of each song than in the past and they are considerably cleaner than before. Best comparison would be to the melodic parts of Colony of Birchmen.

In the past, Mastodon has kept the soul-pummeling dial pretty much set to 9.5, with frequent forays into 11 territory, and only rarely dipping below 8. This album's primary setting is 7, ventures up to 9 now and then and even eases into the 5-6 zone at times.

The first song released, Divinations, is actually a pretty good indicator of what most of the album sounds like. It’s a sound that’s more compelling when the album is consumed as a whole than when broken up into individual pieces.

The Czar and Ghost of Karelia were my two favorite songs and they come back to back in the middle of the album. The Czar has a really sick change up in the middle where it transforms into what sounds a lot like a lost Sabbath track, all the way down to some very Ozzyesque vocals (and I mean that in an entirely positive way) . Like a lot of the album, Ghost of Karelia is hard to describe, but pretty damn kick ass.

The Last Baron is an insanely epic, multi-part, 13 minute epic that closes out the album. It’s so big and sprawling that it’s hard to describe more than its vast scope without repeated listens.

I haven’t been a big Brendan O'Brien fan, and his role as producer had concerned me, but I didn't really hear his stamp all over this. Yes, it's a SLIGHTLY cleaner sound than before, but that suits the material and it probably would have been foolish to approach it any other way, regardless of who was producing.

Given what I’d read prior to hearing the album, my cynical side was prepared to think “Well, it's their second major-label album, they've gone cleaner/more melodic/accessible, worked with the big commercial rock producer, etc.” and conclude that this is their Black Album and the Mastodon we know and love is no more. But it doesn't feel that way. Listening to it, you get the impression that this is the album they really wanted to make and would have made regardless of circumstances. Dare I say this may be a case of that creative evolution bands are always carrying on about.

Does evolution always equal a good thing from a fan’s perspective? Not necessarily. And does the fact that Crack The Skye may legitimately be the album Mastodon wanted/needed to make right now automatically place it in the same league as their previous work? Again, not necessarily. Personally, I’m not sure I’d rank it there, at least not after only two listens.

Might this end up being your (or my) fourth favorite Mastodon album? Maybe. But it's still very much a Mastodon album and given the standard they've set, even fourth best wouldn't be too shabby and is still better than 90% of the other records out there. That’s much more than we can say about plenty of other bands who have “evolved.”

Of course, all of this is subject to revision upon further listens.

No comments:

Post a Comment