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Album Review: 'Crack the Skye'

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009



"Crack the Skye," the fourth studio full-length from Atlanta-based doom merchants Mastodon, is supposed to be the album that will expand the band's fanbase beyond its novel, loosely stitched coalition of metalheads, prog rock fans and cool kids. But it's tough to imagine the magisterial "Skye" having the mainstream impact of discs from Queens of the Stone Age or even the Mars Volta, the band's closest big-name analogues: It's too brainy, too lumbering, too stubbornly interested in its own peculiar internal workings, to concern itself with obvious hooks or bite-size riffs.

Mastodon's usual preoccupations are everywhere in evidence: intricate melodies, stabby guitars, interconnected, needlessly obtuse lyrics and shape-shifting vocals (especially those from guitarist/co-lead singer Brent Hinds, who increasingly sounds like Ozzy Osbourne with a cold). More muted and noodle-y than past Mastodon offerings, "Skye" is buoyed by two phenomenal, and phenomenally outsize, tracks: the record-ending shred-athon "The Last Baron" and "The Czar," an ambitious, stupendous four-song suite that manages to evoke everything from Iron Maiden to avant-jazz in 10 Olympian, whiplash minutes.

Mastodon's long-standing fondness for ponderous mythology threatens to overwhelm the disc's regular-scale tracks. "Skye" examines death, time travel and Rasputin's misadventures in czarist Russia. "Divinations," the disc's most inscrutable track, makes an attempt at soaring imagery but winds up with a grave mix of stoner logic and beginner's physics. It's just about the only time the band's ambitions exceed its grasp.

-- Allison Stewart

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Oblivion," "The Czar," "The Last Baron"

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