Mastodon, 'Crack the Skye' (Reprise)

Critical Mass
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by David Marchese

Mastodon may be heavy, but they're sure as hell not dull. Leviathan, from 2004, was a bruising explication of Moby Dick. Two years later, the band allegorized signing with a major label as a quest to the top of Blood Mountain. And the Atlanta quartet matched its weighty themes with unpredictable, intelligent metal. It was a thrilling display. It was also all prelude.

Inspired by family tragedy, interstellar wormholes, Rasputin, and guitarist Brent Hinds' recovery from a fractured skull, Crack the Skye is a seven-song, 50-minute phantasmagoria of psychedelic song structures, cosmic lyrics, and foreboding atmosphere. Opener "Oblivion" provides a fiery summary of what's to come, as mystical allusions ("I flew beyond the sun before it was time"), sinister vocal harmonies, and furious instrumental passages explode in Zeppelin-esque grandeur before receding into eerie darkness. Lengthy epics "The Czar" and "The Last Baron" showcase Hinds and bill Kelliher's new yen for guitar solos, which shine like malevolent beams of moonlight. Throughout, drummer Brann Dailor proves amazingly versatile, capable of throwing down funk breaks and fusion fusillades.

While the band still lack a truly distinctive vocalist, it's become clear that with their mastery of water, earth, and skye, Mastodon's music now feels as powerfully elemental as its subject matter.

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