Mastodon, like their namesake, are big, hairy and pretty damn unstoppable when they get going. The band's last album, the wonderful Blood Mountain, saw them on the cusp of really perfecting their part prog/part metal, pagan philosophy. but this fourth one sees them come up with an album that may be filled with an almost impenetrable concept, yet contains such an invigorating merger of styles as to make it very accessible indeed.
You'd imagine that Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy) would love this band. Dark magic(k), astral travelling and the role of Rasputin in the downfall of Czarist Russia (on the epic centrepiece, Czar) may come across as comic book concepts writ large, but one cannot fault any band who at least try and give people more than songs about their own lifestyles or limited political agendas. Comparisons to the Mars Volta or even Muse's last album are valid here. Mastodon break free of crushing stereotypes to make Crack The Skye in turns fearsome and beautiful. There's even a banjo at the beginning of the single, Divinations.
It's to the constant detriment of 'metal' as a label that lazy journalism dictates that it's somehow comical, monolithic and essentially unintelligent. Yet it would be interesting to see say, Coldplay or U2 come up with something this ambitious, intricate and still downright rocking. This is the sound of band stretching themselves to their limit and giving us more than we probably deserve.
The adoption of Springsteen's current producer of choice, Brendan O'Brien, may seem odd for a band who use the 'stun' setting on their guitars as often as possible. But O'Brien's as comfortable with the 'classic pop/rock' of Matthew Sweet as he is with the four-to-the-floorisms of AC/DC. A careful listen reveals textures and effects so brilliantly myriad as to make the album one which gives something new on every listen.
This is a great leap forward for the Atlanta foursome and should be heard far beyond the confines of the Kerrang! readership. Inventive rock: who would have thought it in this day and age? On this evidence, unlike their namesake, they won't be extinct soon. --Jerome Blakeney
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MASTODON Crack The Skye CD