Weird, noisy, and impossibly complex, Mastodon’s 2006 major-label debut, Blood Mountain, quelled fears that the Atlanta group would dumb down its high-concept metal for mass exposure. Instead, Blood Mountain found the quartet using its bigger budget as an excuse to go wild with progressive-rock virtuosity and studio experimentation, both of which benefited the dense, roiling heaviness that had long been Mastodon’s trademark.
Crack The Skye takes similar risks with the Mastodon brand name, but this time, the emphasis shifts from difficulty and weirdness to more practical matters, like memorable songs. The results are notably more harmonious than some fans may be ready to hear—the opening track, “Oblivion,” brings to mind Opeth as fronted by the late Layne Staley—but in Mastodon’s hands, even harmony can be challenging.
Crack The Skye still delivers ample “Mastodon moments,” whether in the atmospheric carpet-bombing of the title track (featuring Neurosis’ Scott Kelly in a vocal cameo), the cyclonic rhythms of “Divinations,” or the dizzying stops and starts that punctuate the multi-part album centerpiece, “The Czar.” But where such moments might’ve been focal points on earlier albums, here they’re just interesting bit players. It’s the songs that matter most on Crack The Skye, and the songs have rarely sounded stronger.