I confess: Mastodon had lost me. I mean, those dudes were wanking themselves completely off their fucken rockers. The first thing that turned me off was all these dooshes started loving them (bound to happen when a band hits the big time, and I am stupid for holding that against them). But then my buddy told me how he saw them live and they all had like 30 guitars and roadies tuning them (and doing everything else) for the band (huge turnoff for a DIY kinda guy). The big deal breaker was reading that James Hetfield came up to Mastodon guitarist Brett Hinds, telling him he wanted to “pass the metal torch on to you guys.” James, you pretentious fuck. First off, there is no torch that goes to the best metal band passed on by the last best metal band. And if there were a said torch, Metallica would not have had it in its possession for at least twenty years. Mastodon acting like that was a compliment pissed me off.
Then I heard about the new LP: a concept album about some paraplegic who flies too close to the sun, causing him to go through a wormhole where his spirit goes into Rasputin’s body to warn him of his planned assassination. Okay… I could handle Remission’s theme of nuclear holocaust and the drummer’s dream of the burning horses, Leviathan’s “Moby Dick” bent, even Blood Mountain’s stories of climbing mountains only to find blood thirsty ogres (and more challenges) at the top. But this was way too much, if I wanted such progtastic themed wanky meanderings I have plenty of Magma, Yes or Genesis albums to put the needle to (in fact, the theme almost sounded like a rip off of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway). After a couple of quick listens to parts of the album, I realized I didn’t need it from my once favorite metal-core band (I even heard keyboards!). AND TO TOP IT OFF: gone were the throaty primal grunt growl scream vocals of past albums. The boys were now singing, even harmonizing with each other (obviously, I thought, this was what happens when the band brought Brendan O’Brien, who’s done work for Pearljam and Springsteen, in to produce). My NU-Metal radar was going off like crazy, and I could see that Mastodon were going the way of the heroes, Metallica, and were no longer relevant but completely over-dooshified.
So, last week I almost didn’t go see Mastodon even though they were playing like 5 minutes from my apartment (in fact if Baroness would not have been on the bill I probably wouldn’t have gone). Would that ever have been a mistake: the boys are so fucken technically and the songs from Crack the Skye so compositionally sick that the show was altogether mind blowing. After about twenty minutes of them playing Crack the Skye track by track, I forgave them for everything (even the somewhat harmonious vocals). I began to see it: Brett Hinds’ confined hospital stay led to the astral traveling theme of the album (kind of like a Brian Eno or Robert Wyatt story). I imagined him in a hospital bed, his only mode of travel psychic (I may be pushing this way too far, but it’s probably appropriate for such a far out album).
Crack the Skye’s seven songs clock in at just over 50 minutes, but I am lost in the maze, never do I check to see how much time is left. The proggy/jazzy time signatures (For the RIYL guys, it’s like King Crimson attempting to be Iron Maiden) have me changing my headbanging routine like every thirty seconds and the riffs crescendo and fall like the Andes Mountains. Mastodon can be as indulgent and poppy as they want, as long as the riffs keep my fist pumping and my world turned upside down, which they are able to do for most of the album. Although, I do find myself at times wishing for the harder hitting, death metal screaming band of yore, this is a more than welcome reprise. And 50 minutes for me to contemplate on what conceptual them the guys will think of next.