album reviews

Crack the Skye
Reprise (2009)

Having covered the classic elements fire, water and earth on its previous three albums, Mastodon tackles the ether on its latest epic, "Crack the Skye." The Atlanta metal quartet's thematic concept this time around involves a soul's journey through space and time, although the plot points are, as usual, a bit esoteric. (In "Divinations," the narrator finds himself in the center of an underground Russian Orthodox sect called the Khlysty.)

The centerpiece of the album is the four-part, 11-minute song "The Czar," which showcases the group's stellar fusion of progressive rock with a metal sound. The piece is as much of a journey musically as it is lyrically: Its heavy, sludgy beginning awakens into a fireball of energy that conjures visions of a panicked escape. Every time it seems that the music can't get more intense or intricate, it does. Each guitar riff is more angst-ridden than the one before, and the narrative builds sonically through its four segments.

But the details of the story aren't really crucial to grasping the passion behind these compelling songs: The blazing guitar on "Quintessence" mirrors the anguish in the bellowing vocals "Let it go! Let it go!" while the computerized, effects-laden growl in the middle of the title track captures a sense of frustration evident in the song's more dramatic pacing.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 8 May 2009, Page WE08
.: Crack the Skye on