Do you like your metal with a bit of brains behind it? Or even concepts within concepts? Then Mastodon is a band I’m sure you’re going to love.

Sludge metal quintet Mastodon have always been a clever band by typical metal standards. Rather than singing about any old subject, Mastodon like to mix it up a bit. Presently they have five albums with Crack the Skye being their fourth. Their previous albums Remission, Leviathan and Blood Mountain have all had their own elemental themes (Fire, Water and Earth) but then have a concept within the theme. For example Leviathan, the water album, tells the story of Moby Dick the white whale in musical form. For Crack the Skye the theme is Aether which is energy made of spirits and souls. The concept behind the album is the story of a paraplegic boy who can only move around through means of astral travel (when your spirit leaves your body and is able to travel through space). He goes into space and gets lost ending up going into a wormhole which brings him to Tsarist Russia. He is discovered by a Russian cult by means of divination (asking the spirits for answers to questions) and is helped by the cult. The rest of the album is about the famous 19th century mystic Rasputin trying to help the boy return to his body. Complicated right? Maybe even a little dark? It gets worse. The spelling of Skye in Crack the Skye has a double meaning. Drummer Brann Dailor had a sister called Skye who killed herself when she was 14. For the drummer the album is about his attempt to save her and how when you lose a loved one it feels like your emotions could literally crack the sky.

For this album Mastodon have foregone their usual sludge metal sound for a more progressive rock feel. This is definitely an album for headphones as on the stereo it sound like a lot of random riffs mixed together. On headphones though the album’s a blistering experience. First track Oblivion has a slow guitar riff that feels disjointing and the drums and symbols join in to give it a sense of a build-up. The riffs are fast, yet not heavy. It’s a pleasant track with the guitars being impressively technical, the bass purely supporting the track and the drums keeping the beat. The lyrics however have a heavy double meaning. They deal with the astral travel and wormhole section of the characters tale however they reference Dailor’s sister. “Fall from grace, cause I’ve been away too long, leaving you behind is my lonesome song, now I’m lost in oblivion” Dailor is actually the primary vocalist for the track (unusual for a drummer) and you can really sense his guilt and pain.

Divination is disconcerting. A banjo of all instruments plays the intro and throughout the first verse and in a weird way it actually works. This track is as heavy as the album will get. The banjo, guitar solos and drumming give the song a hectic feel and the switch between screamed and clean vocals mixes really well adding to the messy feeling song. The Czar is split up into four parts and is tiring 10 minutes long. The hazy feeling guitar solos and slow drumming brings the tempo of the album grinding to a complete stop. It’s an epic track leaving your jaw dropping open at Mastodon’s ambition. Ghost of Karelia and Crack the Skye speed the album up again with some impressive riffage and drumming before album closer The Last Baron, a 13 minute track, brings the album to a spectacular end. Vocals rising and falling, face melting guitar solos, smashing cymbals and fat bass riffs leave the listener feeling drained and elated all at the same time.

Mastodon has literally put all their skill, personal experience and genius into this album. This is their masterpiece and one of the best metal albums in years, containing brains, heart and a kick ass concept. I give this album 8/10. I’d have given it more however I think the concept might be a bit too much for some people to wrap their minds around. It can also get a little boring half way through 10 minute track The Czar – but only briefly.

Listen to: Oblivion, Divinations, The Last Baron

For fans of: Trivium, Deftones, Meshuggah