Published Mar 18, 2009Evolving beyond the brutishness of their past, Atlanta, GA's Mastodon reveal their most accessible effort to date with seven-track, 50-minute opus Crack The Skye. While still the brainchild of four men channelling their Attention Deficit Disorder into grandiose metallic movements, as opposed to succinct, minimalist songs, there is an undeniable degree of intent and purpose injected into this work. Far lighter than their past efforts, each track features a discernable melody delivered with grace and patience, thereby eliminating the guttural beastliness that defined albums such as Remission and Leviathan. Simply put, Crack The Skye is a natural step forward from the artier, lighter blow of 2006's Blood Mountain. Musically, however, Crack The Skye is unmistakably Mastodon; it's instantly identifiable via the band's trademark fusion of intricate interludes steeped in twangy country and progressive rock, their vintage-albeit-roaring distortion and tempos that buck and sway to an almost chaotic level yet renege just before stepping into incomprehensible obtuseness. Feeling thick and intensely layered, Crack The Skye is stronger in arrangement than instant gratification. Yet with time it unfolds to prove itself to be of deeper enjoyment; this is a bold advancement in the creativity and complexity that is Mastodon.
What were you trying to achieve with this album?
Bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders: Everything we wanted - the sound, emotion and feel - wound up on the record. That's a brief summary. We wanted some spaciousness, we wanted it to breathe and be the most cohesive album we'd made. Sonically, we wanted to achieve classic rock guitar tones, big, natural drum sounds and a mix of what we wish we'd sound like live every night. Not a whole lot of effects we can't produce live, not too much compression or production - this is exactly what we had in mind.
Bands rarely achieve their original vision for an album. You're fortunate.
We're completely satisfied and beyond thrilled. We wrote it on and off over the past year-and-a-half. To us, we've been living this for almost two years so we're completely ready for it to officially come out and hopefully have people get into it the way we have.
How much of realizing this was the result of using producer Brendan O'Brien?
He was on our shortlist of people we wanted but he's working with Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and AC/DC. We thought we'd cruise by unnoticed. He got back to us though. We all live in Atlanta so we met in a local coffee shop. He said he liked the material on our demos and what did we want to do? We told him we wanted a big, honest classic rock-sounding record to [live up to] Mastodon's full potential. He said he could help us achieve it once he finished the AC/DC record. We were floored. You go finish that AC/DC record! On top of that, he has a library of vintage gear. We were using drum pieces from the '20s, guitars from the '60s, and those are all glorious toys in our eyes. That was a big part of attaining our overall sound: the gear. First and foremost though, we all connected immediately upon that first meeting. Our personalities and visions gelled.
Do you think you've really ventured away from your previous sound then?
It's a different record for us but it's also the four of us and not drastic enough that it should turn people off. We're hoping they'll strap in and join us for this journey, this new ride.
Was it unusual to work with a different producer, having used Matt Bayles for the past three albums?
It was but we knew we owed it to ourselves to try a new avenue. We called Matt and said, "Hey, we've done three with you but we'd like to play the field a bit." He gave us his blessing and told us to follow our gut instinct. He actually worked as an assistant engineer under Brendan for a couple of records so when we decided on working with Brendan he was stoked. It was all positive, which was great because we're such good friends with Matt. When you're that tight with somebody, it's only common courtesy, in my opinion.
There's a rumour that you're playing Crack The Skye in its entirety live?
Yeah, from start to finish. That runs about an hour and then we'll go through the medley of songs from each previous record. We plan on playing a 90-minute set. That's a healthy dose of live material without overkill. Even when we're watching our favourite bands like the Melvins or Neurosis, at the 90-minute mark when they stop you're either extremely content or you wish they'd play one more song. We'd rather do that than deafen people. We've incorporated some visuals to hopefully give some eye candy and make for a great experience all around. There are some new steps we're taking.
You said you were hoping this was the most cohesive album yet. What did it take to make that?
It was something we've always attempted and we don't regret the arrangements of previous records but musically, the songs that made this record fit into one pocket more comfortably than ever before. It's a smoother flow throughout. That's not negative towards the other albums but we've finally captured things so solidly. That's why we finally feel this is the album we should play from start to finish live. We've toyed with that idea for ages but this is the album we can and will do it on.
You feel the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?
Yeah. It's more powerful as a whole, as opposed to pulling a few songs to give a taste of what it's like. This record is truly a whole piece and we want to present it that way.
Speaking of being smoother, the vocal delivery has progressed over the years. This is probably the clearest you've delivered to date.
In the past, if we paid less attention to any aspect, it was probably the vocals. We were always satisfied with them but as this music was being created, we realized it demanded that we improved our vocal styling and performance. We couldn't lay aggressive vocals over this music; it's too layered and beautiful for that. So we spent more time and effort combing through various vocal approaches and possibilities to find the best vocal passage that would be most effective for the music. We wanted the songs to be bigger, better and more badass. It was awesome that we collectively spent more time combing over various vocal ideas together. It was time well spent, something we'd never put that much effort towards in the past. We were really happy to do it. Whoever had an idea, we'd try it and find out what sounded and felt the best. It didn't matter who did it, even if you weren't singing it. This album is a very democratic effort. It only helped to make our band become more multidimensional.
Particularly with metal, a lot of bands let the vocals feed off the music so it's interesting that you removed yourself from that.
It was great to lay down proper, clean and sincere vocals for a change. In delivering them with cleaner tones, it only adds to a stronger melody for the music.
Probably easier to deliver live too.
Fuck yeah. Two hundred gigs a year with an hour-plus of screaming your balls off? It's not the most pleasant thing in the world. But that's a big part of us that will never die. It's just great to change your style for an album. We're exploring new territory. That's the beauty of art: the possibilities are unlimited.
What's the album's central theme?
It's centred on the element of ether. It closes the book on our cycle of elements. Remission was loosely based on fire; Leviathan was water; and Blood Mountain dealt with elements on earth. This time it had to go up so it's atmospheric. Ether is the dark matter that dominates the universe; it reflects no light. It's the purest of the elements; this is our purest record. It's the fifth element; it's our fifth record... the similarities were too powerful to avoid. The elements chapter to Mastodon is now closed. (Reprise/Warner)