mastodon_albumMastodon, the most aptly named band in all of music, is back with Crack the Skye, their first offering since 2006’s Blood Mountain. The album is probably best considered as a mature album, “mature,” of course, being a codeword for “melodic.” Yes, there’s more singing on individual songs on Skye than on entire previous Mastodon albums. And while that does make for a more coherent record musically, the real secret behind Mastodon’s perpetual improvement is the fact that they take their time; there’s much patience behind the songwriting here. Reciprocity is also asked of the listener, considering that there the running time is 50 minutes over seven tracks. While previous albums had long tracks, no Mastodon album had this much exploration across an entire record. The four-part, eleven-minute opus ‘The Czar’ embodies this very fact: it’s only the second-longest cut of this collection. Once again, Mastodon crafts a concept album in its trademark fashion: an ever-expansive story that exists within its own world. In order to fully explain the lyrical concept behind the album, you’d need a roadmap, a compass and an etch-a-sketch. But, honestly, you don’t listen to Mastodon for the lyrics, do you? I mean, after they converted Moby Dick into a metal opera, did anyone actually bother to follow whatever they had to say next? Thus, it would seem that there would be no real need to quote any lyrics here. Hell, you wouldn’t understand any of them anyway, as any single line or couplet would be removed from its context. That is not to say that Brann Dailor is a sub-par lyricist. No, instead his abilities as a storyteller are overshadowed not only by his abilities as a drummer but also by the band’s ability as a whole to tell that same story musically. That said, his ability to conjure up vivid imagery in whatever world/story/reality that he creates doesn’t go unnoticed. Witness this colorful description from ‘Divinations’: “The fire is dancing in the silvery sheet of breath/ Black robe, necromancing summon the soul of the spectre.”Despite the fact that Mastodon have traveled through a half-dozen progressions within their initial sound, that does not preclude the bands willpower to return to their former records, if only for a salutatory wave. Besides acting as its own entity, Skye also exists as a reminder to fans (long-time and new alike) just what makes Mastodon so fucking great in the first place: evolution. The album contains numerous “in-jokes” about the band that created it: ‘Quintessence’ harkens back to the claustrophobic nature of Leviathan but with far more paranoia, ‘Divinations’ exhibits the band’s further move toward pop sensibilities that began on Mountain, and the title track serves to remind you that Mastodon can still put you on your goddamn ass if it so desires.The most interesting development of the band over its four albums is the fact that Dailor has emerged as the star player of the collective. He was a supporting participant up through Leviathan, but transformed into the reason to listen to Mastodon as of late. He’s one of the few drummers left who can be identified purely by the sound of his kit. The thunderclap of his snare drum is as bright as it’s ever been and, of course, he’s all over the kit like a cocaine-addicted Keith Moon. It’s simply a joy to listen to him play.If there are any downsides to Skye, they’re simply nitpicking. Yeah, ‘The Czar’ and the thirteen-minute closer ‘The Last Baron’ could be trimmed a minute or two apiece. Yeah, the Brendan O’Brien-helmed mix is a bit thick at times. And, yeah, the band has gotten ever more pretentious. But on the whole, Crack the Skye proves one obvious fact: as far as modern metal goes, you can’t do much better than Mastodon.91%Mastodon on Myspace