What do Stephen Hawking, quadriplegics and Rasputin have in common? They’re all key players in the concept for Atlanta metal band Mastodon’s fourth studio album “Crack the Skye.” If we were talking about any other band, that would sound weird, something no one would ever think to sing about. But this is Mastodon. Over-the-top pretentiousness is their thing.
The album follows the trials of a quadriplegic man who learns astral projection. After flying too close to the sun and getting separated from his body, his spirit is summoned to Czarist Russia by Rasputin and his followers. There, he predicts Rasputin’s assassination, but gets ignored. Eventually, Rasputin does get murdered and agrees to help our hero back to his body.
“Crack the Skye” follows “Leviathan,” Mastodon’s first concept album based on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Again, weird, and again, it works. Mastodon’s music requires that sort of concept for it to work properly. I admit it’s ridiculous, but I don’t care.
The songs on “Crack the Skye” are an evolution of Mastodon’s well-established riff-based metal. On this album, the band really took its designation as progressive metal to heart, slowing the pace and lengthening the tracks compared to their previous efforts. This is true stoner metal. Where “Leviathan” bashed in your head, “Crack the Skye” crushes you slowly.
On this album, Mastodon has taken its non-traditional concept metal to its peak so far. Where they got next is anyone’s guess. The only thing that’s sure is you won’t have thought of it first.