By their own admission,
[artist id="1228325"]Mastodon[/artist] have always injected themselves into the far-reaching concepts of their, uh, concept albums. Leviathan was as much about loading into a white van to tirelessly tour the U.S. as it was about Captain Ahab's quest for the mythic whale. Blood Mountain was about their perilous dealings with the major label system as it was about ascending a treacherous peak.
Which is why their new album, Crack The Skye, is so different: It's both their most personal and their most out-there concept album to date. Taken from the twin experiences of drummer Brann Dailor (who wrote most of the lyrics) and guitarist Brent Hinds (who penned most of the music), it's a far-reaching story that's rooted in the deeply personal.
"My sister passed away when I was a teenager and it was awful, and there's no better way to pay tribute to a lost loved one than having an opportunity to be in a group with my friends and we make art together," Dailor told MTV News. "Her name was Skye, so Crack the Skye means a lot of different things. For me personally, it means the moment of being told you lost someone dear to you, [that moment] is enough to crack the sky.
"Death is part of life. Everybody goes through loss at some point in their life, but when someone commits suicide very young, it has very damaging, lasting effects," he continued. "It's our duty as musicians and artists to reach down as deep as possible into human and life experiences and put that into your art. And it felt like Brent was coming from a deeper place, musically, so I felt like perfect opportunity to connect with him."
That place Hinds was coming from was equally bleak. After a post-VMA [article id="1569521"]incident in 2007 left him with "severe" head injuries[/article] (Hinds won't talk about the incident, except to mutter that if he ever meets up with the parties involved, well, bad things are going to happen), he was hospitalized and spent nine months recovering. When he eventually returned home, he began churning out spirally, doom-y guitar lines, echoing the spiraling dizziness he felt in his brain.
"The music I was diving into was more of a laid-back feel, because of the state I was in — the recovery state, in your pajamas, just taking it super easy," Hinds said. "I had extreme vertigo ... my equilibrium was totally messed up. For nine months, I was dizzy ... I kind of got used to it after a while, and I didn't mind that, but after a while, I told Brann, I was like, 'Man, I'm kind of getting tired of feeling euphoric.' "
So they took those experiences and worked them into a story which could best be summed up as "spaced out." The spirit of a paraplegic boy leaves his earthbound body, flies too close to the sun, gets lost in a ghost realm, begs to be sent back to earth, eventually binds to the soul of early 20th-Century Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin, is with him through his death, is cast back into the heavens and is eventually led back to his own body, where he's cured of his ailments (or something like that). And if you're at a loss to see how Mastodon are reflected in that, well, you're not the only one.
"We're not really in this record," Hinds laughed. "I mean, not as much as in previous albums. But, I can look at some of the lyrics, like [on album opener "Oblivion"], 'I flew beyond the sun before it was time,' I look at that lyric as being about the VMA night, you know? Like I went beyond the sun before it was time. I took it too far, and they were trying to pull me back in."
Skye isn't just different conceptually, it's also different sonically. For the first time, songs don't feel like exercises in shredding — they're given time and space, which leads to some seriously (dare we say it) jammy moments (recalling the Mars Volta or Frank Zappa) and some seriously lengthy running times. Don't worry though, it's still a Mastodon album, which means there's also plenty of airtight riffs, pounding drums and sandpaper yowls. But after delving so deep and coming so close to death, you can't blame the guys for wanting to slow things down a tad — to get epic and ponderous. And that's what they've done here.
"This is the record we wanted to make right now," Dailor said. "It is my favorite thing we've ever done, and I hold it very dear."
"We always wanted to make something timeless, like time is amazing to us, we obsess on it. We're getting older by the second, everyone is, everything is moving so much, that we want to stop just one track of it, and just have it to be part of rock and roll history," Hinds added. "To me, it comes across as a classic rock album, I hope it makes it into that status, every time I listen to it, all I can think of is how lucky and proud I am to be hanging out with these dudes."