It was the Library & Information Sciences that set me on the path to becoming a massive fan of the progressive metal band Mastodon. While I was getting my graduate degree, I did an audiovisual purchasing project that involved selecting and budgeting for materials that would be desirable to add to a library’s collection based on such factors as expected demographical popularity, cultural significance, and critical acclaim. This involved a lot of research and reading of reviews for recent movies and music, and one of the items that kept popping up on my radar was an album called Crack the Skye by the aforementioned sludge rockers. Feedback for the release was phenomenal, and it was carrying an impressively high average score at critical aggregator site Metacritic. So when I saw the CD at Target for ten bucks, I snapped it up, figuring my metal-loving ears would investigate the buzz for themselves.
And love it I did. Skye is a concept album with seven songs, a couple of which run over ten minutes, and its story has something to do with astral projection, wormholes, Tsarist Russia, and a paraplegic who ends up in the body of Rasputin—exactly the kind of bizarrely ridiculous plot that makes prog rock so wonderfully enjoyable. I was hooked from the very first opening track, “Oblivion,” through the last note of the last song called “The Last Baron.” I had heard one or two songs of Mastodon’s before—I think an older single called “Colony of Birchmen” was on Rock Band—but from what I could tell, Skye represented a leap forward in maturity, accessibility, and ambition. The songwriting was intricate, the guitar work masterful, and each song was a uniquely memorable piece of the overall puzzle.
Mastodon followed up Skye with last year’s The Hunter, an album that I listed as one of the best albums of 2011 right here on KPL’s website. I’ve been listening to it consistently since it came out, and the more time I spend with it, the more I’m convinced it’s one of the best metal albums in a decade. The sound is more stripped down than on previous releases and the songwriting is more nuanced. There’s not a moment of filler on the album, as each track has a distinct ferocity, powerful lyrics, and a rich hook. My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Mastodon perform at the Intersection in Grand Rapids this past Saturday night where they played all but one track off the album. They blew the roof off the place and I was a happy, happy headbanger.
So if you’re a metal fan (or like your alternative rock on the heavy side), check out The Hunter and Crack the Skye. I’m starting to work my way through their older material now—and loving every minute of it!