Rock review: Mastodon, Crack the Skye

(Reprise)

It takes a special band to do a prog metal concept album with dignity, but Atlanta's Mastodon are genre masters. Their breakthrough Leviathan was steeped in imagery from Herman Melville's Moby Dick, while 2006's Blood Mountain was littered with mythological creatures. Their sound is a cauldron of heavy southern rock riffs, duelling guitar harmonies, doomy Black Sabbath vocals, skittish jazz drums and eye-popping screams - a metal fan's dream. Their musical aggression has spilled off-stage too. Guitarist Brent Hinds was hospitalised with brain injuries in a fight with System of a Down bassist Shavo in 2007, but it's this caveman and scholar mixture that makes them fascinating.

Their fourth LP delves even deeper into prog territory - the spirit world, via Tsarist Russia. With the epic, four-part The Czar, they retell the murder of Rasputin, his soul "spiralling up through the crack in the sky, leaving material world behind", while the music builds to a full-on gallop as attackers gain on the mad monk, the panic rising in the ludicrously fiddly guitars. The breakneck Divinations, meanwhile, invokes the Khlysty, a Russian sect who believed in communication with the spirits.

If this all sounds a bit heavy going, Crack the Skye offers plenty of simple pleasures as Mastodon heap on the musical melodrama, with a more-is-more approach to fretwork that's bound to see them liven up moshpits when they support Metallica this summer.

• Download: The Czar; Divinations; Crack the Skye

Emma Johnston

The GuardianTramp

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