Records of the Week with (Just) Ted #11
Each Friday, Editors Ted Nubel and Jon Rosenthal will share their picks for Records of the Week — not necessarily what's out this week, just whatever's on our mind or on our record players. This week, however, Ted offers up two picks.
Crack the Skye
When it comes to bands that have multiple contenders for "best album," Mastodon is a surefire argument-starter. Is it their absurdly strong debut full-length Remission, the titanic Leviathan, or, as I'll suggest here, their perhaps proggiest entry ever, Crack the Skye? There's an argument to be made for pretty much every album of theirs, but Crack the Skye represents a watershed moment for heavy prog that hasn't really been matched since.
Every part of the band is operating at its wildest here, notably Brann Dailor who rips it up on drums with absurdly intricate patterning while also delivering impassioned lyrics about the album's rather strange concept (a paraplegic astral projects, ends up in Rasputin's body, etc.) that also ties into his sister Skye's untimely passing when he was a teenager. While the music anchors around the ripping riffwork that has always defined Mastodon, it often leads into extended progressive-minded tension, building up layers of whirling sound that coalesce around the central motifs. There are many points on this record, especially during the closing track "The Last Baron," where it's simply impossible for me to grasp every nuance of what's going on, especially not before it careens into some new stunning passage. Relistening to it has always been a pleasure that yields new delights—while it's not the band's heaviest work nor their most objectively "metal," it's an intense approach to heavy progressive music that is both personal and staggeringly immense.
This is a weird one in King Diamond's discography, but a solid entry nonetheless. It's got the essentials: a spooky intro laying out a bizarre premise, a high-octane track immediately following to set the pace, and a story that escalates into wacky, B-movie horror shenanigans. While some tracks on it are simply a little bit too long and lose momentum, the chorus of "Heads on the Wall" easily makes up for those shortcomings and then some.
King and Andy LaRocque are in top form here, backed… acceptably… by a rhythm section that meets the record's needs, even if the drumming and bass work don't push it to the next level. I think The Spider's Lullabye was probably the point where King's horror-oriented narration really pushed past the instrumentals in terms of driving the music, anyway, but certainly here as well everything feels secondary to the plot. Fortunately, the story is bizarre enough and lyrically delivered with sufficient feverish conviction to make listening through this extremely entertaining. From personal experience, though, maybe you should introduce people to King Diamond through another album first, yeah?