Friday, September 14, 2012

Mastodon -- "Crack the Skye" (2009)

Momma, don't let them take her!
Don't let them take her down!
Please tell Lucifer he can't have this one!
Her spirit's too strong!

The most significant event in the geologic history of Cape Cod was the advance and retreat of the last great North American ice sheet.

The glacier reached its southernmost point about 23,000 years ago, advancing as far as the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, which are south of Cape Cod.  It began to retreat a few thousand years later.  (As far as we know, the global warming that caused that great ice sheet to retreat was not caused by coal-fired power plant emissions, hydrocarbons from automobile exhaust, or methane gas from flatulent cows.  It just happened)

There are some 365 kettle ponds on Cape Cod.  Those ponds -- which are relatively small, shallow, and round -- were formed when large blocks of ice broke off from the retreating glacier and eventually melted.  Most of the kettle ponds are between 10,000 and 15,000 years old.

My rides on the Cape Cod Rail Trail take me past a number of kettle ponds.  Here's a picture of Long Pond, located in both Harwich and Brewster, which is the largest pond on Cape Cod.  It covers 743 acres (a little over one square mile) and has a maximum depth of 66 feet -- not to mention a real beach.

Long Pond (Harwich/Brewster, MA)
Less than half a mile from Long Pond is Hinckley Pond, which is about one-fourth as big.  It looks like some damned one-percenter was commuting to his Hinckley Pond house via float plane this summer.

Hinckley Pond (Harwich, MA)
Depot Pond in Eastham is much smaller than those two ponds -- it's only about 28 acres.  (A square piece of land that's about 1100 feet long and 1100 feet wide would cover roughly 28 acres.)  Here's a Sunfish sailboat I saw on Depot Pond while riding on the rail trail.

Depot Pond (Eastham, MA)
On the other side of the trail from Depot Pond is Herring Pond, which is slightly larger.  I saw a number of cormorants patiently waiting and watching from some power lines that ran along the edge of this pond.  (Cormorants are very accomplished fishers.)

Herring Pond (Eastham, MA)
White Pond in Chatham covers about 40 acres.  It has a small sandy beach and is a popular destination for local families.

White Pond (Chatham, MA)
The American mastodon became extinct roughly 12,000 years ago, which wasn't long after the kettle ponds on Cape Cod were formed.  

Mastodon in the wild
I'm not sure that mastodons ever stopped to drink from the kettle ponds of Cape Cod.  But it's certainly possible -- mastodon bones have been found on Cape Cod.

That's why I decided to feature a song by the Atlanta-based metal band, Mastodon, in this post.

Mastodon in concert
I've done a pretty good job getting myself up to speed with regard to hip-hop music, which I knew next to nothing about until a few years ago.

Now it's time for me to delve a little deeper into metal music.  I've been a Metallica fan for a long time, and I discovered System of a Down a few years ago -- but my knowledge of the metal genre is only about an inch deep.  

It's not going to be easy to become a metal expert.  There are a dizzying array of metal subgenres, including alternative metal, black metal, Christian metal, death metal, doom metal, extreme metal, folk metal, glam (or hair) metal, gothic metal, grind core, groove metal, industrial metal, metal core, nu metal, power metal, progressive metal, rap metal, speed metal, stoner metal, symphonic metal, and thrash metal.  (If you don't believe me, just Google any of those terms.) 

Critics have assigned Mastodon's music to a number of those subgenres -- including alternative metal, groove metal, progressive metal, sludge metal, stoner metal, and several others.

Here's what a BBC critic had to say about Mastodon in a recent review:  

They might be bonkers of lyric, full of fantasy mumbo-jumbo, but the band is unashamedly committed to its complex-of-composition craft, and the results have frequently stunned . . . . They are the most ambitious, most fearless, most fun heavy metal band to have breached the mainstream since the genre oozed its way out of the [English] Midlands in the 1970s.

And here's what Rolling Stone said about the group:

Mastodon are the greatest metal band of their generation -- no one else comes close.

I saw Mastodon's 2009 album, Crack the Skye, on some kind of "best albums" list recently, and my local library had a copy.  So I requested it, downloaded it, and listened to it a few times while riding my bike on Cape Cod.

Crack the Skye -- like the three Mastodon albums that preceded it -- was a concept album.  Here's how the author of most of the album's lyrics, drummer Brann Dailor, explained the album to an interviewer:

It's about a crippled young man who experiments with astral travel.  He goes up into outer space, goes too close to the sun, gets his golden umbilical cord burned off, flies into a wormhole, is thrust into the spirit realm, has conversations with spirits about the fact that he's not really dead, and they decide to help him.  They put him into a divination that's being performed by an early-20th-century Russian Orthodox sect called the Klisti, which Rasputin is part of.  Knowing Rasputin is about to be murdered, they put the young boy's spirit inside of Rasputin.  Rasputin goes to usurp the throne of the czar and is murdered by the Yusupovs, and the boy and Rasputin fly out of Rasputin's body up through the crack in the sky and head back.  Rasputin gets him safely back into his body. 

That's the basic story.  But it's all metaphors for personal sh*t.

The title track of the album is certainly very personal to Dailor.  It's about his sister, Skye, who committed suicide when she was 14.  Here's what he told MTV about the song:

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.  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.

Brann Dailor
Scott Kelly, a member of the experimental metal band Neurosis, was asked to be the lead singer on "Crack the Skye."  Here's what he had to say about the experience:
That song was a really, really heavy song to do.  That song was about Brann’s sister and how she passed away, and it was a story that I was very familiar with from knowing Brann. . . . [H]e called me up . . . and said, “I really, really want you to sing the song,” and I said, "Sure, I will."  I took it really seriously and I emailed with Brann’s dad a couple of times and just talked to him about Skye, and then he sent me a photograph of her actually, and I sat there and looked at that photograph of her and just kind of meditated on her and on all of the situation, and the family and then actually set all that sh*t up in the studio and recorded the song with her picture there, and I just really tried to do it as real as I felt I could. 

Here's "Crack the Skye."  It took a few listenings for this song to grow on me, but I think it's a great song.

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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