*prognotes breaks down and analyses your favourite metal and progressive concept albums lyrically and musically. Read other entries in this series here.
Welcome back to our *prognotes on Mastodon’s Crack the Skye! For those that missed it, you can read Part I here, but let’s just get straight back into it!
Following on from “Divinations”, Mastodon bring us “Quintessence”, a track with a similar vibe courtesy of its mellow beginning and the progressive tendencies clearly audible throughout. The word quintessence has multiple meanings. It can mean the fifth essence or element, whilst it can also define the perfect embodiment of something: thus if any track is going to embody the element of ether it’s this one. The spacey vocals are back, accompanied by magical sounding keyboards which flow through the track every now and then. The atmosphere is still relatively upbeat, serving as an interesting contrast to the dark lyricism to be found:
Whether the demon skin is that of the necromancers who first found the soul, or of Rasputin himself, is unclear; but in any case the track seems to describe the soul’s journey towards, and arrival within, Rasputin. The soul’s eyes are being opened to the future all whilst being guided towards a particular space and time, that of Rasputin’s body. Thinking of Skye, perhaps the empty heaven alluded to by the wormhole means she now sees hell, with demons visible behind fine mists. Furthermore, on the topic of demons, Brann’s mind is clearly still spinning as he fights his own battle, that against the demons which have risen within himself following Skye’s passing. Much like the previous track, he is urged to move on from Skye’s death as Troy belts out:
The divination continues as Rasputin’s death is foretold. Interestingly the soul envisions being within Rasputin, and so begins to speak from his perspective for the first time:
Returning to Brann, these lyrics also suggest that his grief has driven him to self-harm, that he is cupping his own blood and that his senses are beginning to fail him due to blood loss.
The final minute of the track then gets suitably heavier and doomier, Brann letting down his emotional defences as he bids a final, introspective farewell to his sister. Meanwhile the soul is defenceless as it flies straight into the body of Rasputin:
Finally we reach the album’s centrepiece, “The Czar”, arguably the greatest song Mastodon have ever written. A four-part suite, each movement could itself be considered an entire song, but there are a couple of explanations as to why they’ve been sewn together. Firstly, the tracks flow into each other superbly and they absolutely work as a single piece of music. However, by combining them all into one larger track, the band were also able to keep the track-listing to just seven songs, and so each song can be seen to represent one of the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and acceptance. The first movement, “Usurper”, begins with eerie keyboards and organs shrouding the track in mystery. The spacey vocals which have been so prevalent thus far then reemerge to show the Czarina warning Rasputin:
Yet, Rasputin already knows of this plot, for he is a part of the same cult of necromancers which threw the boy’s soul into his body, and so he was privy to the prophecy foretelling his own death. He is not only unafraid of death, but he seems to welcome it, as if it was his plan all along when he proclaims:
Looking back to the self-harm hypothesis, it’s as if Brann is looking to justify his actions, blaming Skye for his actions as he hints that he may be looking to join her. The song then ushers in its second movement which, given what we’ve just mentioned, is fittingly titled “Escape”. Commencing with an absolutely monstrous riff, one of the highlights of the album, the music immediately conveys how heavy the situation is, both in terms of Brann’s mental state and Rasputin’s impending death. In fact, this is one of the heaviest passages on the album, the tempo quickening considerably to reflect the tension and urgency of the story:
From Brann’s perspective, there appears to be a desire for life, perhaps a turning point in how he is dealing with his loss. More obviously Rasputin, having already been mortally poisoned by his assassins, is running out of time as he escapes into the night, desperately clinging on to his life. Given he’d travelled knowingly to his death, one must ask why he is suddenly so keen to escape, so preciously counting down his final moments? The answer had already been foreshadowed: he is the usurper, and he still has a job to do:
Thus even in death, Rasputin resolves to take his Czar down with him, an act in which he evidently succeeds. “Escape” then flows seamlessly into “Martyr”, which is introduced by hazy, distorted synths/samples which conjure the image of a bloodied Rasputin stumbling in the night, the poison blurring his senses as his life begins to seep from him. A short build-up then momentarily brings back the heaviness with some excellent riffs before a piano transitions the song to its final lyrics:
And so Rasputin is no more, his body dead as its two souls fly up into the ether. It’s in that last line that the record holds its greatest surprise. Rasputin took the boy’s soul into his own body because he knew he would soon die and then, instead of trying to escape his fate, he knowingly and deliberately went to his own death so that the two souls could escape his body, and so that he could help lead our protagonist back home to his own body. As evil as his initial intentions seemed, here he is martyring himself in order to save a soul whom he owes nothing. The record’s title can be found in the lyrics here, and Brann himself was quoted offering a personal insight into what it means to him:
“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.”
Hence the death of Skye, perhaps personified by Rasputin in this passage, is enough to crack the sky, allowing the souls to escape and find their way home. The song’s final movement, “Spiral”, reprises the lyrics from “Usurper” as it envelops the track in an ethereal ambience, musically adding in subtle variations which strengthen the song’s relationship with its underlying concepts. The conclusion of such an epic track coincides with the conclusion of today’s post, so please remember to tune in next week for our third and final part of our *prognotes on Crack the Skye, where we finally get to see each branch of the story through to its conclusion.