Here we are with another A Gift to Artwork post and the final piece of our four-part journey into Mastodon’s brilliant fourth album Crack the Skye. We’re going to assume that you already have a firm grasp of the album’s concept here, so if you don’t, go ahead and bring yourself up to speed by reading our *prognotes from earlier on in the week. Now let’s get right into it!
The element of ether plays a large role in the album’s concept, and so it should come as no surprise to see it well represented within the artwork. On the cover of Mastodon’s first three albums the word Mastodon is crowned by a symbol of that record’s element: Remission had a flame/torch to represent fire, Leviathan had a crashing wave to represent water, and Blood Mountain had a pair of hands cupping a seed to represent earth. Yet here, on the last of their albums to represent an element (to date), we see a combination of all four symbols: the band’s name is flanked by flames, it’s topped with the seed and crashing waves, and it features a black hole, representing ether, below. Thus the band are boldly declaring that this is their best work yet, that this is the culmination of their history, the point at which everything comes together.
Looking more closely at ether’s symbol alone, one can see that the image of the black hole perfectly matches the design of the (literal) black hole serving as the cover’s centrepiece. The inclusion of the same symbol twice clearly signifies the importance of its symbolism to the album, namely its embodiment of the void, emptiness, hopelessness and the unknown, all omnipresent themes within the record’s lyrics and story lines. More than that our protagonist’s soul, having been severed from its body whilst experimenting with astral travel, is sucked into a black hole, adding another link between the image and the album itself. Contrasting the two black holes against each other, we can see that the central one is black, whilst the smaller symbol above is in gold, suggesting that the heaviness of their previous albums, whilst not disappearing, is slowly making way for some lighter, more melodic and more progressive material.
When studying the golden symbol in more detail, we can see that just below the black hole there appears to be a tear drop, representing the intense sadness and depression that Brann would’ve felt following the death of his sister. Furthermore its placement directly opposite the seed, which is of a similar shape, highlights that this record’s element (ether) is the complete opposite of the previous element (earth). When looking at the symbol as a whole, both the black hole and the symbols immediately adjacent to it form the outline of a trident. Tridents can be associated with the devil, another character we meet within the album, whilst it’s also not dissimilar in appearance to the symbol for psychology, accentuating the deep mental issues explored throughout the record. That the central prong of the trident has been replaced by a back hole merely emphasises the loss Brann must have experienced, a void almost impossible to fill even with professional help. The trident also resembles the image of a religious candle holder, representing the spiritual nature of the concept and the philosophies it alludes to.
Turning our attention to broader representations of ether, we see that the two male figures are swirled in a light, almost aquatic blue mist/smoke, the colour representative of both the sky and the heavens. Furthermore the cover’s central area features swirling clouds, and the multi-coloured background around the extremities of the artwork could be interpreted as abstract clouds, enveloping the entire piece and strengthening its ties with the concept. In addition, throughout the entire piece there is a wide variety of colours used. This, in conjunction with the style of artwork and, in particular, the way in which the bear was drawn, gives the cover a sense of psychedelia. Thus we have yet another link to the record’s concept and storyline, as ingesting psychedelic drugs is seen as a method of facilitating astral travel.
Next up we have the two male figures which dominate the piece, the beard, robes and the magical spheres hovering above their respective hands, as well as the mystical light emanating from their mouths, clearly place them as none other than Rasputin. Much like the elemental symbols around Mastodon’s logo, Rasputin appears to be tying together each of the elements they had covered: his hair/hat looks like fire, the blue dome around his head looks like water, he’s in possession of a green sphere which could be seen as a representation of Earth, and he’e shrouded in ethereal mists. The duality of the man is borne out by the fact he appears twice, and this further reinforces his representation of two people: both himself, and our protagonist. Upon closer inspection we can see that, whilst the torso and head is clearly that of Rasputin’s, he has no legs, one of his arms is robotic, and he appears to be seated within a metallic frame, much like our paraplegic child would have been when in his own body. Moreover, the mist swirling around him appears to be binding him to the frame, symbolic of the two souls united, the two of them now twins.
The final aspect of the cover we’ll examine today is the bear which occupies the bottom half of the artwork. Like many of the features we’ve looked at in our examination of this album, both musically, lyrically and now visually, the bear has numerous symbolic interpretations and so we’ll only touch upon a few of them here. Bears can represent being strong and courageous by standing up to adversity, and also healing one’s self or others. The bear pictured doesn’t appear too large, indicating that it may have just woken from hibernation, perhaps allegorical of how Brann’s feelings regarding Skye’s death have been dormant for years, finally given the chance to see the light of day. The public release of such personal, emotive and tragic themes is courageous indeed, whilst the themes of the record itself surround adversity, and the valiant efforts of the child and Brann to get through it. Finally, writing, recording and touring this album would doubtlessly have been an extremely cathartic experience for Brann, Brent and any other members who had experienced such emotional trauma, perhaps the best form of medicine and healing out there.
There we have it folks, the end of our analysis of Mastodon’s Crack the Skye. Four posts and many thousands of words later, thank you to those who were there every step of the way and hopefully you’ve found a couple more reasons to love this 50-minute masterpiece. With work as progressive and dense as this, there really is no limit to the amount of information and gold you can glean from it, so do take the time to explore your favourite albums because you’ll love them all the more for it. If you feel anything has been missed along our journey please sound off in the comments below, after all, one can’t have too much discussion about an album as brilliant as this one.