*prognotes breaks down and analyses your favourite metal and progressive concept albums lyrically and musically. Read other entries in this series here.
Welcome to our third and final part of our notes on Mastodon’s Crack the Skye. For any who have just joined us, or if you’re looking for a refresher, don’t hesitate to check out part I and part II from last week. We ended part II having just looked at “The Czar”, and that near 11-minute epic is followed by the magnificent “The Ghost of Karelia.” For those who’ve read our *prognotes on Transcendental from a couple of weeks ago, you will find some familiar themes here:
Such vividly brutal imagery comes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the two souls coming across the Lord of Death, standing in judgement, and his demonic deities. Similarly, this can be seen as a continuation of Skye’s storyline, one in which she now gets a clear look at the demons surrounding her, one step closer to hell.
Instead of soaring into heavenly skies, Skye is instead met with a darkness and emptiness similar to that which drove her to take her life. Whilst the song began with gongs, light, nimble percussion and dreamy, psychedelic guitars, as it progresses it becomes increasingly heavy, to the point that it has some of the heaviest passages on the record. Troy’s vocals rasp atop huge, aggressive riffs and bassy, bellowing drumming which sets the scene as hell itself.
The knower can be seen as Rasputin, his soul and that of our protagonist somewhere that is neither heaven nor Earth. The thunderous nature of this passage highlights that they’re in the midst of a storm, one in which they need to be united in order to survive. The hellish imagery conjured thus far is reinforced by the tremolo-picked guitar break/solo, a nod towards the style typical of black metal, a genre often closely related to satanic themes and occult symbolism.
The fates of our protagonist and Rasputin have become entwined, the two of them now twins. Troy’s enunciation of “Sinister twin” can also be heard as “Sinister ‘till the end”, suggesting that Rasputin is not being altruistic and that perhaps he has an alterior motive. As discussed in our piece on Transcendental, the demons they’ve encountered can be interpreted as the manifestations of the soul’s sins, a representation of their karma which can be dispelled if the soul recognises them for what they truly are. Thus it makes sense that it is the sinister Rasputin who is left “Choking on fear”, his evil past making the demons seem infinitely more terrifying to him. Whilst Rasputin may be trying to save the boy’s soul and take him back home, when confronted with the devil it is he who requires saving, as the devil looks to drag their souls down into hell. Extrapolating on this it can be said that another cycle of life is about to begin, suggesting that the souls may be successful in returning the boy to his fallen body, a body his parents may think dead by now.
Next up is the title track, unsurprisingly the most emotive one on the album. Like many of the songs which have preceded it the song begins peaceful enough, at one point soothingly mellow courtesy of what sounds like a xylophone. However, the track then breaks into aggressive riffs and harsh vocals from guest Scott Kelly of Neurosis, his vocals helping to make this the heaviest track on the record. Some of the imagery suggests the two souls are travelling through hell as they pass rivers of blood, blazing fires, heathens and ghosts.
Returning to our allegory with Brann, the track almost seems like a dialogue within his own mind, his own clean vocals representing the part of him that needs to move on, trading off against Scott’s growls and screams, the personification of the emotional pain he is still suffering from.
Brann is desperately trying to move on, but he (and our protagonists) simply cannot find a way out of the void he has found himself in. The references to death tie in multiple aspects of these complicated stories: the death of Skye, the death Brann feels within himself as a result of her passing, and the fact our protagonist’s parents have probably found his vacant body by now, fearing it dead.
Brann is still haunted by her in his dreams, it’s clear that this track contains the most overt and personal lyrics of the entire record. Towards the end the united voices of Scott’s anguished screams and Brann’s cleans will bring tears to your eyes:
There’s not much more than can be said about such a heartfelt tribute other than that Brann, his family and his band mates should be extremely proud of what they accomplished here.
The title track makes way for the final track of the album, the 13-minute epic “The Last Baron.” The two souls seem to have escaped hell and are now on the home stretch; however, our protagonist is struggling to continue, overcome by exhaustion and reliant on Rasputin for help:
The latter two lines express hope for an afterlife, that Skye will always be around in some form, and these lyrics will reappear time and again throughout the track, such sentiment likely with Brann to this day. The soul’s fatigue is now palpable, for it’s barely able to see let alone move:
Rasputin is there every step of the way, guiding the lost and weary soul towards home:
Yet, despite his guidance, there is still a darkness inherent in the lyrics, as if being in the company of Rasputin and the devil has begun to taint our protagonist’s soul:
This passage is followed by a guitar solo which reminds the listener of “Oblivion”, the record coming full circle as it nears its conclusion. A quarter of the way through the entire band ramp it up, the song becoming both heavier and more progressive. The duality inherent in Rasputin, his evil past coupled with the kindness he has been showing our protagonist, is a recurring motif within the track’s lyrics:
Even now, after all they have been through together, the soul is uncertain of Rasputin’s intentions. Just when he thinks they’re almost home, they’re not, the end seemingly never in sight:
The song is arguably at its heaviest during these lines, and one particular interpretation can explain why. Whilst Rasputin has been trying to return the boy’s soul to his body, the boy’s parents have pronounced him dead. Given that the song also ends with a refrain of these lyrics, one can infer that Rasputin successfully returned the boy to his body; however, his parents, thinking him dead, have already buried him, and so he is blind to his surroundings. Of course, it’s entirely possible that there is also a happy ending, but the band have cunningly left it all open to interpretation. Having focused primarily on the story of Rasputin and our protagonist when looking at this final track, we can now turn our attention to the parallel stories involved. As with “Oblivion”, one can easily analyse the lyrics through the eyes of both Brann and Skye. From Brann’s perspective, this emotionally taxing journey has almost killed him, as he is:
Throughout the journey he’s been walking a very fine line between triumph and catastrophe, the final track encapsulating this both musically and lyrically. Finally, the track has several allusions to suicide, naturally placing Skye as the speaker, allowing us to glean an entirely different meaning when re-reading the lyrics above. She asks that her soul be taken to rest, entrusting her mystical wise man, perhaps God, to take her to heaven, where her soul will always be around. Yet, she is also afraid of this mystic power, of the omniscient eyes of her guide, unsure of whether she has achieved true salvation, or whether she is still surrounded by demons in a place between heaven and Earth. The aforementioned final lines suggest that perhaps she has not reached heaven after all, but like much of what we’ve seen thus far, it is again open to interpretation. If anything, the sheer length of this piece goes to show exactly why artists love writing ambiguous lyrics, and we’ve probably only scratched the surface of meaning that is embedded throughout this work of brilliance.
Thank you for undertaking this multifaceted journey with us as we looked through one of the greatest albums of all time, a true masterpiece from modern-day legends. For those whose thirst for such details is yet to be quenched, rejoice in the news that whilst our *prognotes may be over, our analysis of Crack the Sky still has one leg remaining! Just like we did with Transcendental, tomorrow we’ll be looking at the final piece of the puzzle with an A Gift To Artwork post analysing the magnificent cover art which adorns Crack the Skye. See you then.