ATLANTA, GEORGIA, January 15, 2009 — Subscribing to a musical philosophy that there is no such thing as rock music unless it's heavy, Mastodon has coyly avoided saying too much about Crack the Skye, its fourth album due out in 2009. Produced by Brendan O'Brien (Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen), the disk follows 2006's Blood Mountain. Keeping in step with this and Mastodon's previous releases, Crack the Skye will be conceptual in nature.
That leaves plenty of room for what the band has indicated will be an "out of body" listening experience inspired by Stephen Hawking's theories, astral travel, and wormhole physics. With guitarist Bill Kelliher revealing in a MusicRadar interview that the disc will weigh-in with seven tracks and have a total running time of approximately 50 minutes, Crack the Skye will also feature a song called "The Last Baron," which delves into the world of Czarist Russia and Grigori Rasputin, the bearded starets who mesmerized the court of Nicholas II.
How does the band develop a conceptual exercise like this? Drummer Brann Dailor provides an answer: "It's easier for us as a group to unify and write songs for a record if we have a cohesive story line to follow, or some kind of element to focus on, even water, earth, or air."
Making the transition from the studio to the stage, live tracks from Crack the Skye first emerged this past summer at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. Onstage, the band has been using Shure PSM® 700 personal in-ear monitors.
"For me it's been tremendously better," Dailor readily admits, commenting on his loss of traditional floor monitors. "There's just so much clarity in my mix now, and I can control exactly what I hear—make it sound just like the record if I want."
"When we got them, I was kind of nervous," guitarist Bill Kelliher adds. "Going out in front of a crowd of people with no monitors in front of me; I had never done that in about 20 years of playing. What I can hear now sounds amazing. The clarity is really good, and our fans are telling us we never sounded better. I think we played our best show ever the first night we tried them."
On the input side of their stage plot, Mastodon relies on hardwired Shure Beta 57A® microphones for vocals at three positions across the frontline as well as for a “robot voice” produced by bass player Troy Sanders with the aid of tremolo pedal effects. The rest of the stage is hardwired as well, with SM7s chosen for guitar cabinets, and the drum kit receiving the full Shure treatment: SM98s on snare, an SM91 in the kick drum, SM81 on hat, and KSM44s flown above as overheads.
“I ultimately want to start double-micing the toms,” Mastodon FOH engineer Lewis Lovely relates. “Right now I have a Beta 52®A on the floor tom. I want to add a Beta 56A there as well, winding both out-of-phase down to one input channel to get more bottom-end. The SM98s I have on the snares really add punch and meatiness if I need it.”
By design, all of Lewis' work translates into a potent recipe built to deliver serious metal weight. “But,” he adds, “I pretty much approach all of the bands I work with in the same way. I don't want to color anything they do, and I don't want to step in the way of anything. I just want to give the audience an accurate representation of their sound. The challenge each night with Mastodon is to get good gain structure. If the tone is there, there's not much to do except sit back and let it get loud. The band will do the rest.”
The new album will be released early in 2009. Fans will be able to hear tracks from the album performed live next year, including a European summer tour with Metallica.