Live at the Aragon (Reprise)
2009's Crack the Skye is Mastodon's biggest-selling album, but, like 2006's major-label debut Blood Mountain, it has been divisive among long-time fans. The bruising cocktail of hardcore, sludge, and doom that the band had arrived with on Remission (2002) and Leviathan (2004) gave way to a psychedelic concept album that was more rock than metal. Epic song structures and labyrinthine riffs supported cosmic guitar solos, accompanied by a confounding story about astral projection and Russian history. There was even a banjo. All in all, it's a mad masterpiece, a crazy mash-up of ambition, chops, and unabashed commitment that's one of the best rock albums of the last decade.
So why bother with a reprise less than two years later? Live at the Aragon, recorded in late 2009 in Chicago and featuring a performance of Crack the Skye in its entirety (along with a handful of songs from the band's catalog and a Melvins cover), is more than simply a cash-in tour souvenir. It's hardly essential, but the live disc is distinct enough—faster, heavier, and altogether meaner—that it's not just a retread of its studio predecessor. Here, the band matches dense, crunching metal muscle—the Aragon rendition of the 10-minute track "The Czar," in fact, rivals the burliest songs on Remission or Leviathan—with the conceptual reach of the Crack the Skye song cycle for a live album that more than justifies its existence. It may even be enough to clue in fans who gave up after Blood Mountain to what they're missing.