Will any release this year face the scrutiny aimed at Mastodon's latest album, Crack the Skye? Four LPs in, each new Mastodon release has been licked all over by critics and by both casual and hardcore metal fans. Ah, but success comes at a price, and when the Atlanta-born band announced that its newest disc would be more melodic and recorded with Bruce Springsteen producer Brendan O'Brien, there were worried mutterings. Would the band sell out for commercial success? Would they dumb down their formula — densely layered riffage weaved with a succession of explosive fills — for the masses? The verdict is in: Nope. The new album is as awesome as ever, finding the band stretching its sound while still retaining the musicianship that makes Mastodon the metal version of a Cormac McCarthy novel. And while not every forum pundit sees it the same way — there's a lot of talk about whether Crack the Skye is the band's Black Album or its Ride the Lightning — very few seem to disagree that the music itself slays.