In September 2007, Mastodon had just finished one of the most important and high-profile performances of its career, playing the song "Colony of Birchmen" (with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme joining in on the fun) at the MTV Video Music Awards.
But just a few hours after that, the band faced one of its greatest setbacks when word came that guitarist Brent Hinds had suffered a serious head injury in a fight and had been taken to a Las Vegas hospital.
The fight left Hinds, who also writes most of the Atlanta band's music, with a brain hemorrhage, a broken nose, black eyes and uncertain prospects for his recovery.
Fortunately, says drummer Brann Dailor, the band didn't have to worry for long about Hinds' health, let alone the future of Mastodon.
"It was deeply saddening when that happened to Brent, and we were all pretty upset and shaken by it," says Dailor. "For a few days there it was a little scary. We didn't know the full extent of the injuries. But I don't think it was too long after when we received the good news that he would be fine."
It would be only natural for a band that had seen its whole future suddenly thrown into question to come out of the ordeal taking nothing for granted. The experience might have provoked a new sense of urgency to make music that fulfills the group's potential. But Dailor dismisses the notion that the Hinds saga gave the band any extra sense of motivation. He also isn't sure how much influence Hinds' close call had on the musical direction of their latest album, Crack the Skye, although he suspects it filtered into the music.
"Would we have written the same exact record? I'm not sure. I have no idea," Dailor says. "This did happen. And I think that the frustrations with going through something like that, something that was widely publicized and obviously kind of embarrassing and hurtful in all those ways, that's going to be something that's felt deep down inside. And obviously when you're creating art, those frustrations and things are usually going to find their way to the surface and manifest themselves probably in song. So yeah, I can hear it in there."
Whatever works: Dailor, Hinds, guitarist Bill Kelliher and bassist Troy Sanders have created a concept album that's being hailed as a new classic in heavy metal.
Crack the Skye finds Mastodon reaching new heights in musical ambition. While still plenty heavy, the album brings out more of a progressive rock side of the band's music, roaring through multi-faceted tracks like "Quintessence," "The Czar" and the title track itself. There's plenty of musical showmanship throughout, as well as a talent for creating potent melody.
Mastodon has taken to playing Crack the Skye in its entirety along with visuals that relate to the music being played.
"We were just kind of wanting to up the ante for ourselves," says Dailor, "and to do something bigger and better."