Mastodon are almost as captivating lyrically as they are musically, addressing aspects of mythology, the occult, science fiction movies, and classic literature, and weaving them into multifaceted conceptual story lines. The band's 2004 sophomore album, Leviathan, drew parallels between Captain Ahab's obsessive search for the White Whale in Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Mastodon's insatiable quest for recognition. Their 2006 follow-up, Blood Mountain, compared their musical mission to that of explorers ascending a giant mountain fraught with dangers and magic. While those discs were ambitious, Crack the Skye takes the group into new territory.
Fueled by teenage acid excursions, childhood trauma, fantasy novels, and history, the album is about a boy who loses the use of his arms and legs after seeing the killing of his mother. He astrally projects into space but flies too close to the sun and accidentally burns away the umbilical cord separating him from the dead. Eventually, he gets sucked into a wormhole and winds up in the time of czarist Russia. Desperate to return to Earth, he pleads with wandering spirits to help him, so they reveal him to the underground sect the Khlysty during one of the group's séances. The Khlysty devise a plan to trap the boy's spirit inside the body of Rasputin, who they know is the target of an impending assassination. Then, when the mad monk is killed, he guides the boy's spirit back to its proper body, and everyone trips happily ever after.
"I guess I've just always been a fan of bizarre things," Dailor says, "And I really enjoy coming up with these ideas and developing them into this complete story. It's not always easy, and, like the music, you wonder if it's gonna come and appear, but it does."
While Dailor conceived the idea of an invalid traveling through space and time over two years ago, the story parallels a near-death experience Hinds had in Las Vegas in September 2007. Mastodon had just finished an MTV Video Music Awards after-party show with Foo Fighters and Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, and a very drunk Hinds was hanging out with ex-System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian in front of the Mandalay Bay casino. Caught up in the excitement, he removed his soaked T-shirt, swung it over his head, and accidentally whacked Wu-Tang Clan associate Rev. William Burke, who, he alleges, sucker punched Hinds so hard that he dropped to the ground and his head smacked the sidewalk.
"It was a cheap shot and if I would've seen it coming, it never would've happened," says Hinds, pauses lengthening between words. "He's a coward and complete asshole. He hides in the shadows and punches people out of nowhere, which is the most little girl thing I've ever heard in my life. It's like, 'Dude, grow some balls and fuckin' face me, and I guarantee you'll be going down, not me.'"
Hinds was hospitalized with severe head trauma. At first, his brain was so swollen that his doctor called his relatives and suggested they fly to Vegas in case he didn't wake up from his coma. "While I was unconscious, I had all these crazy dreams about out-of-body travel," he says. "Maybe I was really having an out-of-body experience, because I was asleep for three days. It was really surreal and completely bizarre. I was there physically but mentally I was not there at all. I was out in the universe."
Even after Hinds was released from the hospital, he suffered severe vertigo, and it took him a full month of bed rest before he was able to play guitar again. When he did, ideas came fast and furious. "I was really grateful to be alive, and I had a new lease on life," he says. "I'd just sit there in Cheshire Cat flannel pajamas writing, and it was like I couldn't stop. A lot of the songs were way longer at first. I'd take them to the guys and they'd go, 'Dude, this song is, like, 20 minutes.' And I'd say, 'Yeah, sorry. I got stoned and it felt so good I kept adding more and more parts.'"
To those he's close to, Hinds is warm, generous, and funny. To others, he can be paranoid, obnoxious, even belligerent. "I think I'm very levelheaded until someone is completely out of line, and then I'm a total hothead and there's a total vibe change," he admits.
Hinds was born in Helene, AL, in a devoutly religious home. His dad worked in the two-way radio communications business and listened to blues albums when he wasn't working or praying. From a very young age, Hinds was interested in music and obsessed with the guitar. "When I was 5, I'd strum a tennis racket and play air guitar everywhere," he says.
When Hinds was 7, his dad brought home an acoustic guitar. With the help of a neighbor, the boy learned Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." At 10, his parents went through an ugly divorce and his mother had a nervous breakdown in front of him. "I was trying to hug her and she went, 'Don't touch me! Don't touch me!' And I went, 'Shit, whoa, I'm never falling in love with no one.' I think I've been in love a couple times, but love is a fucking devastating thing. Commitment is totally devastating to me."