Guitarist Bill Kelliher explained to The Skinny magazine that this four part suite, "was even longer when we first wrote it and put it all together. The record only has seven songs, but this really is four [I. Usurper, II. Escape, III. Martyr, IV. Spiral] in one, each one of those parts could be taken out separately and it's a song on its own." He added: "The Czar is like a book and each part is a chapter. It's a monster and it's one of my favorite Mastodon songs to date. The beginning is very pretty and eerie; the story that it tells is of the Czarina – the Czar's wife – trying to warn Rasputin about the assassins that are coming to kill him. It's a really interesting story and when it kicks into the heavy riffage it's monstrous. It's just a big explosion of rock and then it kind of kicks into some funk and there's some tambourine and woodblock playing going on in the middle, then it kind of blasts off into outer space with the guitar solo at the end there. Then it goes back to the beginning. Brendan [O'Brien, producer] sang on the end of it, he and Brann [Dailor, drums] handled those vocal harmonies. It just came out really well; it's a really heavy but pretty song - just under ten minutes long."
Little black lacquer boxes that the band bought while touring Russia was the inspiration for "Usurper," the opening song of the four. The title refers to the mad monk, Rasputin, who was a usurper in the Czar's court.
Another song with a similar subject matter is Boney M's "Rasputin
." However it is thought unlikely that the German pop group's ditty was much of an influence for the Atlantan progressive metal quartet.
After a drawing of Rasputin was featured in merchandise there were rumours that Crack The Skye
was going to be a concept album about the mad Russian monk. Dailor told The Quietus
that though Rasputin and Tsarist Russia features in the storyline, it was not just about him. He explained: "Yeah there's a story which goes from start to end. And there is Tsarist Russia in there and that was picked because ever since the first record we've wanted to do something about this period and their art aesthetics, with the black lacquer boxes and that look was something we were going for. From there you take elements of that, and it's multi-dimensional and it goes into outer-space and it's about the ether and deals with astral travel, out of body experiences and deals with Stephen Hawking's theories on wormholes. But I think one of the cool things about our band is that we will leave it ambiguously for the listener to dive into the lyrics themselves and maybe come to their own conclusions and form a little movie that plays in their heads."
Singer/guitarist Brent Hinds told MTV News why Rasputin featured so heavily in the Crack The Skye storyline. He explained: "We always wanted to pay respects to Rasputin, this amazing character in history. He was invincible. They tried to poison him, they shot him - it didn't work... They finally had to drown him. There are so many rumors that surround his death. They fed him poisoned cakes, and he ate, like, eight of them but didn't die. So they shot him, but he survived. And finally, they had to, like, knock him out and throw him in a river, and when they got him out, and he had officially drowned, they burned his body, and he sat up, and everybody was like, 'Oh my God, Rasputin, he's still alive!' So, I mean, how could we not write about that guy?"
Kelliher explained the band 's name to Spin magazine: "We were sitting around at my apartment putting our little brains together, when [ Brent [Hinds] looked at the Bantha skull tattoo on my arm -- that's a symbol that you can see on Boba Fett's arm in The Empire Strikes Back - and he said, 'What's the name of that creature that's like a prehistoric elephant?' I replied, 'A Mastodon?' We all looked at each other and said, 'That's it, that's the name.' We knew right then and there."