I love rediscovering bands that I admired many years ago, especially when they are still pumping out fresh, interesting music. While I never stopped listening to Mushroomhead, I have really been getting back into them over the last couple years. The band is getting ready to release a new album on June 19th called “A Wonderful Life”, and it is really growing on me.
Mushroomhead are well-known in metal circles. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio (my neck of the woods), the band has been making music since 1993. They are rather infamous for lineup changes and for their fans’ rivalry with Slipknot fans, but the band has always been primarily about artistic music and raw lyrics. With a new label, Napalm Records (a great place for them), and fresh faces (and masks), the band is currently made up of: Mr.Rauckhorst and Jmann on vocals, Dr.F on keys and bass, Tankx on guitar, Stitch on keyboards and samples, and Diablo and Skinny on drums. Though she did appear on the band’s previous record as a guest, Ms.Jackie is now a full time member of the band and handles lead vocals on multiple tracks, as well as backing vocals on many others.
Mushroomhead have been labelled many different ways, but the one label that seems to stick is “avant-garde metal”. They’ve been likened to everyone from Slipknot to Korn, and given labels such as “nu-metal” and “heavy metal”. To my ears, the band plays something that, while including those sounds, is something much more. For me, Mushroomhead combines metal, rock, electronic, industrial, and art rock. You will hear cunningly structured compositions with glorious keyboard atmospheres, quirky rhythms, harsh/rap vocals and smooth clean vocals, menacing ambient portions, intense lyrics, dystopian vibes, and catchy choruses. Nothing is off limits for this band; in fact, on this record, multiple tracks include a choral symphony performed by the Cleveland Chamber Choir.
I’ve been listening to Mushroomhead since 2003’s “XIII”, an album that I still listen to all the time. I quickly fell in love with their sound, and devoured their earlier releases. “M3” is probably my favorite album from them to this day. Through the years, they’ve changed labels and members, had periods of inactivity, and many moments of brilliance. On their last three albums, ones I’ve been revisiting lately, I’ve still been impressed with their inventiveness and outside-the-box ideas.
I know many fans are concerned about this new iteration of the band. With Jeff “Nothing” Hatrix leaving the band in 2018, thus left one of the original members, and probably the most recognizable clean vocalist. In steps Steve Rauckhorst, though, and his voice reminds me of a younger Jeff, and his voice is crystal clear. He’s a great choice. Plus, we still have Jmann on harsh and rap vocals, and so that aspect of the band has not changed. Also, going out on a limb here, Ms. Jackie is exactly what the band needed to sound fresh. Her songs sound fantastic, and she comes across as talented and capable. In fact, some of my favorite songs on the record are hers, and they are quite obviously written for her voice, so it doesn’t feel like she was just inserted into them.
“A Wonderful Life” is one of those albums that takes some time. I instantly fell for the first single, “Seen It All”, with its catchy chorus and its burgeoning energy. The second single is one from Ms. Jackie, called “Heresy”, and it is one of my favorites, too. It’s a bit of a slowburn in the verses, but the explosive chorus is perfect and memorable.
This album comes with seventeen tracks, though. Yes, that is pretty long for an album of this type. The last four tracks are actually considered “bonus” tracks, but they are all very interesting. “To the Front” is a very industrial-sounding instrumental track that is pure awesome, “Sound of Destruction” is a guitar-heavy track that sounds groovy and stark, “Another Ghost” is partially ambient and partially explosive with lots of chaos, and then “Lacrimosa” ends the album with a choral symphony, which is sort of like opera sung by a choir. The way it ends leads right into the opening track of the album, so it is very easy to replay the album just because it flows so well.
The main part of the album has lots of variety, and many of the songs will slowly bury themselves into your skull. “A Requiem for Tomorrow” opens the album with operatic choirs, but soon launches into a riffy song, and Steve is able to flex his considerable vocal muscles. It sounds great. “Madness Within” follows and is a good representative of the whole album. It mixes styles, and you will hear the quirky, carnival-esque madness of the band here, especially in the chorus, and especially as Ms. Jackie chimes in to make the song feel on the edge of sanity. “What a Shame” is similar, only with more keyboards and piano, and it almost sounds like a 90s acoustic rock ballad at points, which is something I’ve never heard from the band.
Without discussing each and every track, let me mention two more. “Carry On” is one of my favorites. It feels cinematic, energetic, and powerful, not to mention modern. I love the group singing on the chorus, and I think the band sounds great this way. Another favorite is “The Flood”, a song that reminds me of the band’s earliest albums in the way it utilizes stunted piano so heavily, and the chorus sounds prophetic and nostalgic. I find myself liking every single song on the album, though, and songs I didn’t appreciate at first I have now come to love.
Mushroomhead are back, and, yes, they are different. They have a new label, new members, and new ideas, and that is exactly what I wanted from the band. I think “A Wonderful Life” is probably their best album since “XIII”, if fans will only give it a chance. The band has shown themselves to be as creative, authentic, raw, and addictive as ever.
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