Mushroomhead – A Wonderful Life (Album Review)

Mushroomhead – A Wonderful Life
Released: June 19th 2020

Lineup

Mr.Rauckhorst | Vocals
Jmann | Vocals
Ms.Jackie | Vocals
Dr.F | Keyboards & Bass Guitar
Tankx | Guitar
Stitch | Keyboards & Samples
Diablo | Drums/Percussion
Skinny | Drums/Percussion

Mushroomhead online:

Official Website
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A lengthy 6 years since the release of their last studio album, Ohio industrial metal giants Mushroomhead are stepping into the 2020s with their 8th studio album, A Wonderful Life. It arrives amid the ever-changing roster of masked players which has followed Mushroomhead with persistence in recent years, parting ways with vocalist and founding member, Jeff Hatrix, and guitarist, Johnny Church in 2018. They are currently an 8-piece, and this effort celebrates the official induction of Jackie LaPonza, joining Jason Popson and Steve Rauckhorst as the third vocalist to front the group. Although she made some appearances on their previous record, her presence on A Wonderful Life is fundamentally prominent on a number of these tracks. This is a record that is plagued by a dichotomy of contradictions; simultaneously daring as well as stale; displaying an interest in high-production, while struck by some truly poor mixing decisions; and somehow relatively safe compositionally, despite the surprisingly extensive ground Mushroomhead have set out to explore. There are a lot of different sounds on offer here, and some are pulled off more successfully than others. 

Mushroomhead appear to have become fascinated with Mozart’s Requiem, from which stark choral excerpts dramatically open and close the record. It’s a moody, mature scene to set for what is certainly Mushroomhead’s most experimental effort. Their opening track, ‘A Requiem For Tomorrow’, points us to some of the record’s paradoxically conflicting elements. From the beginning, Mushroomhead display a general awareness of the high-production trend sweeping through the scene at the moment, and make various attempts to keep up with it. Given the gritty, synthy industrial qualities that they’ve already been exploring in the past, I was a little struck at how their sound didn’t quite lend itself to this style as seamlessly as I might have expected. Though there are certainly more successful moments on the record, ‘A Requiem For Tomorrow’ is a relatively customary alternative metal track, hindered by some sound design that strikes me as… interesting? Some of the synth choices come off a little amateur, and taint the otherwise relatively good metal mix in a ‘demo’ sheen. These synths really jump out through the mix and are unfortunately prominent on a number of tracks. 

Conversely, the band deliver on a huge cinematic piece in one of the high points of the album: the sixth track ‘Pulse’. It features a huge ringing reverb, creating an eerie space of anticipation. LaPonza commands these sections – a welcome splash of colour in the relatively unchanging palette of the rest of the record. Its epic transition into heavy chugs pays off so well because of the preparation, something sorely underutilised on other tracks. It quickly becomes clear that Mushroomhead can shine with the right thought put into their melodies. The idea of an ‘anthem’ is behind the more successful offerings on A Wonderful Life. The third track, ‘Seen It All’ is a good example of this – a track which has a smooth flow, and some sweet melodic hooks which make for some great moments, as does ‘The Flood’. Whereas tracks like ‘Madness Within’ feel like they were a little neglected in the refinement process out of the sheer notion of staying ‘heavy’. This is an idea that resonates with another of the heavier tracks, ‘I Am The One’, with the generic taglines “I am the one you love to hate / I am the one you hate to love”.

There are some other oddballs here. ‘What A Shame’ is the doomy circusy harpsichord departure which seems to channel some broody monologuing, not dissimilar from the sorts of things we’ve been hearing from King 810. This actually comes off very convincingly for what it tries to do. Perhaps more convincingly than the politically-sparked ‘Carry On’ which feels influenced by Hollywood Undead a little. It is certainly interesting to see the stylistic risks Mushroomhead have taken. It’s hard to call some of them any more than semi-successful, but they’re not unconvincing. The problem at the core of this album, despite all the stylistic experimentation, is the lack of creative exploration within those tracks themselves. Mushroomhead touch on a lot of interesting musical ideas, but continuously appear to hold back and stop short of developing them and taking the songs places they might have ended up with a little more refinement. I know I can’t fault Mushroomhead for not being ‘prog enough’ – it isn’t their scene and never has been. But there is so much textural diversity and exploration on display on A Wonderful Life, it seems almost a shame not to see them fleshed out fully. This is exemplified perfectly in the climactic second-to-final track, ‘Where The End Begins’ – the only song on the record to come even close to its length (over 7 minutes), with no real payoff to warrant it. The eerie tension it so delicately establishes becomes taken for granted by its 3rd minute, and ultimately stays past its welcome. 

It must be said that Mushroomhead deserve a degree of respect for, despite all the experimentation, maintaining their stylistic integrity. Even though many of the tracks on this record don’t quite make it there for me, each creative venture has felt distinctly like a Mushroomhead song. Never did it feel like they had stepped into some strange soundscape that sounded unnatural or out of place for them. Although I believe there is still work to be done on a compositional front, Mushroomhead are exploring some dark and unique soundscapes that hold a lot of promise, and demonstrate great creative vision. I will be looking out for their ventures in the future. 

mushroomhead-album

Mushroomhead – A Wonderful Life tracklisting

  1. A Requiem for Tomorrow       
  2. Madness Within         
  3. Seen it All        
  4. The Heresy      
  5. What a Shame 
  6. Pulse   
  7. Carry On          
  8. The Time has Come    
  9. 11th Hour        
  10. I Am the One   
  11. The Flood        
  12. Where the End Begins 
  13. Confutatis      

Rating: 5/10
A Wonderful Life is out now via Napalm Records. Purchase here.
Review by Miles Knox

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