Now in their seventeenth year together, Mushroomhead have proven time and again that their name was well chosen. Like the hardy fungi of their moniker, this is a band who have shown a remarkable ability to adapt and thrive in the most unfriendly conditions imaginable. At shows around Cleveland in the early nineties, the group was originally formed by guys who were moonlighting from their regular gigs. The masks and costumes, not to mention the music, was all a part of the experimental nature of the project.
A few years later, Slipknot appeared with a very similar approach and style, and broke through immediately. It looked like Mushroomhead had jumped on the Slipknot bandwagon to those who were unfamiliar with their history. A feud inevitably erupted between fans of the two groups, which has only recently been resolved. Add the numerous line-up changes, troubles with record labels and the difficulties inherent in releasing material themselves, and you have all the reasons in the world for a group to just call it quits.
Not Mushroomhead though. Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children is their eighth full-length release, and their second on Megaforce. Much like their previous effort for the label, titled Savior Sorrow (2006), these alt-metal pioneers focus more on the metal than the alt-. Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children is full of huge guitars, bombastic riffs, and throat-shredding vocals.
Upon first listen, the album appears to be just a big, ugly slab of chaos. It is only later, after a couple of spins, that the twelve cuts reveal themselves to be well thought out chapters of a decidedly menacing take on the world. Opening track “Come On” is aggro in the extreme. Over a brutal, proto speed-metal riff, they chant “Come on, do you really wanna fuck with me…tonight” as a challenge nobody in their right mind would take them up on.
“Burn The Bridge” is Mushroomhead in full thrash mode. The power chords are relentless, giving way only to the slightly less intense chorus, followed by yet another round of bludgeoning riffage. “Darker Days” is what the band would sound like if they abandoned all of the other elements they like to use, and just went straight metal. The guitar solo screams, ala Kerry King, and the vocals match the music perfectly.
Although Beautiful Stories leans in a much more metal direction than ever before, there is still a lot of creative fun to be had. Mushroomhead are just too curious to abandon those aspects. “Holes In The Void” may be the most radical example, with sampled effects sprinkled throughout, and a coda reminiscent of the loops Pink Floyd used in “Dogs.”
The album was originally to be titled after one of its strongest songs, “Slaughterhouse Road.” It is what Mushroomhead have always done best, combining their brand of heavy rock with other, less obvious influences. In “Slaughterhouse Road,” the “secret ingredient” sounds a lot like Soundgarden during their Badmotorfinger-era. I think Kim Thayill would be proud to know his singular guitar style still has its share of admirers, all these years later.
I have seen numerous online posts regarding the “new” Mushroomhead versus the “old,” and a lot of people don’t like the new direction. Granted there is less experimentation going on than previously, but Beautiful Stories should win them a lot of new fans, in addition to those who have stuck around. On this album they have finally found an excellent balance between the alternative and metal in their music. As a longtime listener, I think Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children is as good, and maybe even better than anything they have done previously. It is definitely a record worth checking out, for metal fans old and nu.