Since their inception in 1993, the lineup of Mushroomhead has changed many times over, and their music has reflected the turmoil. It seems like there is turnover between every album, and this has been the case between Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children (2010), and their new The Righteous & The Butterfly. The good news is that they have delivered what some consider to be their finest effort ever this time around. I am not quite ready to go that far, but TR&TB is definitely up there. With the return of the beloved J Mann (Jason Popson), and a strange cover version of Adele’s “Rumour Has It,” TR&TB is vintage Mushroomhead – which for me means to always expect the unexpected.
Although sales are not necessarily the final arbiter of quality, TR&TB is the band’s first album to reach the Billboard Top 20, and it took the number one slot in the magazine’s “Indie” chart. Not bad for a group who proudly consider themselves outsiders.
“Our Apologies” kicks things off in roaring style, and is a great example of what this disc is all about. The crux of the argument among “’Shroomheads” about this set has to do with the “heaviness quotient.” Some are even crying “sell out.” I completely disagree, but then I’m an old guy who remembers when the heavy stuff was called “hard rock.” The overall feeling I get after listening to the 2014 version of Mushroomhead is that they have more in common with old school hard rockers such as Deep Purple or UFO than maybe even they would care to admit. Beneath the growling vocals and crunching guitars, there are solid riffs. And in metal, the riff is king.
This record is powerful, industrial metal, without a doubt. But what sells these songs as songs are the riffs. Besides “Our Apologies,” check out “How Many Times,” “For Your Pleasure,” and “Son of 7” for major riffage. It is hard to see how fans would argue with those tracks. In terms of what could be called “vintage” Mushroomhead, the song “Qwerty” cannot be beat.
The bizarre, almost circus-like atmosphere of “Qwerty” pretty much stands alone among the 14 tracks, but there are plenty of other strange moments. “We Are the Truth” has a crazed, funky rhythm, and the layered vocals turn it into a total trip. “Worlds Collide” takes us down, down, down, then lifts with a monstrous crunch. The rat-a-tat-tat guitars of “Devils Be Damned” also cannot be denied.
If there is a problem with TR&TB, it comes in the middle, where they veer dangerously close to power ballad territory. “Portraits of the Poor” begins with an interesting piano introduction, and just when we expect them to pull out the big guns, they veer off in an “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” direction. The short (1:45) “Childlike” gets even closer to dreaded land of the ‘80s power ballad. On the plus front, at least this band understands the art of programming a record, where you bury your weakest tracks in the middle. These are the fifth and sixth songs on the set.
The final Mushroomhead original of TR&TB is “Out of My Mind,” and it is a smoker. This is massive metal without question, but also lays bare their reverence for past heroes. “Out of My Mind” definitely shows some respect for old schoolers Judas Priest, and it sounds great. Finally there is the much-maligned cover of Adele’s “Rumour Has It.” You either love it or hate it, basically. I think it is great, and a hilarious choice.
While I have a problem with a couple of the tracks, overall this is a very strong effort. It is also important to mention that the high quality of tracks such as “Qwerty” and “Out of My Mind” almost negates the lesser tunes. So in the end, whether this is the “best” Mushroomhead recording of all is still kind of up in the air for me. It is certainly one of their best, and definitely rewards multiple listenings.
It is a very funny thing to say that that their eighth album is as good a place to start as any for the curious. Yet that may be the greatest recommendation of all. Without a doubt, anyone who likes this band, or even thinks they might like them, needs to check out The Righteous & The Butterfly.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00IZ27H7O]