Mushroomhead, the ever evolving theatrical alt metallers, are back with a brand new release called A Wonderful Life, released on the 19th of June via Napalm Records.
A Wonderful Life is the band’s 8th studio album which, considering they formed in 1993 and have changed band members a colossal amount of times, isn’t a bad output. In fact only 1 member from the band’s formation has been in Mushroomhead for their whole journey thus far and that is drummer, Steve “Skinny” Felton. This time round there are a load more changes too. Mushroomhead in 2020 are 8 members in total including Steve Felton. With him we have Jason “J Mann” Popson on rap and harsh vocals. J Mann was actually an original vocalist in the band from 1993 to 2004 and returned in 2013. Rick “St1tch” Thomas is on keys, samples and additional percussion.
Ryan “Dr. F” Farrell is on the bass, Robbie “Roberto Diablo” Godsey is on percussion and keys and the newest members, all joining in 2018 are Steve Rauckhorst on clean vocals, Tommy “Tankx” Shaffner on guitars and Jackie LaPonza on female vocals, having previously been just a touring member.
Mushroomhead’s last release was 2014’s The Righteous and the Butterfly. An album I didn’t particularly care for. In fact, I haven’t really listened to them much since the XIII days back in 2003. A lot has changed for the band in that time but a lot has changed for me too. I would like to think I am way more open now so let’s find out what I have been missing out on.
A Wonderful Life is a long album at an hour and 11 minutes in total with 17 tracks on it. As someone who hasn’t really been on board for a decade or more, it’s a worrying length. Then, I have seen them live supporting Insane Clown Posse recently and they were great so maybe I have been missing out? Let’s see.
We start off with A Requiem for Tomorrow and it summarises a large portion of A Wonderful Life. There is a lot going on. An operatic choir start, big nu metal esque beats, samples and effects, loads of different vocal tones and switches. It’s catchy in parts but is also hard to follow. I had to check multiple times just to be sure I was on the same song. Pulse does similar though I quite like it. It’s just hard to follow especially in the back half. It doesn’t transition seamlessly and has a huge amount going on. The front half is wicked though. The huge stop start beats and mix of female and male vocals are glorious before it loses its way.
I was quite worried when A Requiem for Tomorrow ended and I didn’t really like it. Another 66 minutes to go but, aside from a bit of confusion in Pulse, the biggest takeaway from listening to A Wonderful Life for me was how enjoyable it is. I mean really fucking enjoyable. There is a collection of absolute bangers on A Wonderful Life. Songs that are creative, powerful and clever with some truly exciting compositions. This is so far from formulaic it’s unreal. And while there are missteps, they album is heavily weighted towards excellent.
Songs like Madness Within are great. Wicked drums and vocals that mix from a kind of rap style to singing to harsh vocals with huge bassy riffs and a gentle bit of synth backing. It’s so catchy, it will get stuck in your mind for the rest of the day. Seen It All is brilliant. The intro is so good. Higher vocals and a building guitar line suddenly drops into the catchiest rock song with a little less flare and a more standard approach. The verses then drop into industrial tinged metal with punchy riffs and harsh vocals before the chorus chucks us back into a big anthemic hook. The Heresy has a darker tone to it with a little piano and drawn out fuzzy guitars. The verses see Jackie Laponza singing beautifully over a piano melody before the guitars and drums jump in. It’s a serious and sincere track and suits them.
The Flood is similar to The Heresy, dropping some of the mad theatrical creativity for a serious and sombre song that is powerful and passionate with some really cool guitar lines. I really like the piano parts and love this side of Mushroomhead. The chorus is huge and infectious too. Where the End Begins is another haunting track. I really like this song. It’s sombre and dark with layers of melody and glorious vocal harmonies. I wasn’t expecting this sort of song either. I don’t know what I was expecting but this wasn’t it. Powerful stuff.
Carry On has another rap styled verse that builds into an anthemic chorus with a poppy edge and mixed male/female vocals. 11th hour sees the band experiment further with huge harmonised vocal passages and a blend of pace and tones. They range from crunching industrial metal to slower piano ballad and switch between the two at will. It doesn’t flow well but is insanely listenable. I Am the One has a horror styled melody in its intro that I love. It’s another that goes for contrast with gentle melody instantly followed by a crush of heavier stuff. The drums are excellent here and rain down on you viciously and repeatedly.
In terms of missteps, there aren’t many and besides from feeling the opener was a bit of a mess, Sound of Destruction is a bit bland, in comparison to some of the genius on offer here. It has a nice enough nu metal riff throughout, just doesn’t quite hit the higher bar set across the majority of A Wonderful Life. I’m not a fan of Confutatis which is purely a gothic choir song that works as part of the whole album as an interlude. The problem is it is over 4 minutes long and inevitably comes up in a shuffle where it is less enjoyable. More so when it is followed immediately by To the Front which is a two and a half minute long interlude of keys and drums. It’s cool to listen to but you end up with long interlude followed by short interlude. An unwanted interruption on this fantastic album.
Small gripes though and the album deserves a review that ends with positives so here they are. A Wonderful Life is a fantastic album. A mammoth length but it manages to make it all the way through with little to no filler. Instead you can enjoy track after track of exciting and creative music that blends plenty of elements together to create an eclectic and exhilarating slab of alternative metal. Nothing pleases me more than when you are proven wrong and any of my unfair presumptions about this album, and band have been completely blown away in over an hour of enjoyable music. I never really thought anything negative about Mushroomhead but just never really cared or gave them much time. I was wrong, this is great and just a song cut or two away from being brilliant.
A Wonderful Life is available now on all the usual streaming platforms. You can grab a physical copy from Napalm Records here.
A Wonderful Life by Mushroomhead (Napalm Records)
The Final Score - 8.5/10