A Short History of Mushroomhead

Mushroomhead are an industrial metal band originating from Ohio, who have managed to rack up a total of eighteen band members in their two decades of existence. Although often lumped in with the alternative and nu metal scenes, the nine-piece have a wide range of influences from Faith No More (shown best by The New Cult King) to extreme and experimental metal.

Their first three albums (Mushroomhead in 1995, Superbuick in 1996 and M3 in 1999) were all released independently on their own record label, Filthy Hands. After gaining a substantial following through almost 8 years of meticulous hard work and constant touring, they were finally signed to Eclipse Records and a few months later they found themselves signed to major record label Universal. The sudden change of fortune came with the release of a compilation album, XX (released on both labels, but with the Universal edition being entirely re-recorded), featuring the best tracks from their first three albums. The album’s commercial success can be attributed to the incredible single Solitaire/Unraveling, which was their first to reach an international audience and bring them the attention they deserved.

In 2003 Mushroomhead kept their momentum going with the release of XIII, which improved upon their industrial metal formula, by learning how to utilise their experimental streak without compromising the track, a problem that bogged down some of XX’s latter cuts.

Savior Sorrow was released in 2006 and was the first record to not feature the distinctive growls and whispered vocals of J-Mann. However their dual vocal aspect was not lost, as replacement singer Waylon’s vocals were arguably stronger and more diverse than those of J-Mann. Savior Sorrow didn’t quite reach the same heights as the two before it, but many songs (like Erase The Doubt and Simple Survival) still proved why they were a staple for any industrial metal fan. However, 2010’s Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children was greatly disappointing as they seemed to have removed all of their experimental nature from their sound, resulting in a bland, metal-by-numbers album, which had nothing to suggest it was performed by the same band that created XIII.

Naturally when Mushroomhead announced plans to release their eighth studio album, The Righteous & the Butterfly, later this year, I was not filled with excitement. However, there may actually be a reason to look forward to the release. This is because it signals the return of vocalist J-Mann, whose departure is often looked upon as the reason for the demise in the band’s quality control. Whether the actual record can live up to the incredible pair of XX and XIII is another matter, but the premise of having an album with vocal duties split equally between three very different vocalist is a mouth-watering prospect and will be enough to make sure I check it out on release day.

Recommended Mushroomhead:

  1. Bwomp from XX & Superbuick
  2. The New Cult King from XX & M3
  3. Sun Doesn’t Rise from XIII
  4. Almost Gone from XIII
  5. Embrace The Ending from Savior Sorrow

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Album Art

With the ever increasing drive to convert music from physical to digital media, it’s easy to forget there was a time when art direction was equally as important as the content inside. I’m sure you can think of a handful of albums whose art or packaging design changed the way you thought about the album before you even played it, or at the very least made you acknowledge the effort they put in to it. The fact there’s a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package tells me that this must be the case!

So here is my top 5 album designs: (believe me it’s more interesting than it sounds!)

5. Mastodon – Leviathan

Paul Romano was Mastodon’s go-to-guy for art work since they debuted with Remission in 2002, all the way up to their fourth album Crack The Skye. Of the four covers he produced, the painting which adorns the front of Leviathan is in my opinion his best work. The cover only shows a small segment of the image, purely because it would be impossible to fit the entire scene in a 12cm square, but it creates a child-like sense of desire to find out what is happening above, below and to each side, earning its place on this list.

4. Metallica – Death Magnetic

Metallica’s latest effort was not only vastly superior to it’s predecessor musically, but visually too. It’s art work is a representation of the album’s title, featuring a coffin with magnetic field lines connecting its poles. The clever aspect to the booklet comes from the fact that the coffin is cut out, resulting in a hole which goes though the majority of the booklet, aligning itself with other images inside the booklet – a design that was worthy of a Grammy!

3. Mudvayne – The New Game

At first glance The New Game‘s cover doesn’t stand out as being anything particularly noteworthy. However when you read the inner notes, you realise the album is actually a murder mystery story with in depth character profiles and clues hidden in lyrics, music videos and album notes. The murder concept arguably had more thought put into it than the music itself and for that this album deserves the number three spot.

2. Tool – 10,000 Days

The packaging for Tool’s 10,000 Days came with stereoscopic glasses, which allowed you to view the art inside the booklet in 3D. The idea was so revolutionary that the album’s art director Alex Grey won the aforementioned Grammy Award for Best Recording Package in 2007, following on from the success of both Lateralus’ see-through cover and Aenima’s clever design, which was also worthy of a Grammy nomination.

1. Mudvayne – Mudvayne

Mudvayne are a band who have always cared about album design (hence them appearing twice on this list!) and somehow their self-titled managed to top the murder mystery plot of The New Game. Without a UV light all the album’s packaging (including all the booklet’s inner pages) are plain white, but under the black light the design comes to life, revealing its scary artwork. However, if you didn’t buy the special edition that comes with a UV torch, then you have to go to a nightclub to view the credits or face never knowing what’s inside; which is the complete brilliance of the idea!

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Does Band Image Matter?

In the last week I’ve seen several blog posts arguing whether or not the image of a band affects how we perceive their music, so I thought I’d provide my two pennies worth.

When I was younger and first getting into the world of metal music, bands like Slipknot, Mudvayne and Marilyn Manson all appealed to me with their unusual and almost scary appearances. Slipknot’s use of masks helped to set them apart from their contemporaries, especially in a time when their genre was becoming saturated with all manner of nu metal acts, from the sublime to the shambolic copycats. I remember buying their self-titled debut purely because of the bizarre band image on the album cover, even though I hadn’t actually heard any of the tracks listed on the reverse.

Marilyn Manson has always attracted his fair share of attention, most of which stemming from his brand image. During the first and third parts of the triptych era, Manson was portrayed as the antichrist, converting many angst-ridden teenagers to his image of hate and anarchy. Not matter how he portrayed himself, from the androgynous Mechanic Animals era to the gothic look of Eat Me, Drink Me, Manson’s constant change in visual identity really appealed to me and definitely affected how I interpreted his music.

So far I have only given examples of positive band image, but what about when their images work against them? My Chemical Romance were always considered a ‘marmite’ band – their image of gloom present during their Black Parade years turned many fans away. Vocalist Gerard Way always denied their ’emo’ classification and in an attempt to shove the label, the band completely revolutionised their image for their fourth effort Danger Days. Gone were the black coats and eye-makeup, replaced instead by bright and vibrant outfits to coincide with the futuristic concept present on the record. The change wasn’t just visual, but musical too, with the band opting for a sound inspired greatly by chart pop music (just listen to Na Na Na), appealing to a much wider audience.

Metalcore is a rapidly expanding genre, but like nu metal and emo before it, the new wave of magazine-fronting bands brought with it a new image. Acts like Bring Me The Horizon and Asking Alexandria have become frontrunners of the scene, but at the same time have established a negative stereotype which has transcended the genre to an extent that most metalcore bands (and related subgenres) don’t deserve.

A strong visual brand is arguably equally as important as the band’s music itself, because when it’s done correctly it can add an extra dimension to the band and in such a fiercely competitive market, it might just provide the cutting edge needed to make the next step. On a more fan-orientated perspective, I have always been drawn to those bands who can provide me with something more than just songs, whether it’s clever concept records, collector editions or even a creative band image, when bands really make an effort it really pays dividends.

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The Search For New Music

Nothing quite beats that feeling of discovering new music. It can be just one song first heard on a music video, or an entire discography built up by a band that has somehow gone unnoticed on your musical radar, but the feeling is the same; a sudden urge to rush to the record store and acquire it.

As a big fan of the progressive metal genre, from your obvious bands such as Gojira, Opeth and Mastodon, to your more obscure finds such as Pigeon Toe, Leprous and Circles, I am always on the look out for more progressive heaviness to satisfy my cravings. Somehow I have managed to completely avoid listening to Between The Buried And Me, even though people have recommended them for me numerous times in the past, but a couple of weeks ago I finally pressed play on Spotify and plunged headfirst into their already lengthy discography.

I started with their forth studio album Colors and after one listen decided to buy both that record and also The Parallax 2: The Future Sequence; their sixth and most recent effort. Colors starts off gently, following a relaxed piano motif, before exploding into a barrage of fierce drums and down-tuned riffery, which is continued throughout; the band taking very few breaks until the albums’ conclusion at around the hour mark. The Parallax 2 follows a similar formula, arguably providing a deeper immersion in technical wizardry through a more concrete concept which encapsulates the album’s twelve tracks.

Some of Between The Buried And Me’s best moments come from when they choose to switch genres, trying their hand at everything from jazz fusion to something resembling Honky Tonk amalgamated with Polka (listen to the track Sun Of Nothing). The success of these moments can be attributed to the superb and flexible abilities of guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring, who are seemingly able to play any genre both fluently and flawlessly, along with the powerful vocals performed by Tommy Giles Rogers. Although the majority of the lyrics are screamed, influenced primarily by death metal, there are many sections where Rogers switches to an equally strong clean voice, providing the band with some beautiful melodies, especially during tracks Telos and Informal Gluttony.

On top of these two records they have released a further four studio albums, a live version of Colors, a cover album of songs that inspired the band (which includes a hilarious, yet tragic, cover of Queen’s Bicycle Race) and an EP that serves as the prequel to The Parallax 2. I am yet to purchase their other albums, but as you can see when I do get round to it, there’s definitely enough to keep me content for some time.

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