Review: “A Wonderful Life” by Mushroomhead

It has been six long years since 2014s “The Righteous And The Butterfly” and the revolving door of musicians in Cleveland Ohio Metallers Mushroomhead has kept turning with drummer Steve Felton being the only ever present member of the band which started out 1993. Since that last record, 2015 saw the exit of keyboard player Tom “Shmotz” Schmitz and vocalist Waylon Reavis, the later of whom went on to form A Killers Confession and has a pair of albums out with them before Jeffrey “Nothing” Hatrix and Tommy Church exited stage left in 2018. They have also formed a project together entitled Nothing and have hammered out numerous singles. The replacements are perhaps as intriguing as the exits are alarming with the band’s roadies Steve Rauckhorst and Tommy “Tankx” Shaffner were revealed as the new vocalist and guitarist respectively. Both appear in a band called Pitch Black Forecast, a Death Metal project between Mushroomhead vocalist JMann and Strapping Young Lad drummer Gene Hoglan, who is now in Testament, Raukhorst playing bass, while Shaffner has also played in Integrity. Here’s where things take the left hand path, the group are now joined by a third vocalist, Jackie LaPonza of Unsaid Fate, who previously made a guest appearance on “We Are The Truth” and has toured with the band extensively as Felton’s squeeze. So to recap, the band now have a trio of vocalists in their eight strong line up. They’ve also signed to Napalm Records for this release and for the fist time brought their back catalogue to streaming services. The album itself is a massive 17 tracks weighing in at the better part of 70 minutes, pretty much what most other bands would consider a double album. Produced by drummer Steve Felton and mixed by Matt Wallace who previously did the bands “XIII” album, the cover at depicts serial killer style masked family pictures with their eyes scratched out.

“A Requiem For Tomorrow” should be a tone setter of sorts for the album but instead is a sort of mid-album, mid paced affair, that is very much a Mushroomhead track that says “We’re back” without particularly pulling up any trees. Raukhorst proves he can do an impression of Hatrix but leaves the jury out as it whether he’s got the range for the bands older cuts. LaPonza doesn’t make an appearance until the second song “Madness Within“, a dance around the evil clown horror film and even then her part is minimal. Again, it’s a track that is obviously Mushroomhead and has all the elements but doesn’t fire on all cylinders, like the band haven’t hit their stride yet. That happens when first single “Seen It All” appears. It name drops the albums title in its lyrics as well as the guitarist JJ Righteous who passed away in 2010. This one brings that cinematic quality in the synths that Mushroomhead are known for and for the first time Raukhorst steps out of Hatrix shadow with his own voice in the clean vocals. That dark and devious moment then brings in second single “The Heresy“, which is the first one to have any proper vocals from Jackie LaPonza. She gets the whole of the first verse and then her vocals intertwine with JMann’s and Raukhorst’s neatly. “What A Shame” has that sea shanty style back and forth that “Qwerty” with a warped fairground rhyme that seems to be a dig at past it band members while finally bringing a solid breakdown section to the plate.

Six tracks deep and LaPonza gets just her second main vocal part in the atmospheric “Pulse” that echoes electronics underneath synths and some staccato riff stacks, playing against pauses and tone shifts to create texture, though a strange Pink Floyd moment mid song is a bit left field and perhaps unnecessary. JMann does the rap flow part he’s known for during “Carry On” while the 80s bass drive and Faith No More esq stylings make it an experiment that will grown on you over multiple listens given the chance. “The Time Has Come” has Hatrix shadow all over it with an with the vocal stylings and after a slow start gets going and ends up being a highlight before “11th Hour” (which should be track 11 shouldn’t it?) appears as a mournful meloncholy insight on the edge of madness. Thoughts of a insanity rattling around the brain of someone as they contemplate the end and done with skill and integrity. There is a gritty raw nerve underneath it all and it shows. “I Am The One” on the other hand is a throwback to the bands more guitar driven sound, offering more edge and bite in the riff department in comparison to some of the other cuts on display here.

The Flood” has an authentic Faith No More esq bass line and brings more of the theatric qualities that the band do so well, while standing up as a piece of mid album wonder. The seven minute plus “Where The End Begins” should perhaps have been the album closer, it’s slow burn piano and acoustic guitar rapture is a black and white piece of epic grandeur with a sinister churning undertone. Raukhorst and LaPonza’s vocals work really well together and by the end, you’re wondering if the album actually needs to be any longer… and then The Cleveland Chamber Choir get another bite of the cherry with “Confutatis” which is where the album ends in standard edition, the soundscape to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, tales of violence, deranged behaviour and criminal activities in Gotham City.

If you’re a long time fan and you happened to pick up the extended edition with four extra tracks then in swings “To The Front“, a creepy Industrial Metal instrumental that should have introduced the album as a whole, it’s that good. “Sound Of Destruction” then builds on that tension with some staccato riffs that are more involved than some of the earlier ones while both JMann and Rauckhorst delivering some rap screams and clean parts that are straight from the “XX” era playbook. Perhaps it’s kept for so late on because it’s got an older sound, but it’s a stand out. The same can be said of “Another Ghost“, after an eerie opening of haunting moments a choice riff of Ghouls and Ghosts styling cuts through the mist and you’re onto another Mushroomhead winner. The second closing part is “Lacrimosa“, another compelling Cleveland Chamber Choir piece. “A Wonderful Life” may not get off to the strongest of starts but it builds into something of epic proportions as it plays out. It is perhaps in the wrong order with those last four cuts being at least equal quality to the rest and there is no make weight track in the 17 parts of this soundscape [7.5/10]

Track listing

  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
  14. To The Front
  15. Sound Of Destruction
  16. Another Ghost
  17. Lacrimosa

A Wonderful Life” by Mushroomhead is out now via Napalm Records

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