The deeper one treads into the much plagued Nu-Metal world, the bigger the surprise is when actually encountering a quality release. Take the 2003 release “XIII” by the American octet MUSHROOMHEAD for example. Overall, the album suffers from the same angst-ridden lyrics, excessive power chord abuse and horrid rapping as any other band falling under the Nu-Metal moniker. Surprisingly, MUSHROOMHEAD know to compensate these flaws with some varied musical craftsmanship. They successfully enrich their song structures by incorporating hints of energetic Thrash Metal and Hard Rock riffing, Industrial keyboard samples and even vile attacks of violin snares!
The first stand-out track “Sun Doesn’t Rise” peaks at number 2. This powerhouse is driven by some outstanding dual vocal interaction (rap vs. clean), which are the prime ingredients of a strong and catchy chorus. It easily offers the most accessible track on “XIII” and was also featured on the “Freddy Vs. Jason” soundtrack back in 2003. Another remarkable song is “Mother Machine Gun”. A simple, yet addictive piano tune leaves a good first impression but dreadfully repetitive riffs throughout the song wreck the atmosphere. Just when I was about to give this lackluster a bullet to the head, it caught me completely by surprise: A short misleading xylophone-like breakdown unleashed an aggressive wave of vicious vocals and a piano/keyboard-laden outro. Talk about a turn of events!
When you lose the aggressiveness and up the intensity by adding more keyboards and some female alto vocals, you end up with the power ballad duo “Nowhere To Go” and “One More Day”. Especially the latter song has a collection of spine chilling moments. Jeffery Nothing’s unique clean singing voice reaches a new peak here. His vocal cords tremble with so much power that you think they’re going to collapse anytime soon. Unfortunately the song lacks severely in the lyrics department, which becomes pretty obvious in the chorus: What the hell does “You take me higher than the lowest place yet…” mean? This weird spin of mind is best to ignore while you fully surrender your senses to the overload of vehement vocals, keyboard and subtle violin arrangements.
The second half of this slightly schizophrenic album switches the focus to their violent side again. In “The Dream Is Over” (featuring MESHUGGAH’s vocalist Jens Kidman), “The War Inside” and “Eternal” we hear furious Thrash riffs and double bass attacks dominating the scenery, pumping the tempo up against the ceiling. In between this set of 3 behemoths we find “Almost Gone”, which tries hard to become a new biker’s anthem. With a roar of a motorbike it introduces us to some fiercely grooving Hard Rock riffs. Instantly you see yourself cruising Route 66 on a Harley-Davidson while wearing your “If you can read this…the bitch fell off” shirt. Hell’s Mushrooms baby!
The final 3 tracks are, blatantly said, a pack of obsolete experimental material. They water down faster than a soiled ‘bizkit’. “Destroy The World Around Me” tries to stand out because of its Doom-y approach but the 8-minute execution is far too tentative. And to top it off we can listen to a 5-minute recording of a cracking vinyl record filled with baby chuckles before a psychedelic finale calls the CD a day. OK, these guys want to make challenging and varied music, but this is where my and their breaking point lies. They just try to do too much, which kills it completely for me. What an anti-climax!
Production wise I got little remarks. The vocals are omnipresent in the mix while the double bass is hardly recognizable, but that’s no oddity to the Nu-Metal sound. All in all, “XIII” remains MUSHROOMHEAD’s flagship leaving its successor “Savior Sorrow” miles behind. In addition, this album is easily one of the best products that ever spawned out of the Nu-Metal scene. Fans of the genre can easily add a point or 2 to the score.
Stand-out tracks: “Sun Doesn’t Rise”, “Nowhere To Go” and “The War Inside”.
(Online January 31, 2009)