Call them Slipknot-wannabes, and the guys in Mushroomhead will tell you to go to hell. At least, that’s the impression I get. These eight masked marauders appeared on the Cleveland metal scene in 1993 — two years before the formation of Iowa’s more (in)famous feces-spewing, mask-wearing freaks. And instead of identifying themselves by numbers, these dudes came up with such creative names as Gravy (guitar), Shmotz (keyboards), JJ Righteous (guitar) and Pig Benis (bass). Mushroomhead borrow attitudes and music from metal, industrial and rap, integrating tribal drums, a heavy groove, clean and barked vocals, and even a pretty keyboard interlude. Plus, their lyrics aren’t loaded with one-dimensional anger and laced with the F-word. Fuckin’-a, imagine that!
XX still contains some angst-ridden stuff, and tracks like “Before I Die,” “These Filthy Hands” and “Solitaire/Unraveling” are intense, often painful eye-openers. Check this out: “Throw it all away/Let’s separate the users from the whores/What do we have to hope for/Why do we even try/Laughed at religion long ago/Doubt I’ll be an angel when I die,” from “Bwomp.” Many of these songs are written by six of the eight Mushroomheads, lending an unusual and welcome diversity to these blistering proceedings. The album concludes with a lengthy, bizarre (and, quite frankly, uncomfortable) telephone exchange between a band member and a potential new member. Yet it’s a fitting conclusion to an album stacked with chaos, intrigue and – most importantly in this age of talent-free metal bands – promise.