September 27, 2006

CD Review: Mushroomhead - Savior Sorrow

Savior Sorrow is an album that is likely to have an immediate reaction with fans, and I fear that the initial reaction will not be good. At least, when I first started listening to it I felt a bit let down after XIII. Of course, as we all know, initial reactions are not necessarily the correct ones. Savior Sorrow takes a few listens to really sink in, but my impressions are growing and evolving, much like the band has.

I started listening to Mushroomhead pretty much by accident. I was unfamiliar with them, and back around the release of XX it was being sold at a local retailer in a 2 for 10 sale with an album that I did want. So, not wanting to pass up a deal on what I wanted and getting an extra on the side, I snatched the disks and bought them. Soon enough, I was a big fan of Mushroomhead and I don't remember the name of the other band. I fell in love with the theatricality of their stage image, not to mention the great music. When I introduced them to friends, I would describe them as a cross between Faith No More and Slipknot, which I think is as good a brief description as any, and yes, I know that Mushroomhead predates Slipknot.

Mushroomhead has released their third album, and I could not wait to get it in my CD player. As soon as "12 Hundred" started, I was struck by how raw and heavy it sounded. It was not at all what I was expecting. The double bass explosion near the start was enough to rock me back in my seat, but is it good?

The band's sound seems to have gone through a lot less studio tomfoolery, it sounds like Mushroomhead, just less produced. The album has a considerably grittier feel than XIII. Whether the change is good or bad is up for debate. Nothing is as instantly memorable as "Sun Doesn't Rise," "Kill Tomorrow," "Bwomp," or "Solitaire/Unraveling." Still, the sound is distinctly Mushroomhead.

They have gone through a personnel change since they were last recorded. In 2004 J-Mann left the band and was replaced by Waylon. Now, I saw Waylon live before I heard him on disk, and he did a good job filling the raw throated scream of J-Mann, but hearing him on disk better exhibits what he is bringing to the band. First, he seems to have a better rounded voice, demonstrated by a variety of styles on the disk that I never recall hearing from J-Mann.

Like I said earlier, it took a few trips through the disk to get used to the new direction. Sure, it is still Mushroomhead, and you can tell, but this album is different than the earlier two. The sound isn't quite as full as it was before, but all of the band members make their contribution. It is a little hard to describe as it still has that trademark sound, but they are using different arrangement styles and a more industrial overall feel.

There is a lot to like, the doom metal riffing, the jackhammer drums, the use of keyboards and samples, and the trademark dual vocals at the band's core. I have to say that I still love Mushroomhead, they are a unique voice on the metal front, but I am a little disappointed with this release. I like it, but just not as much as the first two. Still, a mediocre release from them is still better than what a lot of other bands are putting out.

There are a few tracks to keep an ear on. Among the standouts is "Just Pretending," I love the piano and guitar sound of this relatively slow chugger. "Damage Done" has some sheer heaviness that will be great live, that brutality is counterbalanced by "Save Us." The galloping riff of "The Fallen" is very good, as well. The album closes with the melancholy and contemplative feel of "Embrace the Ending."

Bottomline. Not their strongest work, but far from weak. I foresee a split among the bands fans, and I do not think this will be the album to bring in new fans. Mushroomhead is a band that is not afraid to stick to their guns and make the music they want, so long as they stay that way, I will be here. Savior Sorrow is good return to the new release section for the masked masters of progressive doom metal (no, I don't think that is real, but I like the idea that is conveys).

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