Always a far greater and more imaginative band than their vexed media profile might suggest, MUSHROOMHEAD have survived for 27 years now, sustained by a seemingly endless quest for alt-metal perfection. By this point, most metal fans will have decided whether they give a shit or not, and so "A Wonderful Life" is a record aimed directly at those that do. It really doesn't matter if anyone else digs it and, in the band's defense, there has always been a decent amount of intriguing and enjoyably visceral stuff on MUSHROOMHEAD records. Plus, those masks remain pretty fucking cool.
Despite multiple line-up changes along the way, founder and creative driving force Skinny has constructed a consistent and recognizable sound world that is only partly tethered to the '90s nu-metal aesthetic that follows the band around, whether they like it or not. On "A Wonderful Life", Skinny really stretches out, buoyed by the obvious chemistry between his band's now triple-headed vocal attack — veteran frontman J. Mann and new recruits Ms. Jackie and Mr. Rauckhorst — and a colossal production job that many much more successful bands would cheerfully lose limbs for. There are some genuinely great songs here: "Seen It All" is a feast of driving alt-metal riffs and anthemic, FAITH NO MORE vibes; "What A Shame" is a deeply creepy, Southern-fried circus romp; "Pulse" is a heads-down industrial rock stomper with Ms. Jackie asserting her authority with a blistering, bittersweet vocal; epic (near) closer "Where The End Begins" is a gripping symphony of post-grunge churn and ghoulish theatre. Choral epilogue "Confutatis" is a wickedly effective final touch, too.
It's not all good news. Although plainly well-intended, "Carry On" is truly horrible; like some ill-advised CRAZYTOWN and EVANESCENCE mash-up, it's a blatant lunge at radio that doesn't fit with the rest of the album. It could, of course, end up being an enormous hit, but fans and cynics are advised to focus on the much more interesting and hard-edged atmosphere that prevails elsewhere, not least on the tense and unsettling "11th Hour".
At their best, MUSHROOMHEAD are genuine standard bearers for a style and sound that, in 2020, is just about as relevant as anything else when executed with this much passion and panache. Just don't get involved if the late '90s were a tough time for you, musically and/or emotionally.