Even those who worship Mushroomhead must admit that XX, the band's long-awaited national debut, enters the fray with two strikes against it. Strike one: Regardless of how attractively packaged or slickly produced XX might be, Mushroomhead remains a "you gotta see 'em live" sort of affair. Strike two: You've heard most of these tunes before. Of XX's 13 scripted tracks, exactly one has never appeared on a previous Mushroomhead record. That tune, "Epiphany," is all new-age keyboards and sounds like Yanni. But cheer up, Mushroomhead fans: XX still offers a valuable primer for all things Mushroomhead. Which means bludgeoning metal riffs, rumbling low bass, double-kick-drum madness, eerie goth keyboards, and dual vocals -- one tortured crooner, one inhuman grunter. Think Tool without the high-art overtones, Faith No More/Mr. Bungle without the psychotic sense of humor.
In any event, a full 90 percent of you will run screaming from this disc within 15 seconds; the remaining 10 percent will show up at every gig. This record's not for everyone. "Never Let It Go" devolves into a series of tortured, screaming fake endings, and the rap-metal bits on the album don't work at all. We're informed during "Episode 29" that Mushroomhead is indeed "representin'," though who or what is being represented remains unclear. But the rest? Splendid. The classical-piano-meets-metal approach of "The Wrist" works well, and straight-ahead art-metal tunes such as "Bwomp" and "Before I Die" nearly make up for the lack of visual perversity. XX is a fine testament to Mushroomhead's growing skill and popularity. Now go see 'em live.