Sound — 7
Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children a quirky title inspired by the 80's comic book of the same name does take various twists in turns thematically/emotionally and does indeed relay a bit of a storybook feel. That being said, the seventh album by the alt-metal band Mushroomhead isn't necessarily a huge musical departure. What does stand out on the 12-track record is the fact that drummer Skinny has taken his playing up a notch, which allows for the often-chugging guitars to have a much more interesting backing. The core songwriting doesn't leave a huge impression upon the first listen, but the variety of rhythmic movement and overall lyrical content does keep things moving along smoothly.
The opening track Come On was also selected as the band's first single, and it's easy to understand why in terms of commercial success. Out of all of the songs on Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children, Come On is the one that screams anthem. With an in-your-face chorus that could easily be the theme song for any sporting/wrestling event (if they're okay with the F bomb, that is), Come On will appeal to plenty of listeners by its bravado alone. While it's not the most impressive in terms of its arrangement, it should undoubtedly open some doors for Mushroomhead.
Elsewhere on the album, results are often inconsistent. You do have a good number of tracks that follow the usual alt-metal format, but there are some gems in the bunch. Burn The Bridge showcases some very interesting time signature choices, with the guitars and the drums seemingly doing their own thing at a few moments. I'll Be Here incorporates children singing la la la within the chorus (making for a somewhat creepy vibe), while Harvest The Garden features an intro that is driven by Skinny's insanely cool primal drum beats.
There's a satisfying mix of tempos throughout Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children and is never mired by the same setup over and over again. In one moment you might have The Feel, which could be considered the sexiest track with its slow groove and intriguing harmonies by both Nothing and Waylon. In the next moment you have Darker Days, a number built around straightforward riffs and chugging guitars. The band knows how to wrap it all up effectively, selecting the pensive-yet-slightly-eerie Do I Know You? a slowly creeping track that once again utilizes sampling of a child's voice, producing an eerie effect in itself.
Lyrics — 8
There's a wide range of approaches to the lyrical content on the album, and even with the clichs that abound in the single Come On there are moments of cleverness. That particular chorus is pretty standard and screams for a sing (or yell) along, but the verses do have their moments (I've got my hammer, duct tape, Visqueen; I know that nobody believes me; I've got something to say; Born in my bloody reign). At the other end of the spectrum is the self-reflection of The Harm You Do or what seems to be an ode to those who have died (and possibly war victims) in Holes in the Void (Come take your part in the haze; Days remembered in vain; Dreams forgotten, depraved; So many fallen away). No one theme permeates Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children, and that contrasting aspect is a huge plus.
Overall Impression — 8
Musically the band doesn't stray too far away from its comfort zone. Yes, there are plenty of samples and interesting synth lines that pop in and out of the songs, but the core songwriting is still fairly expected from Mushroomhead. The rhythm section jumps out a bit more this time, as well as the harmonies and various layers on the tracks. In the end, fans of Mushroomhead won't be disappointed by the album, which emotionally can connect with listeners on many levels.