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The members of Mushroomhead want everyone to know that they had the idea first: cluttering a stage in goofy masks to usher in the end times with mediocre metal. And while fans of Des Moines's abrasive Slipknot howl from the balconies of hardcore injustice -- accusing Mushroomhead of being a Johnny-come-lately copycat -- the Midwestern 'heads point out that their homegrown doomsday machine formed in 1993, beating the Slipsters to the punch by two whole years. It's another vexing riddle to plague mankind throughout the echoes of time: Which came first, the 'shroom or the 'knot?

Flunkies who follow either band without a sense of humor (or history) probably think that GWAR's gushing spectacles weren't influenced by Alice Cooper -- or that Kiss doesn't owe everything to Vlad the Impaler. Mushknot's lack of originality is less of an issue than nu metal's penchant for theft, anyway. (Nu metal, you ask? You mean you haven't heard about this blaring wonder product that erases our proud and heavy heritage like a zit-blasting cream?) Ever since Public Enemy issued a metallic remake of "Bring tha Noize" with Anthrax, A&R scouts have scoured the white planet for an endless parade of cartoonish rap/metal crossover acts. This time, they found one in scary Cleveland.

With tag-team vocalists Jeffrey Nothing, a shrill version of Faith No More's Mike Patton, and J. Mann, who wears raccoon greasepaint and splits the difference between the Rock and a garbage disposal, Mushroomhead strips down the bygone days of the nine-piece thrash combo into a sprightly eight while leaving less breathing room in its music than there is in the Tri-State Crematory. Opting for flight suits and tactical vests over clown masks and numbered jumpsuits, Mushroomhead trots out the usual suspects of societal oppression and adolescent dismay set to ass-ripping metal, turntables, and double-kick splatter. With names straight out of a Sturgis phone directory, Pig Benis, Gravy, and Skinny screech away in a stark Midwestern cornfield like scarecrows of the apocalypse.

The band's big-label debut (remixed by Toby Wright of Korn/Slayer fame) features virtually swear-free, keyboard-driven anthems ("Bwomp," "The Wrist"), petroleum-jelly-assisted prepubescent posturing ("These Filthy Hands"), and dark, masturbatory ballads with stop/start endings ("Never Let It Go"). And while MTV's airing of the band's single, "Solitaire/Unraveling," includes an amusing Trojan bunny (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, anyone?), the heist de résistance remains "Born of Desire," a shameless desecration of rap's glory days in which the little turdballs crib an entire uncredited stanza from Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message." Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat, indeed. It's enough to ground 'em until well after the next Mad Max sequel -- or at least cut off their allowances for a while. Mow the lawn, Skeletor! Then take out the trash and clean your room.

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John La Briola

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