Imagine eight Midwestern men dressed in jumpsuits, faces covered by rubber masks, playing nu-metal music for angry, upper-middle-class teens. Sound familiar?

Not so fast–it’s not Slipknot. We’re talking about Mushroomhead.

It’s impossible to avoid the comparisons between the two bands. One look at the cover of Mushroomhead’s newest CD XX is all it takes to start the controversy.

Gracing the cover are eight large men dressed in black, wearing masks that look like a bondage lover’s dream and a common person’s nightmare. If one look is all it takes to make you have trouble falling asleep, you are not alone. Don’t worry, though–the guys in Mushroomhead are actually really mellow, friendly guys. Just to clarify things, lead singer J Mann assured The Badger Herald in a recent interview that they are not out to get anyone: “No, we don’t want to eat your children or anything like that.”

As the world breathes a collective sigh of relief, the story begins.

Mushroomhead is a lot like the breakthrough film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, except none of the members had their penises cut off, none are cross-dressers and none have infatuations with cheap seafood restaurants.

That said, let’s get back to the similarity between the film and the story of Mushroomhead. Make no mistake about it–Mushroomhead, formed in 1993, preceded Slipknot, formed in 1995. Similarly, Hedwig preceded Tommy Gnosis.

Formed in Cleveland, the band wore jumpsuits and masks that would have given you nightmares long before the blokes in Slipknot body-slammed Conan O’Brien.

There’s no bad blood, though, even though Slipknot’s Joey (stage name “No. 1″) seems to have a big problem with the guys in Mushroomhead.

He was recently quoted as saying, “Never heard of ‘em. We’ve been doing our sh*t for so long, I have no time for that sh*t. If people want to believe what they want to believe, that we took that sh*t from Mushroomhead, fine with me. I’m here to piss off and make enemies just as much as fans.”

As far as anyone can tell, Joey is an articulate young man who might have a career in politics after his career of banging pots and pans ends.

Just because Joey holds a grudge doesn’t mean that the guys in Mushroomhead have anything against Slipknot.

“We don’t look at music as a competition or a race or anything–music to me is about entertainment. I think as long as you’re entertaining people that it doesn’t matter what came first, the egg or the chicken. The thing that frustrates us is that they say a lot of negative things about us.”

A look at the history books of the two bands (or Internet websites) shows that Mushroomhead had the look before Slipknot. But that’s where the comparisons end.

The biggest difference between the two bands is Mushroomhead is actually striving for dark harmonies with keyboard hints whereas Slipknot sounds like a train crash.

Lyrically, both bands are almost on the same page, even though Mushroomhead is not as extreme in its lyrics. Whereas Slipknot lead singer Corey Taylor sings lines like, “I wanna slit your throat and f*ck the wound,” Mushroomhead’s lyrics are gentler and less violent, with lines like, “A fantastic fork in bloody meat, don’t give me love, I wanna drown in your deep divide.” See, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Right?

Amazingly, there are only two swear words on XX, something J Mann finds important. “Sometimes bands take the easy way out. There’s an easy way to do things–people that listen to aggressive music are young, so it’s like a fart joke to a 12-year old. It’s an easy laugh.”

While Mann and co-vocalist Jeffrey Nothing may bite their tongues in the name of originality, their music is a hybrid of metal, punk and techno. With the keyboard influences of Faith No More and the metal influences of groups like Slayer, it’s easy to differentiate Mushroomhead from other bands that sound like they’re banging their heads against the wall.

With its first single, “Solitaire Unraveling” taking off, the band is looking to leave its footprints in an overly-saturated nu-metal landscape. It’s clear that Mushroomhead is working hard for every fan.

By acting as its own road crew, drivers and business personnel, the band isn’t sitting on its warm tour bus letting other people do the busy work. In that aspect the members are definitely keeping it more real than the guys in Slipknot.

Since it’s been established that there is nothing to be afraid of, give XX a listen and check out their live show in Edgerton at Club Raven Feb. 27.
I’ll just be hiding under my blankets.