What could be more crazy than funky latin soul versions of Black Sabbath songs, right? Much as Sabbath are the prototypical stoner metal group, they could easily be the world’s least funky band. That’s where Brown Sabbath come in. The latest project from Texas band Brownout – a spinoff of latin rockers Grupo Fantasma – Brown Sabbath’s new album of reimagined Sabbath classics (streaming at youtube) is eye-opening, not a little iconoclastic, and fun as hell. They’ve got a Brooklyn Bowl show on Sept 5 at 9 PM. Cover is $15; you might want to get there a little early since this one might actually sell out.
The opening track, The Wizard, is the B-side of the album’s debut multicolor vinyl single. Kinda cool to open an album with a B-side rather than the A-side, isn’t it? At first, it’s surprisingly close to the original other than the clattering, machinegunning rhythm – that’s John Speice on drums and Sweet Lou on congas. Almost imperceptibly, they push it toward a lowrider groove with punchy horns – Gilbert Elorreaga on trumpet, Josh Levy on baritone sax and Mark Gonzales on trombone – the latter taking a surprisingly low-key solo.
The A-side, Hand of Doom features an ominously brittle lead vocal from the Black Angels‘ Alex Maas, and is the album’s longest song. Guitarists Adrian Quesada and Beto Martinez pair off crunch and wah – and some offhandedly delicious tremolopicking – over bassist Greg Gonzalez’s impressively purist, slightly trebly lines. Once again, the blasts from the horns and the clatter of the percussion are where the song strays from the original.
Iron Man gets reinvented as a whirling vortex of blaxploitation instrumental funk, a strong, anthemic groove that’s barely recognizable as Sabbath. N.I.B. gets a slinkier treatment, with fuzz bass and droll wah guitar, singer Alex Marrero channeling Lucifer as would-be loverman rather than doing an over-the-top Ozzy impression, Quesada employing some wry stoner effects rather than trying to out-multitrack Tony Iommi.
Believe it or not, the song that opens Sabbath’s debut album is actually creepier than the original: it’s all about dynamics and suspense, and leaving out the vocals doesn’t hurt. The outro is a hoot.
Into the Void starts out pretty straight-up, then also gets a blustery horn chart and that clip-clop sway – and an interlude straight out of Jethro Tull. The vocals aren’t missed here either. The album ends with a dreamy take of Planet Caravan, Marrero singing into the fan (or through a chorus pedal) just like Ozzy. The point of playing covers is not to reinvent the wheel but to put an individual spin on them, and that’s exactly what Brown Sabbath’s point seems to be. That, and to lift the psychedelic factor a few notches. Raise your forefinger and pinky to that.