Brown Sabbath storm The Strip

Funk collective's alter-ego brings the groove to Hollywood

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If there were no marquee at the Roxy, one might have a difficult time guessing what sort of music was on tap this evening. Stretching down L.A’s iconic Sunset Strip, the styles within the queue would offer little help – a buzzing gaggle of metalheads, Latino hip hoppers, silver foxes in neatly-pressed button-downs and youngish girls dressed to the nines in dancefloor-friendly club gear. But there is no mystery — Brown Sabbath are in town tonight and everything makes perfect sense.

Brown Sabbath emerged last year as the Iommi-worshipping alter ego of Brownout – the proggy, Latin-flavoured funk collective from Austin, Texas. As a way to break up the monotony of a long club residency, Brownout began reinterpreting the works of different artists each week and with half of the band already fluent in metal, they channeled a clutch of Black Sabbath’s greatest hits into the propulsive tantric grooving of a mythical Santana/Funkadelic supergroup.

Their source material offered an ideal vehicle for such interpretation; beyond the concussive heaviness of the originals, what pushed Sabbath beyond other proto-metallers were the prismatic undercurrents of soul and jazz shaping the rhythms. Brown Sabbath coax these subtler elements from the background and place them front and center, reworking a gang of iconic parking lot anthems into a hip-shaking pastiche of blues, funk, psychedelia, jazz and rock that nonetheless hews faithfully to the originals. “Brown Sabbath” proved so successful that the eight-headed rhythmic beast took it to the studio and last June released the covers as Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath.

Openers Jungle Fire unfurl a tapestry of afro funk jams that are all but impossible to separate but that warm the crowd up nicely. At ten o’clock, the headliners emerge and waste zero time locking into a gelatinous, tritonal groove that burns into N.I.B., as frontman El Ozzy (Alex Marrero) strides out in a poncho and wrap-around shades, banging his afro and throwing the horns like Lenny Kravitz’ cooler lowrider cousin. Although it’s a Tuesday evening, every single person in the Roxy is dancing, shouting “Oh yeah!” and carrying on as if we were off on some balmy Caribbean island with bottomless rum drinks and no work for a week.

Pic: Jeff Kravitz

“Buenos noches, Cabrones!” Marrero bellows before the band light into the groovy prismatic voyaging of Hand of Doom, showcasing a mighty improvisational interlude underpinned by deep, unyielding rhythms and seismic torrents of brass. It’s clear that an awful lot of thought went into creating these arrangements – the horn section often take on Iommi’s parts, brilliantly dividing them into feral, three-part harmonies on tracks like Into The Void, while the twin guitars deliver enough paint-peeling riffage to keep the metalheads happy.

Marrero indulges in three costume changes during the longer instrumental bits and while the music stands on its own, it’s his manifest joy that glides the set over the rocks of one-trick-ponydom. Sprawling percussive blowouts like Children Of The Grave, Sweet Leaf and War Pigs elicit the biggest response from the crowd and the hour-plus setlist also includes Black Sabbath, Iron Man and Electric Funeral. On the heels of such unvarnished success, Brownout’s next move will be quite interesting.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.