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Brownout blows minds, melts faces as Brown Sabbath at the Mohawk

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 4, 2014

According to guitarist and composer Adrian Quesada, if you had told Brownout a year ago that the band would spend the summer of 2014 promoting a new album of Black Sabbath covers they probably would have laughed.

“We’re all pushing 40 and we’re living out our high school fantasies,” Quesada said Thursday night less than half an hour after Brownout, performing as Brown Sabbath unleashed a guitar screaming, head banging, teeth rattling barrage of weirdly funky heavy metal that raged on for over 90 minutes at the Mohawk.

The idea for the project was almost a joke. The band did a month-long residency last September at Frank and for each week’s gig they explored a different kind of music. “We’re all (Black Sabbath) fans,” bassist Greg Gonzalez said before the Mohawk gig, “It just seemed like something we could do ‘like, oh yeah this could be easy.’” The music was actually more complex than anticipated, but the end result which finds the band infusing the raw material of classic metal with elements of “pan global funk” — Afro-Cuban and African rhythms and furious blasts of brass — is an obvious hit.

They sold out the Frank gig and with a new management team who Gonzalez says saw footage from the show and “really bit on the idea,” the band developed a set and recorded a few Brown Sabbath tracks to shop to record labels. Ubiquity Records picked the project up. The band recorded the album at Cacophony Recorders in Austin over the winter.

Brownout is an eight-piece instrumental powerhouse best known for their tightly arranged funk jams, and as such some of the band’s reimagined Sabbath tracks unfold as lengthy instrumentals with ample guitar hero shredding. But the group clearly understands the importance of Ozzy. On the album, Alex Maas from Black Angels, Alex Marrero and David Jimenez all take turns on vocals. At the Mohawk show Marrero harnessed his inner rock god to destroy the set.

“Alex (Marrero) was a total surprise,” Gonzalez said. “He was like, ‘Man I want to do this, I’m a huge Sabbath fan.’” Marrero is an accomplished drummer best known around town for his work with Topaz & Mudphonic and the now defunct long-running local fusion project Ghandaia. He also has the pipes and the flair that make him a perfect front man for Brown Sabbath. “He came and sang and he just blew our minds,” Gonzalez said.

Minds were also blown in the packed house at the Mohawk Thursday. Marrero worked his magic on a sinister rendition of “The Wizard” near the beginning of the set, an epic take on “War Pigs” near the end and countless others in between. The fact that he also did at least four costume changes just made the stagecraft sweeter.

Brown Sabbath has already sold out the Brooklyn Bowl in NYC and they just got back from a short run in Colorado. The band takes the show to San Antonio tonight (April 4) at the Pearl Park Amphitheater. The album is due out in late spring/early summer so rest assured, more face-melting metal fusion should be on tap in the hot months ahead.