Through a varied career across multiple band incarnations, the nine members of Austin, Texas-based Brownout have carved out a distinctly individual and fearless career in modern music. Starting out as Grupo Fantasma, with a focus on cumbia music, they became known as a party band that jammed in establishments ranging from friends’ houses to coffee shops. Laying down a solid foundation through multiple album releases and countless shows, their star began to rise, ultimately resulting in multiple Grammy Award-nominations, including a 2011 victory in Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category for their album, El Existential. In the mid-2000s, the group decided to create Brownout—“a return to our roots” as guitarist Adrian Quesada notes—to focus on the funk and Latin rock influences. Their sound would evolve across three full-length LPs and a half dozen vinyl singles. It was through this process that they conjured the idea to pay tribute to Black Sabbath, one of their favorite bands growing up as kids in south Texas.

Beto Martinez, another guitarist in the band, remembers the genesis of the endeavor, which would be dubbed Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath. “The whole thing started as a one-off idea as part of theme nights at a club where we were doing a residency.  We had the name Brown Sabbath before we ever touched the music,” Martinez explains. “Once we decided to move forward with the idea, the first work was done with our rhythm section and deciding which songs to play and how to adapt them. From there, our talented horn arranger, Mark Gonzalez, began the difficult work of actually adding horn parts to these classic and well-known tunes without it sounding cheesy.”  Quesada continues that thought: “The fact that the horns don’t sound out of place is a testament to the timelessness and versatility of Black Sabbath’s music.”

From here, the question became would devout rock fans buy into the amended covers? “In the first few shows, we always had a stratified mix of Brownout fans and metal heads that obviously saw something about Sabbath and came to check it out,” continues Martinez. “They always stood in the back looking mean and wondering if we were about to ruin Sabbath.  However, they soon realized that the heaviness was still there.”

In 2014, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath moved from sporadic live performances to releasing a full length album of Sabbath covers through Ubiquity Records. They’d recruit vocalist Alex Marrero to handle the majority of the vocals.  An introductory 10-inch single, “Hand Of Doom,” featuring The Black Angels’ Alex Maas, was paired with “The Wizard.” It was quickly followed by the debut album, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, Volume I. Presenting seven tracks from Black Sabbath’s first three albums (Black Sabbath, Paranoid and Master Of Reality), the release garnered praise from well-respected outlets across the U.S. Pitchfork raved “the rearrangements are so exhilarating that, even without amplifier overdose, they make you remember why you got into metal in the first place,” while NPR Music declared “the album is a reflection of the kind of cross-cultural life many Latinos in the U.S. live in, one where a 1970s English heavy metal prototype shares record shelf space with Latin music.” Providing further validation, Classic Rock Magazine mentioned that “the horn arrangements felt like they had always been there.”

The release would be followed by relentless touring across North America, including appearances at Bonnaroo, Austin Psych Fest and Pickathon. The music would ultimately make its way to Ozzy Osbourne himself who raved “it’s fucking awesome, this fucking Mexican guy sounds just like me,” ultimately garnering the band an invitation to perform at the Ozzfiesta in Mexico.

Now, two years later, the band has assembled a second volume of Sabbath material that runs through 1975’s Sabotage.  Quesada says about the second volume: “When we recorded Volume 1, we had only played a couple of live shows, and it was a very new thing.  We’ve grown as a live band and gained a new level of confidence and ownership over what we do with Black Sabbath.  It was important to capture another moment in time showing the band’s development and stamp on the music.”

There is more attention to the guitar elements on Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath Vol. II.  Album opener “Supernaut” is bolstered with muscled-up horn arrangements and a tasty bongo break, but the aggressive guitar riff lets you know what’s driving this train. Album closer, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” finds vocalist Alex Marrero being joined on vocals by Ghostland Observatory’s Aaron Behrens.  As the song closes, the brooding number switches tempo and the percussion underlying the lead guitars leads to a Latin-infused breakdown. On “Snowblind,” Marerro channels Ozzy to chilling effect, matching the dread of Greg Gonzalez’s bass and a menacing lead guitar solo.  And while horns kick off “Children Of The Grave,” the star of the show is the band’s rhythm section that makes a song about love and revolution move the needle from rock to metal.

As the band’s hometown weekly paper, Austin Chronicle points out: “Credit Black Sabbath with helping found heavy metal, sure, but acknowledge, too, that the British quartet knew how to work a downright dirty breakbeat.” Brownout has performed styles ranging from classic funk to hip-hop, marrying their sense of breakbeats with the members’ love of hard-edged acts like Slayer, Brujeria, Metallica, and of course, Black Sabbath. Quesada sums up the blending of genres perfectly: “For us, Black Sabbath always had such a bounce to it that comes from the era where you hear jazz, soul, blues and funk influences in heavy rock music, and that lends itself well to a band like us whose primary influences are from the late ’60s and early ‘70s. Black Sabbath is sinister and heavy, but rhythmically really similar to a lot of what we play.” If the studio material engenders such bravado, just imagine what one of their live shows feels like.

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Kevin Calabro | 917-838-4613 | kevin@calabromusicmedia.com