I often think of the Austin-based group Brownout as the Mr. Hyde to its more sophisticated alter-ego Grupo Fantasma but that’s perhaps a little unfair. The Grammy-winning self-proclaimed Latin revival orchestra is a powerhouse in the studio, and its live shows are legendary. Brownout, which is more or less Grupo Fantasma without the singers, adds vocalist Alex Marrero for its interpretation of Black Sabbath songs on Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, Vol. II.
How does Vol. II differ from Vol. I? Well, not very much, but that as good thing as 2014’s Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath was one of the year’s best rock albums.
“Supernaut,” the lead-off track allows the group to get their instrumental funk on. Brownout is a juggernaut here, as the horns and percussionist run full steam ahead with bassist Greg Gonzales and drummer John Speice. “Electric Funeral” doesn’t veer too far from the Black Sabbath original. Vocally nuanced yet authentic, the song slides along powered by guitarist Beto Martinez and Adrian Quesada. The horn groove is smooth and as natural as if it was always part of the song. “Funky” is the last word to come to mind to a Sabbath song, but seems fitting in this Brownout version.
“Snowblind” slows things up, relying on one of the most powerful vocal performances of Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, Vol. 2II. The mid song guitar assault is raw, inspired and too brief. This time, the horn section seems like offensive linemen pushing the hapless out of the way and giving the guitars more space to groove. At more than six minutes, the song still seems too short.
“Fairies Wear Boots” has a rhythmic flavor only hinted in the original. A slow burn started by the percussion turns quickly in to a fast boil, which is spiced up by the horn section. By the middle of the song, Brownout is in full rhythmic flight. They shift time signature as effortlessly as people change shirts, and the band gallops through this song with wild guitar driven abandon. Just when you think, “Fairies Wear Boots” has reached a boil, the horns take the whirlwind to an even higher level. This track’s musicality demands multiple listens; in fact, it may be Brownout’s finest moment as Brown Sabbath.
“Children Of The Grave” is almost a continuation of “Fairies Wear Boots,” with its staccato horn stabs and punchy lead guitar. A fine effort indeed, but a tad too familiar in sonic theme. The song demonstrates how strong the surrounding material and arrangements are. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” is a fitting end to this gem. Ghostland Observatory’s Aaron Behrens is the featured vocalist on this rev up, with percussion, horns and guitar all keeping in fill gallop with the powerhouse rhythm section. The band executes the melody with precision, yet moves through the groove like a greased sledgehammer. The resulting maelstrom is sonic bliss.
Is Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath Vol. II better than the original? No, but only because the original album was a classic. Think of this as a continuation of that 2014 release – and a powerful and glorious continuation, it is.
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