What's the Deal With the Fast-Food-Themed Black Sabbath Cover Band Playing Brooklyn This Weekend?
Ronald Osbourne of Mac Sabbath in action
Photo by Joe Orlando
Just when it seemed like every corner of the musical universe had been fully explored, every style mash-up mashed, every genre wire crossed, someone comes along and starts a fast-food-themed Black Sabbath cover band. The band in question is Mac Sabbath, an L.A. group whose members — Ronald Osbourne, Slayer McCheese, Grimalice, and the Catburglar — dress in costumes that are eerily similar to the mascots of a certain burger franchise. Their songs take Sabbath classics and replace lyrics about war and the occult with lines about how mass-produced meals are poisoning the human race. Witness “Frying Pan,” Mac’s reconfiguration of Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” in which Osbourne sings, “I once burned your meal/My old job was cooking veal/Now it’s a culinary crime/All our future is pink slime.” Their shows are equally surreal and chaotic, with red-eyed, demonic-looking clown statues, inflatable cheeseburgers, and oversized prop ketchup and mustard bottles. The blazing primary colors and infernal special effects make the whole thing feel like Hieronymus Bosch’s My Little Pony.
If figuring out what Mac Sabbath is can be a brain-bender, figuring out who they are is damn near impossible. Their backstory is an absurdist tangle, involving time-travel from the Seventies through wormholes in the time-space continuum, secret shows in the basement of a certain chain restaurant, and nefarious conspiracies involving genetically engineered food. Making it even more complicated, the band doesn’t give interviews — instead, they speak through their manager, Mike Odd, who is himself a member of the theatrical hard rock band Rosemary’s Billygoat (which has led to speculation that Osbourne is actually Odd in disguise). In fact, listening to Odd talk, it’s hard to tell where reality ends and fabrication begins.
“I got an anonymous phone call to go meet someone,” Odd explains. “I went down to this fast-food franchise in the San Fernando Valley, and in walks this abomination — skull-faced clown, makeup dripping, wearing a red-and-yellow-fringed, dragging-the-ground-dirty outfit. And he just kind of enveloped me in this booth and informed me that my new calling is to manage this thing called Mac Sabbath. The next thing I knew, I was in another fast-food franchise, in the basement, watching this secret show by these Monsanto Mutants, churning out Sabbath songs and screaming about government control in food and how we’re being poisoned by this Orwellian tyrannical government.” Where, exactly, the band came from is even cloudier. The official backstory has them time-traveling through decades to warn us of poison burgers, and that’s the story Odd is sticking to. It becomes clear over the course of our call that the best thing to do when speaking about Mac Sabbath is to put reality on pause and let the weirdness commence. “The way Ronald describes it, he comes from this place in time and space that’s like an enchanted forest, where you can eat cheeseburgers off of trees,” Odd matter-of-factly explains. “But really, when you boil it down, I think the point to be made is that maybe the Seventies is the last time that food was really food. Nineteen eighty-four kind of came and went, and Monsanto gained government control, and now we’re all being force-fed poison.”
The evil of fast food is something Mac Sabbath obsesses over. In their songs, mass-produced meals are essentially a modern-day Soylent Green, which has the effect of making their Happy Meal Horror Show shtick strangely educational — a side effect that isn’t lost on Odd.
"One of the first things I set up was a show at Micheltorena Elementary School in Silver Lake,” he explains. Unlike much of what he’s said, this piece of information actually checks out. “At one point, a woman comes up to me and says, ‘Are you the one who put this together? I’m the principal of the school.’ And I said, 'Oh, I’m so sorry!' But she thought it was amazing. After that, I had a talk with Ronald and said, ‘We should do a thing where we tour and play the clubs for the drunks at night and then the next morning do the local elementary school. Even though this is an over-the-top, scary, menacing, wicked heavy metal show, it’s still kid-friendly.’ ” Odd gets more and more worked up, giggling gleefully as he speaks. “I mean, we can do a special set that has lessons for the kids on health food. We can get Michelle Obama involved. At this point, the sky’s the limit.”
He’s not kidding. The band has already made inroads on the festival circuit, winning new fans at the U.K.’s Download Festival and playing Outside Lands just minutes before Elton John headlined the main stage.
“Golden Gate Park is like playing in the forest — which is awesome for Mac Sabbath, because there are all these creepy trees, and it’s this kind of psychedelic environment,” he explains. “So at one point, I see this guy grab one of the giant inflatable burgers [the band throws into the audience] and hold it over his head, and then just run into the forest with it. And Ronald goes, ‘Stop that man!’ Everybody just laughed hysterically, and we never saw the cheeseburger again. I kept expecting to see it bopping around in the front during Elton John’s set.”
And while Mac Sabbath has to tread lightly for fear of reprisal from a certain fast-food giant, they’ve received a strong show of support from their other inspiration — Black Sabbath. “The second or third show that I organized was at a festival — the Zombie Walk Festival in Long Beach,” Odd says. “I recorded it and put a video up on YouTube with the lyrics, and on January 1, New Year’s Day, Black Sabbath posted it on Facebook and on Twitter. Now it has three-quarters of a million hits. So it’s really thanks to Black Sabbath, in so many senses, that this is successful.”
According to Osbourne, the band’s rivals are many — in concert, he rants about bands like KFC/DC, Cinnabon Jovi, and Burger King Diamond jacking their routine, despite the fact that none of those bands seem to actually exist. But midway through their third tour, the merchants of Beelzebub and Bacon Double Cheeseburgers only seem to be gaining momentum. “More than anything, I think that people can’t even believe it exists,” Odd laughs. “People who go to see them don’t know what hit them. They love it. I think the only thing that can stop us now would be running out of Black Sabbath songs.”
Mac Sabbath play the Knitting Factory September 12. For ticket information, click here.
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