Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Masters of Reality - Masters of Reality

Masters of Reality

Released 1988 on Def American
Reviewed by Brandon Tenold, 27/04/2009ce

Chris Goss is one of the most overlooked people in (relatively) modern rock music, his resume as a producer for bands like Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age and The Duke Spirit largely overshadowing his considerable musical talents. As the mastermind and only constant member of his band, Masters of Reality, he is responsible for some of the best and most diverse rock music of the last 20 years, with considerable skills as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. It’s important to note though, that at least in the beginning, The Masters of Reality were an actual band, albeit one with a very dominant voice and leader in Goss.

Formed during the early 80’s, the band (or more accurately, Goss himself) was a curious cross-section of genres and even musical points in time. Goss, old enough to at least remember, if not truly be a part of the 60’s, sought to combine the Cream-y, blues drenched guitar psychedelics of his childhood with a bit of the emergent underground “alternative” scene appearing sporadically across America as a reaction to the ludicrous hair metal and polished pop that dominated the airwaves. Consisting of Goss on vocals/guitar, guitarist Tim Harrington, drummer Vinnie Ludovico and a bassist known only as Googe*, the band recorded their debut album with super-producer Rick Rubin at the helm on Rubin’s own Def American label.

Although originally issued on Def American in 1988, the album was reissued in 1990 on Delicious Vinyl, with a rearranged track list, different cover art and an extra song, “Doraldina’s Prophecies”. The Def American version is rare and expensive, so I’m reviewing the Delicious Vinyl version, but I’ve included the original cover art. It’s a lovely Roger Dean-esque fantasy landscape painting that would be right at home on a Yes album cover (provided you add some dragons/whales) and is much better than the patchwork pseudo-psychedelia of the reissue, which looks like some basement stoner searched some random images on the internet and them slapped them together in Photoshop.

In some ways, it’s understandable why the band has remained largely overlooked. Although they’re certainly “alternative” to most popular music of the last few decades, they lacked the overt punk rock influences of other bands of that movement, and the chubby, bald-headed Goss, looking like a hard drinking version of Uncle Fester from the Addams Family, was always an unlikely candidate for mainstream stardom. Looking back, it’s actually pretty amazing that the band managed to get themselves a major label record deal in the late 80’s. At a time when hard rock was dominated by shallow creeps in spandex, the Master’s brand of blues and psychedelia drenched odes to hard rock’s late 60’s forefather’s was decidedly out of fashion. Revisionists would soon name this type of fuzz-drenched ancestor worship “Stoner Rock”, and proclaim Goss its inventor, but really, that label doesn’t quite fit either, as Goss’s tuneful, at times Beatle’s-esque talent for song craft is at odds with the genre’s bass-heavy and far less varied sound.

Although the band takes its name from Black Sabbath’s heaviest album, a better name might have been “The Wheels of Fire” as their colourful yet blues inflected sound is strongly reminiscent of Cream. Goss even has a bit of a Jack Bruce tone to his mellow but rich voice, his smooth tenor opining largely opaque but subtly humorous lyrics. During boogie rocker “The Candy Song”, Goss takes lyrics like “the price is high but the candy’s sweet” and “go down and see the sugar girl, she’ll know just what to do”, and somehow manages to strip them of any cock-rock meaning, despite the fact that written down, they look like rejected lines from Warrant’s “Cherry Pie”. “Domino” is another hard rocker in the same vein, the band once again avoiding cliché’s of the time like sub-EVH shred guitar, Goss instead offering up concise woman-toned blues licks to go along with the southern-fried groove.

In addition to the straightforward hard rock songs, the band also shows a great deal of musicianship and versatility on the multipart epics “The Blue Garden” and “Kill the King”, the former contains a wah-wah drenched solo that once again recalls Clapton at his “White Room” peak before building to a fantastic finale of wordless chanting. Goss and the band chant “AHHH-HAAAAAAA, AHHHHHHHHH-AHHHHHHHH” in a mantra that recalls the airy harmonies of prime period Cream and the Yardbirds medieval moments while Ludovico provides a thundering drum beat. While this is going on, Goss and Harrington engage in a psychedelic guitar duel just below the vocals. It’s one of those parts in a song that you wish would go on forever, but it lasts less than a minute before a church organ brings the song to a close.

While “Kill the King” has a title that sounds like it belongs on a Ronnie James Dio album, it’s much more inventive and a lot less cheesy. Beginning with some piano and acoustic guitar, it soon shifts into a mid-tempo groove. While Goss’s words are largely stream of conscious ramblings, he does have some clever bits of sly humour like:

And in many degrees of heat/the fire looked at the meat/and said if I cook you/the least you could do is lay there and be sweet.

After a whammy-bar infused solo, the song suddenly radically shifts tone and tempo, featuring some slide guitar noises over a stop-start drum beat, continuing for a couple minutes before being abruptly cut off a la “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, further illustrating the subtle Beatles influence laying just below the surface. It’s a curious multi-part epic that not a lot of bands were making at the time.

The band’s blues fetish is most apparent on “John Brown”, and slide guitar drenched barroom sing along that bears a passing resemblance to John Lennon’s similarly named “John Sinclair”, minus the fake-out skipping record chorus of course. The song’s chorus of “Holiday, Holiday/Pull em’ down at noon today” would be perfectly at home being chanted by a small group of drunks at a small pub than the arena-minded anthem’s most bands were concerned about. “Lookin’ to Get Rite” is another bluesy one, featuring repetitions of the title overtop of some raga-inflected Page-isms on the acoustic guitar.

For better or for worse, this was the first and last time the Master’s Of Reality name was connected to a full-fledged band. Due to the albums lack of commercial success, the band effectively disbanded, and when Goss decided to use the name again for their next album “Sunrise on the Sufferbus”, Googe was the only returning member. For that album, they invited further Cream comparisons by getting Ginger Baker to fill in the vacant drum spot. But that’s a story for another time…

*Flea, Sting, Lemmy…I guess it must be a bass player thing.

Reviews Index