In the pantheon of rock & roll that emanated from Los Angeles, there's a ground-breaker in every decade: The Doors, The Eagles, The Germs, Guns N' Roses, Rage Against the Machine. And the 2010s have served up Mac Sabbath, a parody band who play Black Sabbath songs with damning lyrics about the food-industrial complex, performed while dressed as characters from a fast-food franchise that has yet to sue the band.
As a sage once said, there's such a fine line between stupid and clever. And Mac Sabbath tread that line, loudly, proudly (and with magic tricks), to the delight, mostly, of both critics and fans ranging from school kids to metal heads at Britain's famed Download festival (at Donington). Fans include, most recently, Mr. Ozzy Osbourne himself, who saw the band from "Birmingham-burger" perform and, upon witnessing the "clownery," pronounced it "funny as fuck."
That they are — "Paranoid" becomes "Pair-a-Buns," while "Iron Man" is sung as vocalist Ronald Osbourne wields a skillet and intones, "I am frying pan." Yet despite volumes of articles and reviews, Mac Sabbath — Ronald Osbourne, guitarist Slayer MacCheeze, bassist Grimalice and drummer Cat Burglar (with his Peter Criss–style makeup and cat ears) — have never spoken to the press. (Nor have they recorded any music, but more on that later.)
Instead, the group's manager, Mike Odd, frontman of another theatrical L.A. band, Rosemary's Billygoat, is the lineup's mouthpiece. Odd, a jovial version of circus sideshow barker Jim Rose meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's Child Catcher, articulates the vision of the band he's worked with since 2014, explaining that Osbourne is "an anonymous — even to me — clown who tells me he's traveling through a time-space continuum wormhole." Clearly, that could make interviews tough to schedule — plus, the red-headed front-clown has "issues with technology." Hence Odd's gig as a clown's mouthpiece.
Mac Sabbath's lyrics come from "the mind of a madman," explains Odd of his clown charge. (Does this set the stage for solo fare? Ozzy had Diary of a Madman; with Ronald's anti–crap food campaign, Diarrhea of a Madman might be apt.) Ronald has "coined himself the inventor of drive-thru metal, so some assume this is a pro–fast food movement, but it's really the exact opposite," Odd explains. "If you delve into the lyrics, he's really bashing Monsanto and GMOs, and the speedy lifestyle and society where a government is poisoning the people." In short: "Wake up and look at this stuff; grow stuff yourself and seek out organic foods." Happy meals.
Not the message you might expect from a manic, metal-spewing clown. But he puts his money where his big, creepy mouth is: "Organic Funeral" has pointed lyrics that include, "Mechanically separated meat/Makes a really tasty treat/Hormone growth injection/Leads to massive infection."
That said, words can be lost to the crowd in the thrill of the live show, as Odd notes: "Some of the kids after a show go out and eat cheeseburgers wearing a Mac Sabbath shirt, and take pictures and post them," he says, with a laugh. "Everybody is going to get out of it what they get out of it. It's not a preachy show at all. You have to delve into the lyrics, because the show is tons of fun. Delivered by a clown doing birthday-party magic."
Mac Sabbath have a backstory that involves "outer space" (but apparently a different locale than GWAR), but it's not as interesting as the band's performance — they do a more-than-decent Sabbath tribute, musically — or lyrics. Instead of "Snow Blind," the 1972 Black Sabbath tune about cocaine, they give you "GMO Blind," every single song in the service of educating the masses about the messes they ingest.
The musical goal is noble and needed: in short, to "take us back to a time where music, rock and sustenance were organic in nature. That's [Ronald's] whole thing," says Odd. Ultimately, "It's metal and it's Sabbath and wicked and hard and heavy, but there's nothing about it that's not family-friendly," he adds. "There's nothing that's truly adult in nature, other than it being a little creepy and spooky. There are no drug references, no sex references."
And no Sharon Osbourne: If Ronald can't shout "Shaaaron" when he needs the TV changed (remember, he's a Luddite from outer space, not unlike the real Ozzy), he can shout "My God" when he needs Mike Odd to the rescue.
If Mac Sabbath faithfully follow their metal forefathers, there is a limit to the emulation. It's unlikely, given Ronald's anti-meat lyrics, that he'll follow in Ozzy's teeth-steps and bite the heads off any doves. Also, don't expect Ronnie James Dio–era Sabbath songs; original lineup only. Especially, of course, after the coup of getting an Ozzy endorsement, and having Black Sabbath themselves post the video of the Mac man meeting the Black man. "They seem very cozy with Ozzy right now. If that's working, maybe you're not trying to kiss up to Tony Martin," chortles Odd, referencing the Sabbath singer on albums including Headless Cross, Tyr and Cross Purposes.
There's definitely a method to the Mac madness, one that's resulted in a success that far surpasses that of Odd's band Rosemary's Billygoat. First, they've toured and done huge festivals, including San Francisco's Outside Lands, without having a single album out. As Odd jokes, Mac Sabbath were the only band at Download that you couldn't download. He blames the lack of recorded output on Osbourne's tech phobia: "I pitch some MP3 to Ronald, I'm going to get a pie in my face, or seltzer water. That's what's been such a challenge being such a part of — and here I'm doing air quotes — the music industry," he laughs.
Odd figures, probably rightly, that Mac Sabbath are among the biggest touring bands in the U.S. that don't have any music out. There are videos. And a coloring book with a flexi-disc of "Pair-a-Buns." And, of course, merch — hoodies, belt buckles, T-shirts, pins — most of it amazingly awesome.
So what's next, a Mac Sabbath Land where small fry can frolic in a metal fantasy land? So far, 2019 looks as if it's going to hold more touring, where the band will, as is their wont, avoid the grease-pit food options that some bands embrace. "We work with a lot of great promoters who cook us amazing meals, and we stop at health food stores and specialty stores and stock up," Odd says, before chortling, "You can't fit a tour bus in a drive-thru anyway!"
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So what do the rock stars ask for on their rider? "The thing I always ask for? A door on the bathroom," Odd says. "And you know what: You don't always get it!"
If you can't always get what you want, Odd is trying hard to get what Mac need. He knows he may not be able to have it his way ... but so far, so good. Of course, Mac Sabbath are not the first mysterious men in makeup. Ghost singer Papa Emeritus doesn't do interviews. And though Odd says — repeatedly — that he is not Ronald Osbourne, there is a precedent for theatrical artists who refer to themselves in the third person; Alice Cooper, anyone? And KISS for years (thankfully) hid their makeup-free faces. In fact Odd, observes that Mac Sabbath take it a step further than KISS' initial secrecy; KISS at least did interviews in their makeup.
But Odd is firm about keeping Osbourne hidden, and Mac Sabbath riding high. For now, the socially conscious metal parody character band are "American's dirty little secret," he says, "and I'm going to try to keep it that way as long as I can."
Mac Sabbath play the Fonda Theatre on Dec. 28 with The Dickies and PPL MVR.