Masters of Reality
“Has he lost his mind? Can he see or is he blind?”
Is there a more iconic song than Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”? The foreboding kick drum intro, the unforgettable guitar riff, the geeky but horrifying lyrics about a superhero who turns evil and “kills the people he once saved.” If someone were to ask you, “What’s heavy metal?” wouldn’t you just play them that song?
Sure, there are better Sabbath songs—the almost-as-iconic “Paranoid,” for example, is 10 times better as a song—but “Iron Man” is just a perfect distillation of Black Sabbath.
“They’re the band that created heavy metal,” says Steve Storm, the vocalist of Masters of Reality, a Reno-based Black Sabbath tribute band.
On Sabbath’s self-titled 1970 debut, you can hear a run-of-the-mill English rock band, in the vein of Cream, pushing and exploring the limits of the then-popular electric blues sounds. By the time of their nearly perfect second and third albums, Paranoid and Master of Reality, they’d hit upon something new: heavy metal.
Why do a Black Sabbath tribute band?
“It’s my favorite band,” says Storm. “And there’s a worldwide built-in fan base.”
“It’s a tribute to everything bitchin’,” says drummer Ryan Young.
Masters of Reality do a total recreation of Black Sabbath, including note-for-note drum fills and guitar solos.
“I’m trying to learn them as verbatim as possible,” says guitarist Lane “Rufio” Roberts.
Storm has the vocal chops of Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne, and he sounds remarkably similar to the warlock wail of Osbourne’s prime, not the bumbling mumble of his reality TV years.
And Storm is also not afraid to replicate some of Osbourne’s legendary onstage antics. “If there’s a bat, I’ll bite the head off of it,” says Storm. “I bit the head of off a snake once. That’s a true story. Now I really hope somebody brings a bat.”
Young and bassist Scott “Nailer” Bates recreate the mammoth lumbering rhythm section of vintage Sabbath.
(Full disclosure: The author plays in a band with Bates. Bates is a busy musician, and the author had no idea that Bates was leading a double life as Sabbath’s Geezer Butler. The author got in touch with vocalist Storm, whom he’d never before met, through a local show promoter, scheduled an interview, and only learned that Bates was in Masters of Reality when the author overheard Bates fingering Sabbath bass lines between songs at a practice for their other band the day before the interview. It was a little embarrassing.)
The band members admit that replicating Black Sabbath has proven more difficult than they originally anticipated.
“It’s hard playing Black Sabbath songs without the daily acid they used to take,” says Young.
Why not just take acid?
“Well, we would if we could afford it,” he says. “That’s why we started this band.”
Currently, Masters of Reality’s repertoire consists of Sabbath’s most recognizable songs, like “Iron Man,” “Paranoid” and “Sweet Leaf,” but the band members are excited to dig deeper into the Sabbath back catalogue. However, they’re staying clear of the later-era Sabbath, after Osbourne embarked on his solo career, and the band went through a revolving batch of mediocre vocalists like Ronnie James Dio.
“No Dio!” says Young. “In all caps, bold print, ‘NO DIO!”