Stacks: Masters of Reality

heystacks:

Masters of Reality
“Ants in the Kitchen/Goin’ Down”
How High the Moon: Live at the Viper Room, 1997

Masters of Reality are the great lost progenitor of the Desert Rock scene. One of the first bands to mine the heavy late 60s/early 70s psychedelia that would come to define that music, singer/guitarist Chris Goss and company never seem to get their due. He’s probably better known as the producer of the classic Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age albums (Blues from the Red Sun, Welcome to Sky Valley, Rated R and more) than as an artist in his own right. Which is a shame, and hopefully something that will be corrected in time.

How High the Moon captured the band in fine form, their blues-based material like “Ants in the Kitchen” properly swinging. The pseudo-Latin shuffle from drummer Victor Indrizzo carries a lot of the weight, but bassist Googe is right in with him, a solid anchor that lets Indrizzo color the beat instead of merely give it a caveman stomp. This becomes even more true in the vamp of “Goin’ Down”, as you can hear the drummer holding the beat with his feet, a steady kick and hi-hat freeing his hands for tom-tom fills, manic cymbal work, and quick snare runs. Meanwhile, Googe is filling in the bottom end admirably, carrying all but the basic beat on the bass. It’s a joy to hear such a sympathetic pairing in a rhythm section.

Atop that base it’s the Chris Goss show. His voice is reminiscent enough of Jack Bruce that it got Ginger Baker to record with him for the second Masters of Reality album, 1992’s Sunrise on the Sufferbus (that story is obviously a bit bullshit, but that’s how myths are made). “Ants in the Kitchen” is from that album, and co-written by Baker. But back to Goss and that wonderful voice. It’s strong without being forceful, with a melodic cadence akin to Jack Bruce’s (his phrasing and emphasis owes much to Bruce’s Cream work); even in the hardest of settings, with dual guitars wailing behind him, Goss seems cool and collected. The only false notes here are when he tries to growl/howl “Goin’ Down!” before quickly dropping back to his tuneful natural voice. It’s an understandable urge, but one that does him a disservice.

Those dual guitars, on the other hand, fail Masters of Reality not one bit. Goss and Brendon McNichol each take a solo on “Goin’ Down” (sadly I don’t know which is which), and they’re fiery and lyrical in equal measure; riffs built naturally from the chord structure of the song, not some tacked-on piece of technical wizardry unrelated to anything. Chris Johnson’s understated keyboard solo is a nice counterpoint, a little breather after the fire.

When it was released in 1997, How High the Moon was the first Masters of Reality album in almost five years, It proved to be a herald of things to come; over the next seven years the band released five albums, their most prolific run to date. Though it’s been some time since their last record, 2009’s Pine/Cross Dover, it doesn’t mean that Masters of Reality is a past concern. They toured Europe this summer, and I’m sure something will spur Chris Goss to recruit another line-up for another live record or a studio session one of these days.

—Erik

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