Music

Going Through Changes

Mistress of Reality gives early Sabbath an electric funeral

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Call the Hollywood-based all-female Black Sabbath tribute band Mistress of Reality a bizarre transgendered product of the age of reissues. Call them the dark goddesses of museum-rock or even "Sabbath with boobies." Just don't call them a cover band. "A cover band is just some terrible group in a bar playing whatever shit is popular right now," lead singer Izzy Osbourne hisses in a low voice that doesn't sound like it could dream of soaring to Ozzy's castrati heights. "We are a tribute, playing the only band that I could ever dream of doing a tribute for, and we take it farther than a cover band could ever dream. I'm talking plenty of smoke, original gear and all the theatrics of a great early Sabbath show. That's no 'cover.'"

The quartet, made up of Izzy, Sheezer Butler (instead of Sabbath's "Geezer Butler"), Jill Ward ("Bill Ward") and newcomer Loni Iommi (instead of Tony Iommi, and formerly of the Seattle-based tribute band The Iron Maidens), plays with exact replicas of Sabbath's instruments including a mammoth 24-inch bass drum that the band could room in if necessary. They also wear clothes modeled precisely after Sabbath's 1969 to 1973 garb and scour photos and tapes for the most subtle Ozzular mannerisms to polish their heavy metal reanimation. It all sounds great—except that aside from the timeless undead-chic of pale women in dark clothes, why in the name of Iron Man bother with a female tribute?

"It's perfectly natural that we should be women," Izzy muses. "The number one complaint I've heard about other tribute bands is that 'no man could ever replace Ozzy.' His voice and his mannerisms—I think I have a better chance of doing a convincing version than any man." That, and this moonlighting voice teacher listens to Sabbath, in Izzy's words, "all the freaking time."

But come on, Izzy, even when you're crossing the BFE desert in a van at the witching hour after three straight weeks of playing the same setlist every night, you don't still listen to Sabbath all the time, do you? "No, I really mean all the time," she replies. "It's just impossible for us to get tired of it." Bear in mind, that Mistress's listening library isn't just made up of the four albums from which their show draws (Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Masters of Reality and Volume 4), but also a demonic heap of bootlegs capturing Sabbath at progressive stages of their creative and chemical possession, er, inspiration. Then also bear in mind that no matter how different Ozzy-in-Manchester-on-speedball-in-1969 and Ozzy-in-New-York-on-a-tanker-truck-of-rotgut-in-1971 may be, the same songs make up all of those shows. These girls are simply crazy, all the more so because they are not fueled by the same needle-borne muses as Sabbath, and nowhere is the mania more obvious than in the audience reactions produced by Osbourne's painstaking theatrical preparation.

"We have people come up to us all the time after the show in all sorts of towns, a lot of them in tears," she explains. "People grab at my feet, at the microphone stand, they try to egg me on and make me go off on them—they all really, really get into this show, sometimes creepily." Of course Osbourne, with makeup drenched, tongue out, claws reaching toward the audience, is obviously elated at being the mistress giving reality to anyone and everyone's depraved Sabbath fantasies. "I remember the last time someone shouted out 'Play "Heaven and Hell" [1980 Sabbath hit with Ronnie James Dio as lead singer],'" she recalls. "I stopped everything, said 'You! Up on stage! Now!' and slapped him in the face. But they all know I love them." Heckling the crowd for being "limp dicks" by not pumping their fists during "War Pigs," and then pouring out a flood of "We lahv you ohll!" and "Gohd blayss ewe!" is the kind of manic confusion that made Ozzy so bewildering first time around, and his feminine protégé embraces the role with unholy relish.

An eventual "Fakestock" or "Faux Altamont" featuring Mistress and their sister bands Cheap Chick, The Iron Maidens, Kissexy, AC/DShe and The Ms. Fits (yes, they're all real) is a pipe dream about which Osbourne will not yet comment. Suffice it to say, the bands play together regularly and seem to keep a tight network—I can just imagine the frantic late night phone calls: "My GOD I'm tired of pretending to be an androgynous British pincushion!" "You think you've got it bad? We've already been around longer than the no-talent hacks we're paying tribute to!" But there is a unique appeal to this kind of tribute, be it the hope of turning a girlfriend on to Sabbath (a bleak and noble battle I know all too well) or simply injecting some fleeting illusion of veracity into a musical obsession that has been experienced only through plastic and vinyl.

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