Hailing from the upstate college town of Syracuse, New York, Masters of Reality began in the early ’80s as a semi- electronic duo of vocalist Chris Goss and guitarist Tim Harrington; the name is evidence that the band has always taken a certain delight in being defiantly out of step with the times. By its first album, the group had transmogrified into a phantasmagoric blues-metal quartet, driven by Harrington’s raunchy and dexterous riffs, Goss’ Cream- flavored voice and Vinnie Ludovico’s devastatingly solid drumming. One of the most innovative hard-rock outings of its era, the album (also known as The Blue Garden) was given a powerful but overly melodramatic mix by producer Rick Rubin and bears some distinct tags of physical graffiti. Veering between crunch, twang, jangle, pop-riff-rock (“The Candy Song”) and near-prog-rock (“Kill the King”), the album is near-brilliant but almost too diverse, and a quasi-mystical conceptual angle certainly didn’t make it any easier to swallow.
Times caught up with the band quickly enough: the Dust Brothers (Matt Dike and Michael Ross) bought the rights to the album for their Delicious Vinyl label. Adding one song (the haunting “Doraldina’s Prophecies”), the team remixed, resequenced, repackaged and reissued the album 18 months after its initial release. Given a new context, Masters of Reality makes a lot more sense, as the focus stays on the songs instead of the baffling concept.
Shortly before the rerelease, however, Harrington and Ludovico threw a wrench into the marketing plan by splitting to form the Bogeymen. Goss and bassist Googe kept the Masters flag blasting with guitarist/producer/longtime Ramones associate Daniel Rey and — astonishingly — ex-Cream/Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker. The reconstituted group toured behind the album and entered the studio to begin recording a follow-up for yet another label. Sunrise on the Sufferbus is stripped-down, bare-bones blues-rock with melodies as simple, memorable and, at times, annoying as bubblegum pop. While generally satisfying, Rey and Goss (who share the guitar duties) have little of Harrington’s finesse, and the songs’ starkness often gives an impression that something’s missing.
The Bogeymen’s There’s No Such Thing As… is arguably a more fitting second Masters of Reality album, displaying greater diversity in songwriting and arrangements. Harrington’s fretwork is superb throughout, although his vocals are merely adequate and don’t do the songs full justice.
In 1994, with ex-Redd Kross drummer Victor Indrizzo in tow, the Masters of Reality signed with their fourth record company (Epic) and completed an intriguing if patchy album called The Ballad of Jody Frosty. It went unreleased and the band lost its deal. Goss has also been working as a producer, most notably on three Kyuss albums. Indrizzo joined the Magnificent Bastards (the side group led by Stone Temple Pilots singer Weiland) and Samiam.
Harrington re-emerged in ’96 with not one but two solo albums, the experimental Master Frequency and His Deepness and the comparatively commercial Shinola. While “getting into electronics” has long since lost its conceptual novelty, Harrington, as usual, provides his own unique twists on Master Frequency: dusting off possibly the very same drum machines that the Masters abandoned in the mid-’80s, much of the album pits mechanized rhythms against Foghat-sized raunch-riffs (and, on the Tom Waits-ian “Material Outcast,” a string bass). The remainder of the album is even weirder, veering between Beefheartian tone poems and the tripped-out “Backward Prayer,” which sounds like a Satanic Majesties outtake. If it’s not meant to be taken too seriously, Master Frequency finds the old Master comfortable in a new setting.