September 26, 2016
When you find yourself at a Mac Sabbath show, painfully sober and fully self-aware, you may question your own motives for attending such an event. Perhaps, you may even question the deeper purpose of your life and it’s seemingly aimless, coincidental and chaotic meanderings that have led you to said Mac Sabbath show.
Because, if you’ve ever seen Mac Sabbath, your initial response is, What the fuck is going on here?
All appeals to existentialism aside, undoubtedly arriving to such a display purposely and with strong reason may be indicative of a deeper acknowledgment — a philosophic undercurrent of agreement that Mac Sabbath is — at the least — the most interesting farce in music.
I was obviously not the only one questioning this gathering of an admittedly odd cross-section of Houston metal fandom. Questions like these are expected, and I deflected them with all the self-confidence of a prepubescent middle-school boy in a locker room full of ‘roid ragers.
Random Guy In the Crowd (next to me, looks me dead in the eye): “Why are you here?”
Me (tries nonchalantly shrugging, instead voice cracks): “I’m here with the Press.”
Random Guy: “I’m here with questions and curiosity.”
Fair enough; we all were curious, it seemed. It felt like the question literally hovered in the air around us, almost palpable, outside of our own motivations for coming to a show that was some kind of open mockery of American consumerism and heavy metal. Is Mac Sabbath the stuff of fast-food hangovers and flippant tribute bands or are they artful critics of McDonaldLand culture?
Anxieties raised, we were either about to witness something extraordinarily brilliant or stupid.
And when the bright red and yellow curtain opened, a consummate silence fell upon the crowd. Not only were the McDonaldland characters in full perversion of themselves, but two giant skull-faced Ronald McDonald statues towered over the audience – each with red-hot lasers beaming from their eyes.
When the full scene was taken in, perhaps within 3- 5 seconds, the crowd ripped into applause. Yes, ripped; applause rarely ceased throughout the show. Corrupted props such as a giant phallic straw pulled from Ronald’s pants, a grill center stage with smoke and lights, ketchup and mustard bottles regularly squirted into the crowd by a laughing Ronald delighted fans who sought out the condiment streams with open mouths. Allusions to food and sex continued — effective and disgusting — throughout the entire set.
So, why do fans love them again?
Mac Sabbath are not the first nor the last satirically minded music act. Mockery is nothing new. The range of humorous bands begin somewhere in the light-hearted, pastiche Dead Milkmen category to the full-on visual assault of GWAR and its overt use of theatrics and gimmicky themes.
Besides cheap humor, the Mac Sabbath shtick works, and it works well. But it’s more than that, the success (and, yes, Mac Sabbath are a success) taps into something deeper, much deeper. Think a social critique of the modern American psyche.
So, again, what the fuck is going on here?
Mac Sabbath is either an important statement on modern American culture or it’s not. There’s no room for middle ground. It’s an impressive recipe. At its basic premise, you’ve got a group of guys parading around in costumes and face paint poking fun at a dollar menu, calling it “entertainment” and taking people’s money for it.
Or on the other hand, you’ve got a statement-piece satire that even Friedrich Nietzsche would love: rejection of the masses’ conformity and mediocrity. Mac Sabbath’s ingredients achieve a dialectical perfection because the parody is so self-evident. Metal is the ideal platform for social critique because its greatest motif is its rejection of societal norms, especially those of herd mentality and mass religion.
You can even categorize metal based on its rejection of Christianity (naturally, Christian metal is an anomaly or just an oxymoron; take your pick). From hard rock to extreme-darkened black death metal, and every category in between despises religion and its institutions.
Mac Sabbath works because no other music genre could support this level of lampoonery. None.
Now, take the archetype of heavy metal (Black Sabbath) mix in a corpse-painted clown with a hamburger-flanked Christian cross on his jumper, add a dash of Spinal Tap-like self-mockery, a pinch of derisive imitation of a genre that takes itself far too seriously and you’ve got a dish of hilarious satire.
So, again, what the fuck is going on here?
Simply put, what the fuck is going on is panem et circenses, bread and circuses. Recall the ancient Roman satirist Juvenal and his — still appropriate — take on people and their apparent apathy and disregard for their own greedy, consumerist behavior, “The common people care only for bread and circuses (instead of their own freedom).”
McDonald’s is bread and circuses for the masses, “Millions and Billions Served.”
If art is a motivator for social change and paradigm shift, then whatever the fuck Mac Sabbath is doing is grossly important to the conversation of America’s current state. Especially when it comes to its love affair with consumerism and how exactly that consumerism bleeds into religion.
Megachurches and fast food share ancestry: instant gratification or sanctification. It’s easy, cheap, anonymous and noncommittal. Get in, get out. The very act of consumption is greedy and selfish, yet simultaneously necessary. Even Jonathan Swift understood that eating was a disgusting act; even further, what we eat is a reflection of our inherent moralities. His sharp and cunning satire, “A Modest Proposal,” was a key discussion piece in English and Irish relations at the time it was published in 1729.
Imagine writing a pamphlet suggesting the poor eat their own children…sounds like Swift was metal before metal was cool.
So, what the fuck is going on here is Mac Sabbath following in the footsteps of other notable satirists mocking American culture. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, published in 1885, openly mocked American Christianity, and its satire was widely misunderstood. This is often a problem; commoners just don’t understand the finer nuances of higher critique.
Twain could have benefitted from a Mac Sabbath show in the fact that their use of parody is spot on. There’s no room for confusion with lyrics demonizing a kid-friendly clown selling food that can kill you.
The message is politicized greatness: Ronald is a war pig.
Mac Sabbath may be the manifestation of a knee-jerk reaction to society’s ills; their seemingly flippant response to otherwise serious subjects is what makes people so interested in them. A disrespectful and comical tuned response to American Christian exegesis, the very idea of communion as a hamburger is a deeply artistic statement, believe it or not.
Sure, Mac Sabbath isn’t Macbeth (although there are plenty of allegorical similarities), nor are their lyrics written in dactylic hexameter, but the hyperbole is apparent and significant. And yes, it’s a laugh, a gas, a gag but it’s also a message of great import: question authority and allegiances for what they’re worth.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Rock and roll at its greatest was a political force. It functioned as the forerunner to the social change and rebellious climate of the 1960s. It literally was the voice of a generation that disagreed with the establishment. Rarely (outside of rap) is music politically motivated anymore, and it should be.
One of popular music’s greatest dynamics is the ability to speak for the marginalized and disenfranchised…so, in that regard, Mac Sabbath employs a function that is immensely paramount: a rhetorical play — the question is reciprocal —
What the fuck is going on with our society?
And, for that alone, Mac Sabbath get one of my highest reviews. Congratulations.