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To learn that Rocket Engine are some of the New York City's most adventurous free jazz musicians covering Black Sabbath – I had to hear What is This That Stands Before Me? I wasn’t expecting an easy listen and this is exactly what I got. This CD is definitely underground, but not in a sense of someone putting a corpsepainted mask on and concealing identity. No, all eight individuals contributing to Rocket Engine are photographed smiling in broad daylight. Instead, What is This That Stands Before Me? is underground, because the band has this CD released during the gig at the Cake Shop, the name of the Lower East Side bar or maybe even the real bakery, because all rules and regulations of how the songs should sound are abandoned and because improvisation completely rules the roost. Also, and rather truthfully, this CD is very elite. If I represent an “average” fan, a lot of how Rocket Engine interprets Black Sabbath may fly right over many folks’ heads.

For Geezer Butler the name Rocket Engine chose for this album represented him waking out of an acid induced nightmare, the dreadful dream he immortalized with the first lyrics sentence on the opening eponymous song of the first breakthrough eponymous album. For Rocket Engine themselves, the title can be used as a question to pose to those unsuspecting listeners about to be exposed to their first free jazz/improv experience.

It would be interesting to know what Black Sabbath themselves thought of their tunes reshaped this way, but I’d venture to say that some of the heavy blues/metal originators’ songs were really conducive to jazz, while others weren’t so much so. In a way Rocket Engine chose the right epoch to cover, the songs all culled from Ozzy era, and very much leaning on the first three opuses Black Sabbath, Master of Reality and Paranoid, with only Never Say Die representing anything from the latter Ozzy era. The more metal straightforward Dio and Tony Martin days were better left untouched, and rightfully so, as early Black Sabbath were big experimentators themselves, creating new genre as they went along, merging the equal parts of blues, rock, doom and gloom.

On the better side I found songs that A – connected more with me, and B – took the important point of the Sabbath spirit with them. Paranoid does not dare to be messing with the main iconic riff, the jazzy free fall coming in the form of the middle insert and the end reminding of the orchestral pit just before the performance starts, musicians all playing their own lines in complete disconcert with each other. The use of Hammond organ is very interesting, providing a glimpse of how Sabbath would sound circa 1971 if they managed to recruit Jon Lord (Deep Purple) away from the Fireball performance. Sweet Leaf is also an excellent take, with brass instrument (trombone or trumpet) replacing Iommi’s guitar loops. But the fuzz has to be turned up, this is the song about marijuana use after all, and the absence of opening cough, also iconic, is criminal. The best cover is, perhaps, the least played Sabbath song off Paranoid, the dreamy Planet Caravan, where Rocket Engine is hitting on all cylinders, creating a perfectly murky wafting atmosphere.

Other songs were less of a hit with me. Into the Void begins in a rather strapped on manner, pretty metal actually, but slides into a totally chaotic directionless end. Despite strong bass lines, Never Say Die is a bit neutered, maybe due to Eric Biondo’s boyish voice, which is not so much of a problem on other songs where he is the main singer. The other vocalist, Mike Pride, everybody on Rocket Engine is interchanging, some people playing several instruments, including both vocalists, is a little too hysterical for me, his rougher voice fitting better on Lord of This World, but a total mismatch on Black Sabbath, the song, itself. Admittedly, Black Sabbath is a chore to cover, and chronologically it had to be the first song on the album, but instead of Ozzy’s dementia Mike sounds a lot more like Murray Head’s frantic Judas on Jesus Christ Superstar.

Rocket Engine probably realize that they are for the limited audience only, for those prepared to hear them, and for their colleagues, musicians, who can appreciate the complex music palette. If I stumbled into my favorite no-name Midwestern coffee shop and Rocket Engine were playing these Black Sabbath covers, I would remain there, fascinated, glued to musicians lips and fingers, giving birth to the familiar, yet newly interpreted, sounds. However, I do not see my favorite metal club booking Rocket Engine as an opening act for just about anybody – the audience may not have enough in them to stick around until the headlining act comes out. Rocket Engine is a gourmet product which can be appreciated by the selected few, and I am certainly not going to demean the album by assigning it a numerical quote, not to mention that someone else originally wrote the songs here.

SIde 2 (Tor Hammerø)
"Det er åpenbart at de involverte ikke er så opptatt av musikalske sjangre. De har delvis sine røtter i jazz, men rock har også betydd mye for de fleste her. Derfor har det blitt ei himmelsk blanding ut av det og det blir antyda at dette er et slags møte mellom frijazzguru Albert Ayler og Ozzy Osbourne. Greier du å forestille deg hvordan det låter, så er du ikke så langt unna resultatet av «What Is This That Stands Before Me». Dette er tøft og heftig, det er til tider ganske så ute og det er ustoppelig originalt. Eivind Opsvik viser oss nok en gang at han er besittelse av noe helt eget og denne gangen overrasker han kanskje mer enn noen gang."



Rocket Engine

what is this that stands before me?

The music of Black Sabbath like you've never heard it

This record is the result of a gang of New York City musician friends getting together on a sunny sunday in May 2006 at Peter Karl’s Recording studio in Brooklyn with the intent of recording a few spontaneous renditions of their favorite Black Sabbath tunes and to have a ball.

Rocket Engine did its first gig at a dive bar in Chinatown on Manhattan after Eivind Opsvik was contacted by said club about doing a midnight show. Eivind had at this period rediscovered Black Sabbath (in his early teens his cousin lent him Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality on vinyl and it made a lingering impression) and he thought it would be fun to get some friends together and play these tunes, and fun it was. Although the gig had an audience of four and ended with the sound guy saying “I think that’s enough guys” it was agreed that an reprise performance was a splendid idea, so almost a year later a studio date was booked.

Rocket Engine consists of some of NYC’s most adventurous young musicians from the free improvisation, indie rock and jazz scenes. Rocket Engine’s members come from such other bands as Dynamite Club, Antibalas, Opsvik & Jennings, The Monkees, Fat Mama, Beyondo and The UP.

In a way this band represents the missing link between early heavy metal and free jazz. What Rocket Engine connect with in Black Sabbath’s early music is the fact that it’s very honest and direct music, something it has in common with early free jazz/impro before it got weighed down by “rules” and pretense. (Albert Ayler and Ozzy Osbourne - kindred spirits?).
So the result is free spirited and spontaneous versions of these beloved classics.


1. Black Sabbath
2. Paranoid
3. Planet Caravan
4. Lord Of This World
5. Never Say Die
6. Sweet Leaf
7. Into The Void

All compositions by Osbourne/Geezer/Iommi/Butler

Recorded on Sunday May 7, 2006 at Peter Karl Studios in Brooklyn, New York
Recording Engineer: Peter Karl
Never Say Die recorded at the e-room by Eivind Opsvik

Produced and Mixed by Eivind Opsvik

Eric Biondo - vocals, trumpet, casio synth
Mike Pride - vocals, drums, hammond B3, casio synth
Jonathan Goldberger - guitar
Aaron Jennings - guitar
Eivind Opsvik - bass, lap steel guitar, drums, theremin
Jeff Davis - drums, hammond B3
Ben Gerstein - trombone
Kris Davis - hammond B3