The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

Crazy World of Arthur Brown

In some alternate universe, British singer Arthur Brown is more famous than Alice Cooper, one of the many theatrical rockers obviously indebted to him. But like so many weirdos before and since, the man best-known for wearing a flaming pot on his head and shouting, “I am the god of hellfire!” was, in his late ’60s heyday, both misunderstood and plagued by back luck, and was ultimately unable to sustain the popularity he briefly enjoyed.

Brown spent his college-aged years kicking around Reading, London and Paris in a variety of bands, before finally forming his most famous group, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, with organist Vincent Crane in 1967. It was around this time that Brown began experimenting with wearing various flaming helmets and headdresses as part of the band’s live show. The experiments didn’t always work; at the Windsor Festival in ’67, some lighter fluid from the helmet splashed into his hair and set fire to his head. Still, Brown’s stage antics, alone with his melodramatic vocals and Crane’s furious keyboards, attracted the attention of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, managers of The Who, who signed The Crazy World to their Track Records label that same year.

In 1968, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown released their self-titled debut album, along with the aptly titled single “Fire,” which became an unlikely international smash, rocketing to No. 1 in the U.K. and eventually reaching No. 2 in the U.S. It’s a catchy song, propelled by a horn section, Crane’s frenetic organ and Brown’s octave-leaping squeals, but Brown’s memorable appearance on Top of the Pops—in flaming headgear and black-and-white facepaint that seems to presage the corpse paint of black metal by about 20 years—no doubt boosted sales, as well.

Riding the success of “Fire,” Brown and his bandmates set out on an international tour, but the whole enterprise was snake-bit almost from the beginning. First Crazy World’s drummer, the excellently named Drachen Theaker, quit because he was afraid of flying; he was replaced for the tour by a pre-ELP Carl Palmer. Then Crane, who was bipolar, suffered a breakdown and quit, which was a real blow. As you can tell from this clip from the 1968 film The Committee, featuring a weird Crazy World of Arthur Brown cameo, Crane’s organ was just as integral to the band’s sound as Brown’s wild vocals.

Crane eventually returned, only to quit again, this time taking Palmer with him to form the band Atomic Rooster. With returned drummer Theaker and a rotating cast of supporting musicians, Brown recorded one more album as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1969, called Strangelands. But the label was unhappy with the increasingly eccentric, experimental direction of Brown’s music, and shelved the album entirely. Eventually released in 1988, it’s a remarkable head-trip of a record, melding influences as disparate as The Doors, Hendrix, Sly Stone and Captain Beefheart into a churning psychedelic jam presided over by Brown’s increasingly operatic vocals, which foreshadowed the vibrato-heavy style of future heavy metal belters like Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio.

In the ’70s, Brown formed a new band, Kingdom Come, who released three increasingly outlandish albums of prog-rock between 1971 and 1973. Their final album, Journey, is noteworthy for being one of the first rock albums to use a drum machine.

After the dissolution of Kingdom Come, Brown spent the rest of the ’70s kicking around various musical projects, several of them quite high-profile. He appeared in the film version of The Who’s Tommy, playing the role of the Priest; did vocals for Alan Parsons Project’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” on 1976’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination; and collaborated with German electronic composer Klaus Schulze on a series of albums, including 1979’s Dune.

In 1975, he attempted a comeback of sorts, releasing a solo album called Dance that was a stab at a more accessible, R&B-influenced rock sound. It landed him an amazing TV appearance on a show called Supersonic, which Brown himself has since posted clips of on YouTube—but beyond that, the album seems to have made little impact.

In the ’80s, Brown relocated to, of all places, Austin, Texas, where he continued to pursue the occasional music project but also earned a master’s degree in counseling and ran a house-painting business with former Frank Zappa drummer Jimmy Carl Black. Eventually, he moved back to England, where he has continued to pursue a variety of eclectic projects, including a musical psychotherapy business called Healing Songs Therapy, some collaborations with Bruce Dickinson, and an acoustic album, 2000’s Tantric Lover, the first album in more than 30 years he recorded as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

These days, Brown lives in a yurt in the English countryside, where he continues to make music and break out the occasional piece of flammable headgear. In 2013, he used a successful Pledge Music campaign to fund his latest album, a sci-fi concept record called Zim Zam Zim. As you can see and hear in the below music video, Brown remains just as theatrically crazy in his seventies as he was back in ’68, though his vocals these days are less Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, more Tom Jones meets Tom Waits. Long live the God of Hellfire!

P.S. Many thanks to reader Adele Acadela for sharing the above video with us and reminding us of Arthur Brown’s continued brilliance.

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Weird of the Day: Darth Vegas, “Nano Nano”

Darth Vegas

Today’s weirdness comes to us all the way from Australia (and a suggestion by reader Roman). Darth Vegas might best be described as vaudeville metal. Their music ping-pongs between bone-crushing drop-D chords, sing-song circus-tent music, finger-poppin’ jazz, frenetic ska and sunny surf-rock, usually every three seconds or so. They get compared to Mr. Bungle a lot—like, pretty much in every YouTube comment—and they definitely wear their Mike Patton Fan Club badges on their sleeves. But they bring enough of their own cleverless and technical chops to the party that their stuff stands on its own.

Here’s the first track off their self-titled 2003 album. If you don’t like it, wait a few seconds.

For more Darth Vegas, visit their website, or check out their catalog on Amazon.

Zammuto’s new album, “Anchor,” now streaming on NPR’s First Listen

Zammuto
Photo from zammutosound.com

Anchor, the second album from Zammuto, comes out next Tuesday, Sept. 2nd. But you can hear the whole thing streaming now via NPR’s First Listen series. It’s like your traveling into the future! But with fewer contrived plot twists.

We’re cranking it now and loving it. As good as the first Zammuto album was, it definitely felt like former Books collage artist Nick Zammuto was still trying to figure out what he wanted to sound like working in a more conventional rock band format. Anchor is more sonically consistent—and, at first blush, less weird, although most of these songs still percolate with interesting little electronic filigrees, quirky rhythms and unexpected lyrical turns—even on a song like “Henry Lee,” which is based on a traditional folk ballad but features the startling image, “Now the crabs crawl out of your skull.”

We’ll leave you with this video for one of Anchor‘s more uptempo tracks, the sorta-New Wave-ish “Io,” which also features tons of action shots of the massive trebuchet (sort of a cross between a slingshot and a catapult) Nick and his buddies built on the Zammuto farm in Vermont. I’ve heard of album “launch parties” but this is ridiculous! Am I right, people?

Zammuto gets microscopic in new “Great Equator” video

Zammuto

Nick Zammuto is quite the renaissance man. When the Ex-Books multi-instrumentalist isn’t making music or tinkering on the house he and his wife built, he’s designing 36-foot-tall trebuchets or laser projectors that respond to bass frequency. I think it’s fair to say that after the Apocalypse hits, the best parties in what was once the state of Vermont are gonna be at the Zammutos’ place.

Nick’s latest accomplishment that makes us feel like total slackers is a video for “Great Equator,” a track his band Zammuto‘s forthcoming sophomore album, Anchor. Shot on two microscopes, one that uses visible light and one that reads electrons, the video reveals a beautiful world of intricate patterns hidden within LP vinyl, USB electronics, coins, insects and other stuff you’d probably never think to stick under a microscope.

If you want to pre-order a limited-edition, splattered-vinyl copy of Anchor direct from Nick himself, go here. If you just want the boring old CD or digital version, try Amazon. Anchor is due out Sept. 2 on Temporary Residence.

Weird of the Day: Empalot, “Jeannot”

Empalot

France continues to be an unexpected wellspring of weird music, especially of the experimental metal variety. Today’s weirdness comes to us from a French reader named Arthur who sent us a long list of bands, including several we’d never heard before, like Empalot, a short-lived side project of French groove metal master Gojira. Empalot might best be described as Gojira meets Mr. Bungle, with maybe a dash of Primus and a smidgen of Sebkha-Chott. It’s heavy and funky and above all, silly.

Sadly, Empalot seems to have only existed for one album, Tous aux Cèpes, before disbanding in 2003 or 2004. Their live shows were apparently quite the spectacle, with the band wearing giant masks and helmets and songs interspersed with “mini-plays,” according to their Wikipedia page.

Here’s a video of Mayhem’s Euronymous playing drums in the experimental band L.E.G.O. in 1986

Mayhem
Early Mayhem (left to right): Manheim, Necrobutcher, Euronymous

Back when they were still all just kids, Mayhem guitarist Euronymous and then-drummer Manheim had a short-lived side project called the Langhus Experimental Grave chamber Orchestra, or L.E.G.O. for short. The project has achieved somewhat mythic status among black metal fans, mainly because as far as anyone could tell, they only performed a few times and never recorded a note. On his blog back in 2009, Manheim casually mentioned that someone had videotaped one of their shows, but no copy of that videotape had ever surfaced online or elsewhere. Until now.

Today, a Mayhem fan by the name of Finn Håkon “Snærkpung” Rødland finally posted the long-lost video on YouTube for all to see. It’s only 10 minutes long and mostly just features Manheim playing guitar with his back to the audience while Euronymous makes a valiant attempt to play drums, but it’s a pretty fascinating document of the band’s early history nonetheless. They were so young! And—let’s be honest—they’re painfully shy, awkward performers. It’s hard to believe one of them would go on to become one of the most influential figures in heavy metal history.

Manheim’s 2009 description of this performance, which was apparently their first as L.E.G.O., provides some context for what we’re seeing:

“We needed to give the concept we were talking about a name, and having had a few drinks, Metallion (from Slayer Mag) had a moment of clearness when listening to our strange talk. Like an almost dead person suddenly springing into life he opened his eyes, put his finger up in the air and declared ‘A fly’s death!’ We immediately loved the idea, and decided to arrange the piece according to a fly’s life from birth to death.  I do think Metallion almost immediately went back to sleep, but we stayed up building the concept.

“One day we held the concert and it is on video tape. Probably it is out there in the internet cloud. I remember playing the violin for the first time in my life that evening. It was a wonderful way of showing the agony a fly must feel when it is reaching its time of death. :-)”

So there you have it: The life and death of a fly, as reenacted by a couple of 18-year-old metalheads who were also listening to a lot of experimental and avant-garde music by artists like Conrad Schnitzler and Diamanda Galas. Turns out there may have been more things influencing the Norwegian black metal scene besides Venom records and Satanism.

The Von Deer Skulls

Von Deer Skulls

France is kicking ass this week. Not only did they win their group in the first round of the World Cup, they also won the even more prestigious* Weird Band Poll. How do you say “Congratulations!” in French? It’s basically just the sound of a champagne cork popping, right?

The winner of the June Weird Band Poll is a mysterious trio from a town whose name makes giggle, because I am a 44-year-old adolescent boy: Brest. (Heh.) They’re called The Von Deer Skulls and unfortunately, there are no breasts in their music videos, just lots of creepy people in skull masks sitting around drinking absinthe under blacklight to a soundtrack I’m gonna call ambient doom rock. Plus some claymation. That part’s almost as cool as breasts. Actually, the whole thing is pretty cool in a David Lynch sorta way. It makes me think of severed ears and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The Von Deer Skulls aren’t related, at least not by birth. Leader/guitarist Peter Von Deer Skull is from Canada and is “the son of the Shadows of the Canadian forest,” according to the band’s Facebook bio. Bassist/screamer Hektor Von Deer Skull is an “androgynous, semi-deer/semi-wild boar, he comes from Schwarzwald in Germany.” Their drummer/lead singer is actually two people: Freke and Freyja Von Deer Skull, twin brother and sister, one a wolf and one a lynx, from the Faroe Islands, halfway between Norway and Iceland.

Does all of this sound like it might be totally made up? Yeah, well, that’s possible. Peter Von Deer Skull has shared a few secrets with us about the inner workings of the band, which we can’t reveal here. Let’s just put it this way: Hektor isn’t actually a wild boar/deer hybrid. That’s all we’re gonna say.

The Von Deer Skulls have released an EP on Bandcamp called It’s Time to Paralyze that reveals some other sides to their sound. They rock out pretty hard on occasion, like on this track “The Way to the Shadow.” It takes awhile to get going but trust me, it’s worth the wait.

We’ll leave you with their most recent video, which is even more mysterious and spooky than “Bitches of the Wood.” What’s coming at the end of 2014? Tell us, Von Deer Skulls! Why must you toy with us so?

*Kidding! Our polls are totally not more prestigious than the World Cup. But maybe they would be if we only had them once every four years.

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