Streaming his stentorian might through the prism of terrific classics to fan the tuneful flames, the God of Hellfire has fun and gets away with it.
No-one’s oeuvre seems better suited to honor Halloween than Arthur Brown’s, other painted-face troupers simply following in his wake, yet the veteran’s own style was originally molded to channel Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ horrific howl and Screaming Lord Sutch’s histrionic holler, which is all but obvious on this platter. Having issued the brilliant “Long Long Road” album in the summer of 2022, on his birthday, the new octogenarian found more than enough reasons to celebrate it, and there could be no grander way to do that than release “Monster’s Ball”: save for two freshly fashioned cuts, a number of mostly obscure covers where fellow players – non-evil kindred spirits – help push Brown’s baritone beyond the pale shadows of obvious choices. The place his operatic pipes land as a result should highlight, rather than shroud, Arthur’s voice – an oft-forgotten aspect of the artist’s theatrical talent, focusing on his delivery as well as cleverly selected songs.
Of course, the perennial “Fire” is here too, as the record’s centerpiece – can there be a context this evergreen couldn’t fit in? – only instead of sounding dull as it sometime does, Brown’s hit feels hot, given an invigorating swing by Brian Auger‘s organ, James Williamson’s riffs and Carmine Appice‘s thunder, while the tracks Arthur co-wrote with Alan Davey, who produced the majority of the tracks on display, not only serve as the familiar melody’s perfect foil but also emphasize the album’s principal point: unlike many similar pan-performer endeavors, “Monster’s Ball” concentrates on the legendary singer, stellar instrumentalists lifting his vocals to a proper pedestal of a stage. Yes, one of the specially penned songs, the platter’s atmospheric finale “Late Last Night” in which the late Gilli Smyth’s trills and Roye Albrighton’s passages flesh out Brown’s hypnotic wail and Steve Hillage’s glissandos in a madness-feeding manner, yet the other cut, the wondrously exotic recital “Zombie Yelp” that’s bolstered by Albrighton’s guitar and Mark Stein’s organ, could cater solely to Arthur’s deep tones.
So, though his glorious take on PINK FLOYD’s “Lucifer Sam” is psychedelically deranged, Hillage’s sitaresque licks and Ian Paice’s beats propelling it to bubbling hysteria, there’s much more rapture in the God of Hellfire’s gloomy reading of CREAM’s “I Feel Free” with Williamson’s rave and Rat Scabies’ drumming, and immensely more delights in Arthur’s bark blackening the groovy mirth of a couple rhythm-and-blues rarities – “Bucket O’ Blood” from Big Boy Groves which is smeared with Nik Turner’s sax and “Screamin’ Ball (At Dracula’s Hall)” from THE DUPONTS’ which has Davey to wrap cosmic assault around Brown’s comical drama. He may go for a camp hype on Tom Waits’ “Whistlin’ Past The Graveyard” in the company of THE SINCLAIRS and on Archie King’s “The Vampire” with THE COFFIN DAGGERS upping the vaudeville vibe; however, his melodic roar on Bert Convy’s “The Monster Hop” – made heavy by Shuggie Otis’ six strings – and booming warble on Terry Teene’s “Curse Of The Hearse” contrast the aftertaste of slowing down, and the disco swirl of Dave Gardner’s “Mad Witch” will find the veteran sway, grinning, under the glitter ball.
Of course, stopping it at twelve tracks would be counterintuitive for the Halloween-themed offering, which is why the bonus, an over-the-top excerpt of ELP’s “Karn Evil 9” with Jordan Rudess, sets the limit at devil’s dozen numbers. All for the better, for the Monster’s Ball is one hell of a show that should never end.