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"My mirage, I'll be drawing you soon"
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Are you a Janis Joplin fan? If so, you probably have already acquired a copy of the blistering Live At Winterland '68 archive release; and if you read the accompanying liner notes more or less carefully, you might have noticed a slight mention of a 'Los Angeles heavy-metal band on the verge of their one and only hit, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' that was sharing the bill with Big Brother that very evening.That's more or less the only thing that remains in popular memory of Iron Butterfly - 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' is, indeed, a classic, something like an American version of 'Satisfaction', but not everybody even knows who wrote the darn tune. Which is indeed a pity, if not a tragedy, since in many ways Iron Butterfly are a unique band - so unique, in fact, that they didn't manage to fit their time and never achieved the status of rock legend that, for instance, the Jefferson Airplane have. I do have a reason for putting them on the one-star level: judged from purely musical/entertaining positions, the band never came out with a blistering, breathtaking record, not even once; their output was amazingly consistent (not a single completely shitty record, either), but the band was always scant on memorable melodies or clever lyrics and hardly ever showed any traces of significant stylistic development. But by any means, Iron Butterfly should be recognized as something more than just a minor footnote in rock history. Iron Butterfly are often said to be one of the first pioneers of 'heavy metal'. This is certainly not true: Iron Butterfly never were a huge influence on later metallic bands, and their sound, while heavy enough, was never really similar to, say, Led Zeppelin (although the names of both bands fit the same pattern: the contrast between 'heaviness' - iron, lead - and 'flying, lightweightness' - butterfly, zeppelin). Not true, that is, if one limits the term 'heavy metal' to the kind of heavy riff tunes played in unison with the bass, etc., etc., developed by Led Zep and Black Sabbath: the bands that inspired generations of metal musicians that came after them. This is the main difference: Led Zeppelin and Sabbath, who themselves took their inspiration from Cream and the Who, were followed; Iron Butterfly, who drew their inspiration from seemingly nowhere, were not, and the kind of 'acid hard rock' that they dabbled in was never repeated. This was certainly historically conditioned. Iron Butterfly were definitely a product of their time - a band of stoned out LA kids, soaked in flower power and the hippie ideology. Their only difference was that, instead of engaging in Eastern-flavoured sitar jams, psychedelic noodlings a la Grateful Dead, or psycho blues a la Jefferson Airplane, they brought in a harder edge - throwing in feedback, gritty angry riffs, and monstruous organ patterns that managed to sometimes sound heavier than the guitars themselves. This gave them an identity of their own, and after 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' soared up the charts, they were really on the brink of hitting the big time. Which never happened, for a number of reasons: the band wasn't willing to go political (like the Airplane), the band wasn't willing to refine their technical skills, and the band's hippie ideology was completely debased by 1970. And by that same year, other bands, mostly in Britain, had already pushed the hard-rock/metal vibe as far as it would go - Metamorphosis almost sounds like 'A Little Light Music' in comparison with Led Zeppelin's and Deep Purple's efforts of the same year. All of these things worked heavily in disfavour of the band: nowadays people just prefer to dismiss it together with all the 'hippie crap' of the Sixties. A thing I'd never advise one to do - first, because the term 'hippie crap' doesn't make sense ('hippie' is 'hippie', and 'crap' is 'crap', both ends do not necessarily meet), and second, because Iron Butterfly were far more inventive and exciting than quite a number of contemporary bands located in Haight-Ashbury or whatever. It's not even the band's very 'heaviness' that's so attractive about them, because, frankly speaking, they aren't all that heavy; you can't just judge a band by 'In-A-Gadda' and 'Iron Butterfly Theme', after all, and the rest never sounded particularly rough - at least, not in the band's prime days. And even later on, several years after the original band had painfully collapsed and guitarist Erik Braunn revived the name of 'Iron Butterfly' for quite a different band in the mid-Seventies, the two records he made were quite solid and presented a somewhat different pattern of interpreting heavy metal than was so common at the time: you know, all the late-Led Zep / early Aerosmith cock-rock posturing. Sadly, nobody really took the cue. Let's hope the readers will - it's never too late, after all. Lineup: Ron Bushy - drums (ironically, he proved to be the only constant member for all of the band's lineups, even if Mick Fleetwood he was not); Doug Ingle - lead vocals, organ; Darryl DeLoach - vocals, tambourine; Danny Weis - guitar; Jerry Penrod - bass. This lineup only had one record in early 1968, after which all the three last members left, replaced by Lee Dorman (bass) and Erik Braunn (guitar). Braunn left, 1970, replaced by Mike Pinera and Larry 'El Rhino' Reinhardt, both on guitars. After one more album, the band collapsed. In 1975, Braunn reformed the band, with Bushy on drums, Phil Kramer on bass, and Howard Reitzes on keyboards (later in the year replaced by Bill DeMartines). The band released two commercially unsuccessful (but, like I said, very intriguing artistically) albums and went their own way. Not all Butterfly albums are currently in print; but, like I said, I would easily recommend just about anything they had released (just be prepared for some filler lurking around - even so, I'd sooner take the real stuff than any of the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida-promoting compilations), and I'd advise you to be on the lookout for these records.
Listenability: 1/5. These
guys simply couldn't write songs... apart from maybe one album, the tunes
are so drenched in filler and mediocrity that it pains to hear them even
Resonance: 1/5. Hmm... sometimes, when they really rock...
Originality: 2/5. Overrated as far as originality goes, but they DID have a certain sound of their own.
Adequacy: 2/5. Too pretentious with too little talent to back it up.
Diversity: 1/5. Hard rock and psychedelia... never really went out on a limb to explore the different sides of music.
Overall: 1.4 = E on the rating scale. VERY close to a 2, especially considering the "lost" Erik Braunn-led version of the band.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10
Not particularly 'heavy', actually: this is certainly lighter and less tripped-out than it would soon come to be.Best song: THE IRON BUTTERFLY THEME
Track listing: 1) Possession; 2) Unconscious Power; 3) Get Out Of My Life Woman; 4) Gentle As It May Seem; 5) You Can't Win; 6) So-Lo; 7) Look For The Sun; 8) Fields Of Sun; 9) Stamped Ideas; 10) Iron Butterfly Theme; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) I Can't Help But Deceive You Little Girl; 12) To Be Alone.
Iron Butterfly's debut is a good one, and for some it still remains an unreachable pinnacle. Still, it has no 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'... now does it? A very, very solid ten for the overall rating, though, very close to an eleven. Surprisingly, the title is misleading: the only thing it could really refer to is the stupendous 'Iron Butterfly Theme', which is indeed very heavy for America in early 1968. This is the band at their absolute best: playing short, effective bursts of feedbacky riffage and wailing solos supposed to represent the 'life cycle' of an iron butterfly, from birth to death. This might be 'metal', of course, but stylistically it's far more close to Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd than to Led Zeppelin. Imagine Syd adding assorted elements of 'heaviness' to 'Astronomy Domine', and there you are. Jerry Weis really knows how to use feedback creatively, not to mention creating a solid echo, and the backing voices, lifting in a near-choral (Doug Ingle?), are plain eerie. Thirty years after its release, the tune can still send some shivers down an unitiated back, and that really speaks for something. The song creates such an eerie mood with its heaviness and Ingle's 'goth' chants that it amply demonstrates why, for a short period, Iron Butterfly were indeed considered the heaviest rock band on the planet. Blue Cheer, with their amateurish Hendrix rip-offs, can go and sulk in the corner.The rest of the album is nowhere near as spooky, though. On most of the other tunes, Jerry's guitar is somewhat more subdued and usually gives way to the solemn, gothic passages of Mr Ingle's organ, which is frankly the heaviest instrument on here. Instead of relying on bluesy cliches, Ingle goes for the grand prize - he is clearly more inspired by medieval music, and uses the organ in such a creative way as was never used in rock before. The very first number, the minor single hit 'Possession', gives you a clear understanding of his technique: Jerry does play competent leads throughout, but it's the organ, together with Doug's cold, stately croon ('it's posse-e-e-e-e-sion'), that really makes the number cook and transforms a rudimentary pop tune into a near-epic masterpiece. Almost every tune on here has something to offer, more or less. Darryl DeLoach takes lead vocals on several of the numbers, like the British Invasion-style pop rocker 'Gentle As It May Seem', or the almost bubble-gum (!) stylization 'So-Lo', but these actually turn out to be the weakest songs on the album. This speaks of the Butterfly's most serious limitation: they can hardly play 'lightweight', cheerful music without embarrassing themselves (thus sharing the most obvious flaw of most heavy metal bands). 'So-Lo' actually sounds like it's been taken out of a cartoon or something. No, it's the grim, riff-filled or organ-dominated compositions that are the most memorable on here. 'Get Out Of My Life Woman' reminds me of CCR, and not just because they had a 'Get Down Woman'; it's a sharp, angry composition based on a typically Creedence-style riff, but it's not the Creedence similarity that lifts up the song - it's the fact that the riff is played in unison on the guitar and organ, and this gives the song more poignancy and menace. The combination of organ and voice on the blistering fast rave-up 'Unconscious Power' works effectively (except that I always heard the key chorus line 'triggering the unconscious power' as 'tree-gorilling...'). And if you listen very carefully, the guitar interplay between Penrod and Weis on 'Stamped Ideas' can really get to your head - the way they trade their lines in the intro is terrific fun. Oh, and 'Fields Of Sun' is a pop classic if ever there was one on this album: to me, it sounds like an overblown, yet surprisingly efficient hippie march with just a slight tinge of self-irony and melancholy. Ingle's harmonies on the middle-eight are particularly awesome. Of course, nothing is perfect - and for me, Heavy really doesn't quite reach a 'classic' status. Not too many songs turn out to be all that memorable: there are too few distinctive riffs, and the vocal melodies are often secondary and routine. The band does us a good service by not forgetting about the hooks - listening to the record is never a real problem, because you'll always be thrilled by something, whether it be a cool twist of Doug's organ, a particularly hard-hitting twist of Doug's voice, a well-placed blast of feedback, or some particularly dumb lyrics that will never get out of your head, no matter how hard you try. (By the way, did I yet mention that Iron Butterfly never managed to write even a single line that wouldn't be horrendously banal? Oh well, at least they never tried writing about Satan, leaving that to Geezer Butler...) Hooks, however, don't always replace 'meat'n'potatoes', and the album's a bit skint on that. It would be more meaty next time around, though, with the addition of new members. The CD re-issue of the album adds a couple bonus tracks (single B-sides, I surmise); 'I Can't Help But Deceive You Little Girl' is quite fabulous, with a hilariously stoned out Ingle vocal and more of that delicious medieval organ work; 'To Be Alone', however, strikes me as somewhat too raw. Then again, I may be wrong. After all, this music is supposed to be listened to when you're tripping, isn't it?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11
These guys do sound quite confused, but if you're in for a curious mix of Flower Power with hard rock, you'll never mind it.Best song: IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA
Track listing: 1) Most Anything You Want; 2) Flowers And Beads; 3) My Mirage; 4) Termination; 5) Are You Happy; 6) In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
Judging by this record, it's easy to see why Iron Butterfly are often looked upon as the patriarch of heavy metal. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that they pile up bunches of leaden, distorted riffs and blaze out messy, shrieking solos and stuff. It doesn't even have anything to do with their 'menacing' sound, a trademark of most metal bands, because this album isn't at all menacing: trippy, yes, but definitely not menacing. However, there is something about the new guitarist Erik Braunn's tone that immediately distinguishes him from every single band that came before him - and associates him with nearly almost every single heavy metal band that came afterwards, starting with Led Zeppelin and ending with... with... gee, I'm frightened... anyway, with the next door guy's favourite poodle.Of course, I'm primarily speaking of the title track - an absolute classic and probably the only more or less well-known artefact that has survived the original Iron Butterfly. 'In The Garden Of Eden' (yes, that's how the original track was supposed to be named were it not for the fact that Doug Ingle was too stoned while pronouncing the title) is a cool metallic-psychedelic jam that goes on for seventeen minutes (yup, taking up the entire side) and rarely loses its cool. The guys don't even approach professional, of course - but in a certain way, that makes the experience even more enjoyable, at least, I'd much prefer to listen to this stuff than to a contemporary sixteen-minute rendition of 'Spoonful' by Cream. That one's good, too, but far less user-friendly, if you know what I mean. The way the song starts is simply incredible - Erik Braunn gets in one of the best riffs dating to the whole psychedelic era, although I must say that it would have never sounded even half that great were it not for the superb basswork by new bassist Lee Dorman. Wilson & Alroy once pointed out that Dorman was by far the most gifted musician out of the whole bunch, and I wholeheartedly agree: sometimes I even like to shut off the right speaker and just enjoy that bass pounding. Doug Ingle comes in with his dark, creepy intonations, and then the fun begins, as the members, one by one, state their incompetency at playing their instruments. Ha! Ha! Gotcha this time! No, of course not, these solos are all top-notch - with the exception of one of Doug Ingle's organ solos (the second one, I think), which is a bit more 'deconstructed' and boring. Braunn keeps on shining throughout, though, and while he certainly can't boast Clapton's fluidness and speed, he lays down some pretty impressive licks there, for a seventeen year old guy. And perhaps the most interesting thing about the song is that it features the only danceable drum solo in the world - unlike less imaginative colleagues as John Bonham or that Black Sabbath drummer whose name I still can't remember (Bill Ward! That's it!), Ron Bushy doesn't change time signatures all the time, so you can happily tap your foot all of the time he bangs away on his kit and not feel bored. 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' was certainly the magnum opus of the record, and a deserved hit, but there's more to the record. There's the whole Side A, dammit! And no, I can't say that it woos me as much as Side B, because none of the songs are as strong as the core of 'In-A-Gadda': the riffs are weaker, the melodies are not very memorable, and the lyrics... ooh, the lyrics suck. I mean, Doug Ingle never really knew how to pen a good lyric, now could he? The Beatles wrote better lyrics in 1963! These are all silly love lyrics with banal hippie cliches mixed in. The best thing you can do is forget about them once and for ever and just concentrate on the instrumentation. 'Most Anything You Want' sounds so happy and flower-powery, it's almost silly, but the joyful vocal harmonies, Braunn's jangly guitar chords, and Dorman's creative bass lines save the song, and 'Flowers And Beads' is a minor hippie masterpiece in any case. Heavy metal? If this song owes anything to anyone, it would be Roy Orbison! Or the Monkees! But you know I love the Monkees, so that's a compliment - anyway, how can one resist a melody that's so catchy? Not to mention that were this tune originally written by the Monkees, it would have probably been drowned in sappy orchestration, while here the lack of orchestra is compensated by Ingle's magnificent organ work. And then there's the only non-Ingle penned number here, the Braunn-Dorman collaboration 'Termination', with the second best riff on record and Ingle underpinning the stompy, upbeat melody with some curiously Manzarek-like organ work. The two other compositions, an acid-drenched chant called 'My Mirage' and a rip-roaring proto-metallic rave-up called 'Are You Happy', don't thrill me as much, because their melodies are all buried deep down under the swirling organ. 'Are You Happy?' really wants to be an adrenaline-raising number, but it hasn't got an intoxicating riff to it, and it turns out that Erik's soloing is almost worthless if it hasn't got a solid base. Maybe Dorman wasn't trying on that one... But let's not worry about it, really. I don't know why this record and this band don't get any serious respect at all - even for such a wonderfully diverse and creative year as 1968, this is a unique product. These boys were much too stoned and young to make this an absolute classic, but the direction they were working in - heavy acid rock - was certainly not meaningless at all. Too bad the best they could get out of it was 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida', a song that certainly made an integral part of their philosophy (to be heavy and light at the same time), but will probably be remembered just as another in a line of 'classic' rifffests.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9
The start of the slump - the band almost becomes a Doors' subsidiary, and who needs that?Best song: IN THE TIMES OF OUR LIVES
Track listing: 1) In The Times Of Our Lives; 2) Soul Experience; 3) Lonely Boy; 4) Real Fright; 5) In The Crowds; 6) It Must Be Love; 7) Her Favourite Style; 8) Filled With Fear; 9) Belda-Beast.
Yuck, not good. Wrong move, in other words. Perversely, Ball was the Butterfly's biggest commercial success in the States; but I ascribe it only to the influence of 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' and the well-known 'next-after-best' album factor: the public has no time or wish to scoop up an unknown LP by an unknown band, but it easily grabs the band's next LP if the previous one turns out to be a huge artistic, critical, or radio success. (That's why Cream's Wheels Of Fire, and not Disraeli Gears, became that band's biggest seller - Gears was definitely better). And, of course, Iron Butterfly's fate as a commercially successful band ended abruptly, ended right there with Ball. No surprise.No surprise, because much of what made In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida so much fun is missing here. First of all, maybe I'm deaf or an alien agent secretly implanted sound distorters in my ears, but I don't hear any of the band's trademark heaviness. Okay, so 'In The Times Of Our Lives' does begin with a load of hoarse feedback, and there are some distorted guitars now and then, but overall, this is definitely not an iron butterfly. A silver one, maybe, but the iron has melted away. And where are the riffs? There are very few of these here. And what about Doug Ingle? Doug... well, he's undergoing a radical transformation of style. The biggest change is that, for all it's worth, Ball is not a psychedelic album. It's just a nice little pop record, cluttered with love ballads, strange odes to fear (maybe something happened to Doug, but one of the tracks is called 'Real Fright' and another one is called 'Filled With Fear'), and just a couple universalist anthems like 'Soul Experience', with not even a single hint at drugs or flowers and beads or the gardens of Eden. Worse, the hooks are practically non-existent - I hate to say it, but this album is boring, boring, boring like hell. The band really seems not to know what to spend their energy on or how to make their ideas work. Obvious example: 'Real Fright' begins very well, like a special 'spooky boogie' with excellent interplay between Dorman's bass, Braunn's guitar (playing in unison) and Ingle's medieval swirling organ passages, but just after the first verse the melody, instead of becoming even more aggressive and scary, which would be natural, suddenly gives way to an upbeat section which sounds like something from a very bad Doors outtake. It completely spoils the picture - aargh, like a commercial coming in the middle of a Hitchcock movie. Elsewhere, the band just tries establishing some kind of feeble groove and, well, grooving to it. But it rarely works - for the most part, in bits and pieces; in a better life, I could probably take out all these bits and pieces and construct one or two great songs from them. In this particular life, though, you'll have to tolerate all the filler. Examples? The introductory riff to 'Her Favorite Style' is cool, but somehow they lost it very quickly along the way. There's a moody intro to 'Filled With Fear', too, plus an ominous riff hidden in between each line of the verses and a cool harmony part on that one. But that's about a third part of the song, and as an added bonus you get the other insipid two thirds. Braunn's own 'Belda-Beast' has good rhythmic guitar work (and the only truly 'metallic' solo on the whole record), but it gives absolutely no hints at the solid songwriting talents of Erik that wouldn't come to light until the Butterfly's mid-Seventies comeback. And certain other numbers I just won't mention because it's no use. Don't laugh at your enemies if they are ridiculous. Still, the record does deserve a 'mediocre' rating if only for the fact that nothing on here is ugly or unlistenable (good old Butterflies, always reliable in that respect), and also for the first three songs which are kinda cute. 'Lonely Boy' is a strangely moving doo-woppy ballad where Doug Ingle shows that he can easily achieve a tremolo effect on his voice without having to resort to special electronic gimmicks - the song is certainly saved by the sheer power of his voice, even if sometimes it does give the impression that the man had all his front teeth knocked out. The single 'Soul Experience' has a good bass riff and a very groovy arrangement, with about the only 'psycho overtones' on the entire album. But the piece de resistance on the album, and a song that no Butterfly aficionado could ever do with, the only true rock classic on the album, is undoubtedly the opener - 'In The Times Of Our Lives'. Moody and gothic in style, it hearkens back to tracks like the 'Iron Butterfly Theme', although the lyrical matters are strangely incompatible with the melody: how can a song telling about the 'real things' in real life be set to such a dreary melody? Still, it's rather groovy, and symbolic, to hear Doug Ingle stop singing about the gardens of Eden and come back to 'real life'. Was this an early sign of disillusionment in the hippie ideals or am I just imagining things? Never mind, the melody alone, with the stunning 'oooh-whoah-whoa' choruses sending shivers down my back, is worth it. Really really good song. On a really really forgettable album. Although I certainly won't mind adding it to my collection - Sixties addicts do find pleasure even in old dusty trinkets like this one.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10
Whew! They can play their stuff on stage! And they do it kinda clever, too! Imagine that!Best song: IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA
Track listing: 1) In The Times Of Our Lives; 2) Filled With Fear; 3) Soul Experience; 4) You Can't Win; 5) Are You Happy; 6) In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
Iron Butterfly had a rather solid live reputation in the States, but this document of their last tour with Erik Braunn probably doesn't offer the listener the best idea of the band. There are too few songs - simply because, as expected, 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' takes up an entire side - and, worse, the production is seriously suffering. Sometimes, for instance, I simply get the feeling that Erik's mike was cut off and the guitar is actually only coming through as an echo through Ingle's one: the guitar solos don't sound as if they came out of the speakers, they sound as if they came out of your subconscious.But despite all the problems, this is quite a nifty little collection. Apart from 'Gadda', the band does three numbers from Ball, two of which are among the better ones ('In The Time Of Our Lives' and 'Soul Experience') and one is tolerable ('Filled With Fear'); an energetic take on 'Are You Happy' which is almost superior to the original; and only one completely unnecessary number - the forgettable cover of 'You Can't Win' from their debut album. Aw, why not 'Iron Butterfly Theme' instead? Or at least, gimme 'Flowers And Beads'. Why not 'Flowers And Beads'? I've been thinking that the band was already distancing itself from the hippie thematics, but just one look at the album cover is enough to prove me otherwise, so I simply don't understand why they didn't put 'Flowers And Beads' on here instead of 'You Can't Win'. Does 'You Can't Win' actually deserve to be dedicated 'to all those people who can't be with us this evening'? It kinda sounds more like Vanilla Fudge than Iron Butterfly. Anyway, the songs are played pretty much by the book, with only minor variations - Erik plays somewhat more energetically on 'Filled With Fear' than he did on the studio version, and actually, the album is somewhat more heavy on guitar than all the previous studio efforts: if you compare the live version of 'Are You Happy' with the studio one, for instance, you'll see that the role of Massa Riffman is relegated to Ingle, and Erik just fiddles around with distorted lead lines, making the track more messy and chaotic, but also more testosterone-drenched - just the kind of stuff you need for a concert. However, Dorman kinda loses it on 'Soul Experience' because I don't feel the power of the bass - where's that mighty line that saved the song in the first place? Was he drunk or high? As for Ingle, he's the main star, of course, overemoting on every track with those cool 'angry Jupiter' intonations of his, plus he throws in a couple more 'whoa-whoa's and terrifying grunts along the way, just to show the crowds who's the boss on here. The live version of 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' isn't any worse than the studio one, either. I seem to recall an All-Music Guide formula that said something like 'while it's only twenty seconds longer, it's three times as tedious'. Feeling kinda puzzled as to how a version which sounds almost exactly like its studio counterpart could be 'three times as tedious', I bravely sat through the entire number a couple of times. Nadah. It was good in the studio, it's good live. Not as polished, and the playing is a bit overdone: the studio version was restrained and stately, the live version is messy, shakey and far wilder. I twirl my nose at the bad production - the instruments seem to all blend together in the beginning, but on the other hand, the live version shows us that people actually groove along to Ron Bushy's drum solo. And, of course, that part near the end, with Ingle's sleepy organ solo, still sucks, but can we blame the live version for that? Oh yeah. One more difference. In the studio version, the band reverts to the mighty main riff of the tune 'slowly' - with a 'preventive' organ and bass build-up. On the live version, they seem to crash into it without any warning. So it's up to you to decide which approach you like the best. Anyway, the crowds were certainly pleased, and Erik's wah-wah and non-wah-wah solos go off like firecrackers. And dig the ridiculous 'whoah-hoah, hrrr' that Ingle lets go at the beginning of the song (and keeps repeating throughout the whole song). A solid live album it is, just don't go off expecting anything spectacular, cause - hint hint - find it you'll not. I'm not the excessive kind of guy myself, yet I do wish they'd released a double album, including 'Iron Butterfly Theme', 'Flowers And Beads', 'Get Out My Life Woman', 'Real Fright', and 'Most Anything You Want' - provided, of course, that they actually played all, or any, of these songs live at the time. Still, I give a guaranteed ten to the record: any record with a good version of 'Gadda' on it deserves a ten, plus you get 'In The Time Of Our Lives', remember? Even if it doesn't really work as a hit collection.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9
Butterfly guys trying to expand their musical lexicon - but they'd forgotten what they did best, and never learned much new in the first place.Best song: STONE BELIEVER
Track listing: 1) Free Flight; 2) New Day; 3) Shady Lady; 4) Best Years Of Our Life; 5) Slower Than Guns; 6) Stone Believer; 7) Soldier In Our Town; 8) Easy Rider (Let The Wind Pay The Way); 9) Butterfly Bleu.
Metamorphosis indeed. In 1970, the Butterfly suffered huge personal changes - Erik Braunn left the band and was replaced by a pair of axemen called Mike Pinera and Larry "Rhino" Remhardt. At the same time, Doug Ingle's position in the band began to tingle and waver as well. He'd wanted the band to evolve and move in new directions - which is quite understandable, if you ask me: after all, it was no longer fun to be singing about 'flowers and beads' in 1970, no matter how much distortion you add to your sound in the process. The others, however, preferred to stick to their own style, or, if evolve they must, at least evolve along the 'harder' line - that is, try to catch up with Zeppelin and Sabbath and the lot. Doug, on the other hand, tried to make the sound softer, so the others beat him on the head and he quit. Well, no, to tell you the truth, I don't know whether they beat him on the head. That was just a little expressive liberty. Truth is, he quit right after the band's tour of this album, which led to its dissolution (they somehow reconvened for a couple of albums in the mid-Seventies, but me know naught of dat).Anyway, this here record is one horrible mess. Not a stoned mess, though, by any means, which only makes things worse. In fact, I did like In-A-Gadda so much because that was a bunch of stoned hippies doing heavy metal; here, it's a bunch of quite normal post-hippies doing heavy metal, and that's a much more common and therefore less appealing thing. This doesn't mean, though, that this album hasn't got its fair share of charm. Pinera and Rhino are quite good at their instruments, even if I find none of Braunn's excitement in their playing, not to mention that none of 'em ever put out a riff at least half as good as the one on you-know-what. Worse is the realization that Ingle's organ playing has... no, not deteriorated, but somehow I don't really feel his presence here. He is even deprived of the lead vocal function on some tunes, and the liner notes make it clear that the band often took decisions despite his contrary opinion. An obvious example is the band's crazy attempt at replicating the success of 'In-A-Gadda' with yet another epic, this time the fourteen-minute-long 'Butterfly Bleu'. As you might guess from the title, it's ten times as pretentious, and was intended as some kind of musical allegory for a spiritual journey through one's soul. This sounds kinda suspicious. It starts off fine, as an interesting, sharp, hard rock tune, but later on it descends into a bunch of atonal jams, disjointed solos and so-so noisemaking, reaching a peak of monstruosity when the guys pull out some kind of special gimmick which they plug their guitars in and then proceed to synthesize murky sounds while scattily 'singing' in the background. I put the word 'singing' in quotes because the liner notes say Doug thought this was sounding 'like some guy was getting sick in the next room', and I couldn't agree with him more on that. Yuck. At fourteen minutes long, this thingie really exhausts me. Fortunately, it does get better than that. The two singles from this record, 'Stone Believer' and 'Easy Rider (Let The Wind Pay The Way)', are first-class rockers, especially the former, built on a good, 'All Right Now'-ish guitar line. 'Easy Rider' is slightly more messy and less memorable, but hell, maybe some day I'll realize it's even better. It's more energetic, almost apocalyptic in its fury, but it's also more derivative - the vocal harmonies there remind me of Big Brother & The Holding Company (not too surprising, considering the two bands' similar backgrounds), and the stupid folksey riff that sometimes crops up in the middle reminds me of some Blind Faith tune. Note: the song is penned by members of the Butterfly and has no relation whatsoever to any of the countless 'Easy Riders' that have been written over the years. Apart from that, they unsuccessfully try their hand at funk ('Shady Lady') and acoustic balladeering ('Slower Than Guns'), but, while the former is at least danceable, the latter is a perfect lullaby - and I could care less that it represents the Butterfly's protests against pollution. Obviously, simple acoustic tunes were never the band's particular cup of tea. Instead of that, I advise you to concentrate more on their rockers, like 'Best Years Of Our Life', a song with stupid nostalgic lyrics juxtaposed to the most elevating, gut-spinning guitar duet on the whole album, or 'New Day', whose riff sounds so close to the one used on 'In-A-Gadda' that I almost always take it as an inferior re-write, but still a good one. And, while we're at it, it becomes absolutely obvious that Iron Butterfly really had no other choice than to dissolve. You see? The best songs on here would have been regarded as typical filler on a Led Zeppelin album, and while I do praise some of them, I wouldn't be willing to relisten to this album too often. Experimentation led them nowhere, and their hippie stuff that made their earlier work so exciting was completely gone with the epoch. So their dissolution seems quite, quite logical. But buy this album if you find it - as a sign of tribute to one of the most original hippie bands of the late Sixties. Just because it's something different from 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'. And for my money, it's not much worse than Led Zeppelin III. So there.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10
Braunn gets the reins once again, and he tries to revive the old trusty hippie ideology. In nineteen seventy-five?Best song: SEARCHIN' CIRCLES
Track listing: 1) 1975 Overture; 2) Hard Miseree; 3) High On A Mountain Top; 4) Am I Down; 5) People Of The World; 6) Searchin' Circles; 7) Pearly Gates; 8) Lonely Hearts; 9) Before You Go.
Once upon a time I held some really, really low opinions about mid-Seventies hard rock. I used to think that after bands like Led Zep and Deep Purple passed their heyday and started following instead of leading, the hard rock/heavy metal scene was completely usurped by stupid hairy potheads like Aerosmith or Kiss or, well you know how it goes. Dirty macho bastards with a lot of vintage riffage but not an ounce of true musical creativity; vulgar little dudes who managed to make rock'n'roll as stupid as it only could get and set the scene for the even more abominable generation of Eighties' hair metal bands. Sorry to offend all the Aerosmith fans out there, but once again, you know how it goes. That's the truth, believe it or not.However, as I started to delve a little bit deeper into the mid-Seventies - an epoch most vilified and hated by people with 'good taste', so it seems - I started to see more clearly. True, there wasn't really much left to do with the hard rock genre after 1972-73: bands like Led Zep or the Who or Sabbath had nearly drained its possibilities. (I'm not talking Metallica here, mind you. I prefer to leave that one 'beyond the parentheses', you understand). But that does not mean that the genre really became suitable exclusively for braindead potheads. There were still patches of brilliancy all around. Eric Burdon, for instance, fell upon a truly intriguing formula in his Stop album; unfortunately, he never did get the chance to improve it, and the album passed virtually unnoticed. And the same can be said about the last two Iron Butterfly albums - Scorching Beauty and Sun And Steel; if you're planning to do an exhaustive essay on the history of hard rock, you should never pass these two by. The story goes that, four years after the original Butterfly had been disbanded, Erik Braunn got an unexpected fit of nostalgia (read: decided to cash in on the old band's name) and teamed up with old buddy Ron Bushy and two new players (Phil Kramer on bass and Howard Reitzes on keyboards) to deliver a new record. Together with its follow-up, both albums flopped badly and quenched any will to continue in the same direction. The critics either hated them or simply didn't pretend to notice, as they were probably too busy discussing the output of more 'fashionable' heavy bands, and even today, the albums never get all the respect they should. A pity, as these records are real good and, for my money, much more interesting than anything Aerosmith had released. Several things occur to me as I keep listening to Scorching Beauty. First, I wonder at the careful and loving craftsmanship of the record. Just nine songs on here, and none are that long: a couple do develop into feeble jams, but for the most part, the length is adequate. The production is not brilliant, but decent: the sound is very cozy and homely, as if the band is playing right here in your living-room. No arena connotations here, and no 'band-from-Hell' connotations either: just good old plain rock'n'roll with loud, but not overloud guitars and nice touches of organs and synths throughout. Second, Erik Braunn suddenly displays an amazing singing voice - on the more loud rockers he tries a bit too hard to scream his head off, but on the ballads and the 'quieter' numbers in general he sings in a weird croon, almost reminding me of Bryan Ferry. No, no, 'tis not a joke: I could have sworn that Braunn drew a lot of inspiration from none other than Roxy Music. If you don't believe me, grab this album and start it from track number six, 'Searchin' Circles': a terrific moody rocker driven by Erik's powerful riffage and Reitzes' majestic organ riff, and above it comes Mr Braunn's passionate, trebley vocal delivery that manages to encompass a lonely man's desperate feelings almost perfectly. And the bleating on the chorus - 'In circll-l-l-l-es! In circ-l-l-l-l-l-es!' - is great fun, too. Third, it has often been said that Scorching Beauty has nothing to do with the former Ingle-led Iron Butterfly, but it ain't right. Some of the songs on here are, in fact, quite hippiesque: '1975 Overture' and 'People Of The World' are just the kind of universalist idealistic anthems you'd expect from a late Sixties record. Here, though, they are 'updated' for the Seventies, and in a nice way, too: 'Overture' opens with an Eastern-flavoured lovely synth melody and Bushy's martial drum rhythms, and 'People Of The World' starts as a typical Seventies grumbly rocker before subsiding into a groovy sing-along anthem with the silly, but charmingly naive refrain ('making each day a little bit better - all together, all together') that keeps repeating over and over a la 'Hey Jude' coda. Fourth, these guys really know how to rock: 'Hard Miseree' rolls along like a shiny roller coaster, with Erik playing as fast as he can (which isn't really that fast, but it totally suits me, at least) and blazing his way through with some impressive off-the-wall solos. And 'Am I Down' has perhaps the catchiest vocal melody on the record, with Erik once again delivering that weird croon of his. The only misstep is the fake 'hysteria' at the end of the track, but nothing offensive about that, either; it's just that Mr Braunn is not a very convincing nor gifted screamer. Now I'm not saying the record is flawless or something. Wouldn't that be a rather silly thing to do? Records don't usually pass unnoticed if they're ideal. This one has a painfully weak ending, for instance: the last three songs simply pass me by unnoticed. 'Before You Go' is a generic power ballad, and even the croon and the guitar heroics don't save it; and 'Lonely Hearts' sounds much too derivative after you've already heard 'People Of The World' and 'Am I Down'. Add to this a couple more so-so ballads, and you get enough flaws to condemn the album... still, I wouldn't want to do that. I really really like a large chunk of what's presented on here. I'd even go as far as to say that the first side of the record is the best Iron Butterfly so far that your money could buy; perhaps not as groundbreaking as In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, but far more easily digestible and enjoyable without being too corny or stupid. At any rate, this is NOT a record for potheads, despite all the hippie revivalism. It's a serious effort to make an intelligent, involving hard rock album, and to a large part, it succeeds. Kudos to Erik, and remember, hard rock is far more multifarious than one's used to thinking.
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11
A little less unique in style, but also more rockin' and in the end, more convincing.Best song: SCORCHING BEAUTY
Track listing: 1) Sun And Steel; 2) Lightnin'; 3) Beyond The Milky Way; 4) Free Scion; 5) Get It Out; 6) I'm Right I'm Wrong; 7) Watch The World; 8) Going By; 9) Scorching Beauty.
Erik's second and last try. Historically speaking, Sun And Steel is nowhere near as interesting as Beauty. The hippie elements are growing more and more feeble (no sing-along anthems on here), and Erik's Roxy Music influences are also on the way out, only peaking towards the very end of the record. On the other hand, the songwriting is clearly improved - every single one of the tracks on here has at least something to offer to you. The guitars are louder and brawnier, the solos are more 'cathartic', and the riffage is more evident. Oh, and the ballads are more heartfelt. Have I missed anything?Cut the crap, dear sirs. This is the best Iron Butterfly album I've heard so far, and anybody who calls himself an IB fan and hasn't yet heard it doesn't really know what he's missing. So grab it while it seems to be in print. The main bulk of the songs on here are gritty rockers (with a couple ballads to soften the impression), sandwiched in between two 'soulful epics' - the title track and 'Scorching Beauty', which for some unclear reason didn't make it onto the previous album itself. These 'soulful epics' don't seem to have any significant or memorable melody, but hey, that's a usual thing with soulful epics. Soulful epics should grab you not with their structure or melody, but with the energy level and the passion and the heat. And believe me, there's enough passion and heat in both. 'Sun And Steel' builds up towards a pretty impressive climax, with Eric giving his best David Bowie (Bryan Ferry? James Brown? Who cares?) impersonation and playing lots of delicious licks, while the stately organ rules in the background. Oh, by the way, they've replaced the keyboardist with a certain Bill DeMartines, but that didn't make a lot of difference. As for 'Scorching Beauty', it's arguably the best song off both of the albums. Erik manages to squeeze out a soothing, attractive and at the same time heavily distorted tone out of his guitar and pairs it with the Ferry-ish croon; to this, add thick layers of organ, orchestration and occasional tinkling pianos, and a furious, heartfelt vocal delivery, and here's a recipee for a minor masterpiece. As much as I'm not a fan of the 'heavy soul' genre, I have to admit the band worked some mini-wonders on here. Funny how they didn't bother to release the song immediately, on Beauty itself; did they really deem it inferior to dreck like 'Before You Go'? And that's just two songs. Then there's the rockers. This stuff I likes. "Lightnin'" sounds a little corny when it comes to the refrain ('She was a lightning in my eyes...'; don't remember what it reminds me of, but maybe so much the better), but the main 'body' of the song, with its heavy funk and spooky little synth 'barkings' everywhere, is impressive. 'Free' takes off on a rather generic riff but transforms it into, well, something not entirely generic; I mean, the first notes are the usual stuff - a riff that's been used by thousands of heavy rock performers, but the last notes are an unexpected twist. Ah, if only I knew how to write down music... then again, not everybody knows how to read music, right? I wouldn't want to pass for a careless nonchalant snob, either. 'Scion', on the other hand, doesn't offer us anything far removed from generic, but I just like the way it flows by - powerfully and raunchily, and same goes for the Mellotron-drenched 'I'm Right I'm Wrong'. I tell you, these rockers aren't bad at all: they are just not very interesting as compared to 'Hard Miseree' or something like that. Still tons of times better than your usual Aerosmith, as the band pulls out all its tricks in desperation, with witty sound effects, synth solos, distorted violins, and loads of other things in the background which I'm just not able to notice. One could write an entire term paper around these numbers. One could also write an entire term paper around the ballads on here. 'Beyond The Milky Way' begins as a corny bublegum piano pop ditty, then suddenly transforms into a powerful sappy ballad that lies somewhere in between Elton John and Paul McCartney. Gee, now that's clever. Maybe I just fell for the bubblegum once in my life, but I can't resist the song. Oh yeah, David Bowie also had a lot of similar stuff in his early days, so if you're going to condemn the song for 'sugarness', better think twice and at least remember that the melody is very pretty. And 'Watch The World Going By' is even better... definitely better, as nobody is going to accuse me of falling for bubblegum pop this time. In other words, it's another take on Bryan Ferry, with a tear-inducing acoustic guitar/piano melody that reminds me both of Phil Collins' 'More Fool Me' and - yep - 'Stairway To Heaven'... man, I feel like an idiot. But I can't help it. Okay, I think I really overdid the references part in this particular review; what a downside to rock'n'roll education. It's all true, of course: there's a lot of Bowie and Ferry and Lennon and McCartney and Collins and Elton John and God knows who else here, but is there enough Iron Butterfly? Probably not. Mayhaps they just shouldn't have called the band 'Iron Butterfly', seeing as the records didn't sell anyway. On the other hand, if they hadn't dubbed themselves 'Iron Butterfly', no way I would have bought these albums or even learned of their existence. In the immortal words of George Ade, 'there is everything in a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but would not cost as much during the winter months'. Buy this album, please. For me. I LOVE recommending underrated albums - I sometimes feel that's what this site is really destined for. At least, partially.