Review Summary: Don't do Acid, kids.Iron Butterfly -1968 Line-up-
- Guitar/Stupid Noises
Adorning the grand hallways of the Pantheon of Music resides In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
, the album which has become an embodiment of psychedelic self-indulgence and the epitome shameless musical egotism. The pinnacle of rock’s excess, the title track itself takes over a quarter hour’s time to complete it’s sonic journey; featuring an pseudo-exotic guitar solo, numerous bass fills, an quasi-epic drum assault, and multiple organ leads. The obvious product of an extensive drug-orgy, the phrase itself was once rumored to have originated from the inability of a drunken Doug Ingle to pronounce the line "In the Garden of Eden". (The story itself is false- the term was corrupted for commercial appeal, but it still gives us a fair idea of what kind trippy of mindset Iron Butterfly was in).
Roughly being described as Bach-on-acid meets the Doors-minus-Jim Morrison’s-voice, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
- the groups second album and unofficial Magnum Opus, weaves a hauntingly sinister tapestry of sound that itself is both delicate and heavy- (this was the "logic" behind the whimsical name "Iron Butterfly"). Containing songs that hearken back to the 50's (Flowers and Beads
), reminisce of The Doors (Most Anything You Want
), and groove along in good fuzz-tone style (Termination
), the album is- at very least, a trip. Drawing extensively upon Doug Ingle’s Baroque keyboard training, this record was drenched with organ-driven psychedelic fury- giving the whole album a dark, almost religious overtone, delightfully supplemented by young Erik Brann’s jazzy fuzz lines- all while future metal godfathers Black Sabbath
was still parading themselves around as “Polka Tulk Blues Band”.
Iron Butterfly- and by extension this LP, present something of an enigma. Throughout their career, the band was plagued with constant line-up changes- (only half the original members appear on In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
), ironic twists of fate- (Iron Butterfly was slated to play the immortal Woodstock gig, but their flight was delayed), and unflattering publicity- (Iron Butterfly, whether deserving or not, were among the generous ranks of bands marred by Rolling Stone brutality). The band also had a habit of slipping into common-sounding flower-power mediocrity. Even fans will admit that this record is really just a better-quality rehash of their earlier sound- (LPs like 1968's "Heavy" and 1969's "Ball" could easily be one and the same).
Yet this- In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
, is the album that- quite possibly, spawned the entire metal genre. The clear inventors of Acid Rock and a top candidate for the title of "Heaviest Band of 1968", Iron Butterfly is one of the most original bands to appear out of the then-fading hippie culture.
Admittedly, the previous statement may come across as completely illogical at first. And that’s understandable. After all, five of these songs are
straight-up ?I love you? songs, all of the musicians here are outclassed by their respective peers, and the name itself- Iron Butterfly
, is a self-parody of their entire acid-rock genre. By comparative standards, Iron Butterfly was a static band- they found their sound, and stuck with it. They were remarkably consistent musically- unless you hated them, that is. In that case, all their crap sounded same to you.
But these shortcomings aside, Iron Butterfly was
a capable band- at least when thought of in the context of the 60's. True enough- they were not a versatile as The Beatles, nor as clever The Who. And they lacked the front-man image of The Doors, (the closest thing to contemporaries they might have had). But Iron Butterfly, formed in 1966, were a talented group of musicians. Undoubtedly the brain-child of keyboardist/singer Doug Ingle, Iron Butterfly is fairy unique because they were one the first acts to put equal emphasis on each instrument- which for 1968 was a fairly revolutionary concept. Ingle’s intricate Baroque-flavored organ is quite simply a delight- and contrasts splendidly with bassist Lee Dorman’s clever fills. Erik Brann, (who was 17 at the time), proves himself as a competent guitarist- often surprising the listener with touchingly beautiful and poignant arpeggios. And wild man Ron Bushy throws down some fine drumming- as well as a legendary tribal drum solo[!] in the epic title track.
On the face of it, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
doesn’t appear to be anything remarkable. Maybe the sheer length of the title track could score it some proto-prog credibility, but it certainly has more in common with its psychedelic 60?s brethren than future metal bands. Nevertheless, Iron Butterfly doesn’t really have any obvious influences. They definitely lacked the blues ethics that drove nearly every other band during their time, and seemed to ignore artists that their colleagues idolized- no Muddy Waters, no Elvis, and no Chuck Berry. Like fellow acid-taker Syd Barrett, Iron Butterfly looked as though they were influenced by some omnipresent force on another plane of existence. In this sense, they were completely original. Dissimilar bigger bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream, who were obviously rooted in Robert Johnson, Iron Butterfly’s origins were vague and unclear (save for the drug influence- that
was obvious). Inadvertently, they had subtly helped created an entirely new sound- a birth of a darker, heavier genre that went completely undetected by everyone in 1968- including Iron Butterfly themselves.
And in turn, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
is the testament to that inadvertent birth- even if only for the last song on here. In terms of tone, feel, and image it is easily the darkest, most eerily disturbing product to come out rock n’ roll up to that point. The tracks here are simple love songs, true- but the behind the sunshine-keyboards and Beach-Boy style harmonies lies an unexplainable sinister vibe- as if the album was somehow made with the touch of Satan’s hand. Just under the surface of these lofty melodies is the shadowy underside to the 60’s- the cynical backlash against the naive hippie philosophies of peace and love, the devolution of the nation’s youths into washed-out degenerates, and of course, the mind-bending effects of drugs- not merely cannabis, mind you- but the [potentially fatal] psycho-active potency of Acid. With crashing organ riffs that seem to suggest a mental breakdown, and spacey guitar noises that are sickeningly indulgent, this album serves as a soundtrack to the dismantling of the LSD-driven landscape- exposing just how twisted and disturbed the whole sub-culture had grown since the mid 60’s. It is this mental dark flip-side to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
that seems foreshadow the apoptotic, judgment-day metal sound that Black Sabbath would perfect just two years later?
So this begs the question today; is this album a worthy addition to my current CD collection, or is merely a twisted detour in the epic journey of rock’s evolution? The answer is one that you must decide for yourself. On the one hand, this album contains one absurdly long psychedelic gem and five average period-pieces. It very well may bore you- even anger you, with its painful southern-California lyrical clichés and pseudo-classical organ tricks. Make no mistake- Iron Butterfly is
a good 60?s band, and strictly speaking Iron Butterfly were
major innovators. But sadly, they could not hold a candle to their peers in terms of quality
. This album can be though of as an average 3/5
- if you get it, you love it. And if you don’t, it becomes an annoying display of whimsical 60’s excess. (For those curious, a more-economical picture of their drug-fueled escapades can be obtained with the compilation Light and Heavy: The Best of Iron Butterfly
Yet, it can’t
be denied that this album is influential. There is
a reason why the major satanic thrash band Slayer used “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” as a live staple. And if you want to get a piece of the late-60’s proto-metal action, you are required to at least consider
giving Iron Butterfly a listen. In all honesty, this band is no worse than the countless other 60’s band that dropped acid and frolicked through the eternal gardens of Eden. If you open your mind and ignore the campy, drug fueled lyrics, then Iron Butterfly can really take you somewhere. Somewhere nice. Kind of like The Doors.
Just, you know...not quite as good.