Saturday, February 20, 2016

Heavy - Iron Butterfly

Iron Butterfly
Atco  SD 33-227

This is the debut album by Iron Butterfly.  It features the unique line up of Danny Weis, Darryl Loach, Jerry Penrod, Doug Ingle and Ron Bushy.  Prior to its release Weis, Loach and Penrod departed leaving Bush and Ingle to reinvent the band with new members as a quartet.  As a young teenager I encountered the single edit of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" on a compilation called "Get It Together."  I loved it and bought some of their albums.  For awhile I really liked these guys, but I've rarely listened to them in the past 25 years.  I was originally drawn to Ingle's organ work and the group's heavy sound, but in retrospect they don't seem all that heavy, particularly in comparison to their contemporaries like Mountain, Cactus, Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf or Led Zeppelin.  I still kind of like their debut though.  Fans of their later work, may be surprised by this album which sounds poppier and mostly features short songs without extended solos.  It is often more "butterfly" than "iron."  The album opens with Ingle's "Possession" which begins with a solemn organ intro before the heavy riff that drives the song begins.  The song's heaviness is undercut by Ingle's quavery high vocal as he sings inane lyrics about jealousy.  Ingle's organ work is the highlight of the song for me.  "Unconscious Power" was written by Ingle and Weis with words by Bushy.  It was released as a single but failed to chart.  It is a straight ahead rocker with trippy lyrics about freeing your mind.  The song's frenetic pace and propulsive riff make it one of my favorite tracks on the album.  Next up is a lethargic version of Allen Toussaint's oft-covered "Get Out Of My Life, Woman."  It starts with another churchy organ intro before launching into the song's familiar funky riff.  The song features a joint vocal from Ingle and Loach that tries to be passionate but sounds strained instead.  There is a nice rave up at the end that breathes some life into the song but ends too quickly.  "Gentle As It May Seem" was written by Weis with words by DeLoach.  DeLoach sings the lead vocal but is even less convincing than Ingle and it doesn't help that the lyrics are so vacuousMusically the song is terrific being a high tempo rocker with scorching guitar work from Weis.  Side one concludes with "You Can't Win" which is another collaboration between Weis and DeLoach.  It is a protest song about how hopeless it is to fight the authorities.  The song is driven by a lumbering riff embellished by screeching guitar runs from Weis.  Ingle's vocal is more relaxed than usual.  Side two kicks off with Ingle's "So-Lo" with lyrics by DeLoach.  It is an incredibly vapid song in which DeLoach describes how his girl left him because he behaved badly.  The song has a mildly ominous intro before becoming sunshine pop with a light vocal from DeLoach backed by harmonious background vocals.  Ingle contributes a couple of Bach-style organ solos to give the song a mild chamber pop flavor.  If I heard the song on the radio (not very likely) I'd never guess it was Iron Butterfly.  The band returns to form for "Look for the Sun" which features music by Weis and Ingle and words by DeLoach who sings the lead vocal along with Penrod.  The song is driven by a heavy riff that helps cover up the dumbness of the lyrics which celebrate how the sun makes people feel good.  Heavy riffing continues with "Fields of Sun" featuring music by Ingle and words by DeLoach.  It is another paean to the sun which they like because it makes the plants grow.  Ingle sings the lead with his typically intense style which makes the lyrics seem even stupider.  "Stamped Ideas" is another Ingle/DeLoach collaboration.  DeLoach advises his girlfriend to stay away from plastic people and keep her stamped ideas inside her head, in other words more hippie bullshit.  The song is a rocker with a bit of rhythm and blues sound to it.  DeLoach sings a sloppy lead vocal but otherwise the song cooks pretty nicely.  The side ends with Ingle's instrumental "Iron Butterfly Theme" which foretells the band's future direction.  It is a superbly ponderous song with a slow sludgy riff upon which Ingle and Weis noodle about with semi-psychedelic solos.  Its dense, weighty sound makes it my favorite track with the added bonus of having no idiotic lyrics to irritate me.  There is much that I like about this album.  It is less self-indulgent and has more good tunes than any Iron Butterfly album I've ever heard.  The band comes up with a bunch of compelling riffs, the rhythm section is solid and I enjoy Weis' guitar work.  My problems with the record are the vocals and the lyrics.  Ingle is a decent singer but I don't like the sound of his voice and he usually sounds uptight to me.  DeLoach on the other hand is too light and relaxed for the weight of the band's sound.  As for the lyrics, these guys make the Ramones seem like Shakespeare.  I know it's only rock and roll and it isn't supposed to be smart, but the relentless stream of idiocy this band unleashes is hard for me to bear.  I'm amazed that a band could have so little to say, but of course they would later top this with an entire album side devoted to the lyrical nonsense of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" so I suppose I should not be surprised.  Fortunately the music is strong enough that I can mostly tune out the words and dig the heavy groove the band gets into.  Recommended to people who prefer "Fresh Cream" to "Wheels of Fire."

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