Sunday, April 8, 2007

IRON BUTTERFLY - In-a-gadda-da-vida @320

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. - George Starostin

Track listing
1. "Most Anything You Want" –3:44
2. "Flowers And Beads" –3:09
3. "My Mirage" –4:55
4. "Termination" –2:53
5 ."Are You Happy?" –4:29
6. "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" –17:03
The song "Termination" was misspelled on the back of the album cover as "Terminaton".

Doug Ingle: Organ, keyboards, clavinet, piano, vocals.
Erik Brann: Guitars, violin, vocals.
Lee Dorman: Bass guitar.
Ron Bushy: Drums, percussion.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In a gadda da vida... If u know the way a LSD-trip works.. u hear it in that song The man seduces a woman to use and leads her through her feelings of fright. When there is the organ (very short) all is well, then the frightness comes again stronger and stronger. Don't analyse the riffs, FEELSEE the STORY in the song!