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Iron Butterfly - Heavy (1968) review

Iron Butterfly "Heavy" (Atco Records, 1968)

Bred in San Diego, California, Iron Butterfly spent more than a year paying their dues on the local live circuit prior to channeling their wares onto vinyl. Released in January 1968, "Heavy" makes good as a mighty impressive introduction to the band. As the title of the album so openly announces, Iron Buttery was keen on targeting their music at the burgeoning underground audience of the day. Playing sweet pop little tunes geared for commercial radio was not the band's motive, and they certainly accomplished their goal, even for a short while, at capturing the ears and minds of those with adventurous tastes.

Like the Doors and the Strawberry Alarm Clock, much of Iron Butterfly's material, not only on "Heavy," but future efforts, is defined by the dizzy wheeze and whistle of an organ that tends to produce a rather spooky air. The vocals are strong and bluesy, the drumming is robust, the bass licks are solid as granite and the guitar stings, burns, wails and roars with energy and imagination. Iron Butterfly really had their act together on this album, with each and every entry sporting memorable qualities.

A dark and disturbing ambience hovers over "Possession," which resembles Black Sabbath even before Black Sabbath cut a record, where "Unconscious Power" is executed in a comparably creepy and menacing manner. A Gothic feel drives both these numbing nuggets, transporting the listener into a world of ancient fantasy. Competing with "Possession" and "Unconscious Power" as the crown jewel on "Heavy" is "Fields Of Sun" that shimmers and shines to a ghostly psychedelic bent. A surly garage rock bite occupies the premises on "You Can't Win," a nip of country ala Buffalo Springfield appears on "Look For The Sun" and "Stamped Ideas" shakes and struts to a flurry of funky soul rhythms.

The disc closes with "Iron Butterfly Theme," a trippy instrumental combining science fiction flavored seasonings with droning acid rock formations. Fuzzy, distorted and serving as a showcase for Iron Butterfly's jam prowess, the trance-invoking track clearly paved the way for the band's next move. Clocking in at seventeen-plus minutes in length, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" arrived on the racks in the summer of 1968 and was included on the band's second album of the same name. An abbreviated version of the thudding terror was yielded as a single and actually cracked the national top thirty. Although Iron Butterfly continued to record, their subsequent ventures, which slanted towards standard hard rock, failed to generate widespread interest.

Ambitious and enterprising, "Heavy" is regularly cited as one of the first authentic heavy metal albums. Such a label is indeed fitting, as there's no doubt Iron Butterfly were pioneers of the genre, and here on their debut disc they're grinding and growling with amplified action. Unified songwriting, strengthened by crack arrangements and some pretty fierce melodies, cause the record to be a brash and brain-twisting collection of sounds that flip back to a time when rules were meant to be broken in rock and roll. And in most instances, as is the case with "Heavy," in the end a stunning piece of music was created.

Review made by Beverly Paterson/2013
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