Iron Butterfly, for better or worse, will always be associated with their 1968 album release In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, whose title track took up the entire second side of the original vinyl release. It remains one of the 50 best-selling albums of all time with sales of just over 30.000.000 copies.
The band formed in 1967 and released their debut album Heavy. Despite its commercial success, a year later only keyboardist Doug Ingle and drummer Ron Bushy remained from the original five members. They recruited bassist Lee Dorman and guitarist/vocalist Erik Braunn (or Brann) and the classic Iron Butterfly line-up was complete.
Iron Butterfly was at the beginning of the hard rock sound that would become much more sophisticated during the 1970’s. As such, the sound is somewhat primitive by today’s standards. Their approach was similar to bands like Vanilla Fudge in that they relied on a heavy, almost oppressive sound. It just hammered away at the senses, which in the late 1960’s was very different from the rock being produced by their contemporaries. It was new and creative and their sound would be honed by a number of bands that followed them.
They released their follow-up to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida in 1969. Ball was different from its predecessor in that the songs were short and the melodies stronger.
“In The Time Of Our Lives” begins the album in typical heavy fashion. Brann’s guitar and Ingle’s keyboards slug away at it other and the rhythm section sets a bone-crunching foundation. They then morph into a lighter approach with “Soul Experience.” “Lonely Boy” is more dramatic than their usual fare. “Belda-Beast” is a piece of heavy psychedelic rock. Some overdubbing makes it less primitive than their usual approach and it features one of two Brann vocals tp appear on an Iron Butterfly album.
The band cut an additional non-album single in 1969 and it represents the last recordings by their classic line-up. “I Can’t Help But Deceive You Little Girl” and “To Be Alone” have been added to the release as bonus tracks. While a failure as a single, “To Be Alone” contains some creative guitar riffs and the use of some “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” melodies.
Iron Butterfly toured extensively in support of Ball, with bands such as Led Zeppelin and Yes as their opening acts, who would soon become the headliners and take hard rock and progressive rock in directions that Iron Butterfly was not capable.
The music of Iron Butterfly and Ball is a product of its era and needs to be approached as such. They never progressed beyond the sound of their third release and so it remains an excellent example of an early hard rock niche.