Sir Lord Baltimore - Kingdom Come
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Sir Lord Baltimore are one of the best kept secrets of early heavy metal; a band whose business acumen (or lack thereof) derailed the promise of their talents, and whose music was therefore cursed to decades of obscurity before being rediscovered – and often recycled into new songs – by many stoner rock bands of the 1990’s (whose shall remain nameless to save them face).
If anything is fair in the mostly unfortunate SLB story, it’s that the commercial success attained during their existence was as modest as the band’s inner city roots. Vocalist/drummer John Garner, guitarist Louis Dambra and bassist Gary Justin had only been rehearsing for a few months when they auditioned for talent scout Mike Appel (who would later help launch the career of one Bruce Springsteen). Taken by the band’s undeniable chemistry and assured by Dambra that the sizzling riffs he was peeling off were in fact not copped from Jimmy Page, Appel took the still rough but gifted young trio under his wing. After further fine-tuning and arranging their raw materials into a strong batch of songs, Sir Lord Baltimore entered a studio in West Orange, New Jersey to start recording their debut album, Kingdom Come, under Appel’s supervision. The sessions progressed quickly, but not without understandable growing pains, as Appel remembers: “On the first day, I kept hearing some kind of moaning sound on Louis' guitar track and we almost went nuts trying to find out what it was. Finally, I walked out into the studio, stood right next to Louis while he played, and realized he was unknowingly humming along to his guitar! So we had to separate his mike and amp and that was solved. Otherwise, the band played like the wind and even Pink Floyd were impressed with what they heard when they stopped by the studio one day.”
Once the sessions wrapped, Kingdom Come was mixed by Jimi Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, at the legendary guitarist’s brand new Electric Ladyland studios in Manhattan before being unleashed upon an unsuspecting world in mid-1970. And, with its electrifying collision of the proto-punk lunacy of The Stooges and MC5, the classic ‘60’s power trios such as Cream and Hendrix’s Experience, and the embryonic heavy metal of Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, the album’s ten songs absolutely leveled most listeners – and baffled critics – with its groundbreaking intensity, ear-shattering volume, and teeth-grinding distortion. In other words: raw power! Indeed, there’s little civilized grace to be found in savage cuts like “Helium Head,” “Hard Rain Fallin’” and “Pumped Up,”} – just devastating hard rock, constantly threatening to reel out of control, under the command of Garner’s possessed, howling vocal acrobatics. “I Got a Woman,” “Hell Hound” and “Lady of Fire” tempered that apparent recklessness with funkier grooves and bluesier feel, while “Master Heartache” was launched by an earth-shaking bass line foreshadowing of Motorhead, and the leaden title track managed to somehow bridge the span between the dying psychedelic scene and emerging doom. And then, when you least expect it, there’s “Lake Isle of Innersfree”: a gentle combination of baroque harpsichord and 12-string guitar topped with dreamy fantasy lyrics, which showed an entirely different side of the band.
Sadly, and as had been the case with Blue Cheer, The Stooges and MC5 before them, at the time of its release, the world simply wasn’t ready for Kingdom Come’s sheer wild abandon. Mercury Records, too, was unsure of how to market such an LP, and Sir Lord Baltimore’s general inexperience and still lacking showmanship kept them from capitalizing on a tour in support of Black Sabbath. When their eponymous second album failed to replicate the consistency or capture the same primal force as its predecessor, the group was dropped and largely forgotten. Luckily, cult worship and an ever-growing legion of posthumous acclaim from heavy music fans earned them a selection for Anthology Recordings very selective collection of overlooked but essential music. Prepare for revelation with Kingdom Come.