It might be that I came to Sir Lord Baltimore as one of those bands always talked about when discussing the birth of heavy metal. You can spread your tentacles to perhaps more obscure bands (which reminds me I need to get my Lucifer’s Friend albums in here) but I’ve always heard Sir Lord Baltimore spoke of as part of the foundation made mighty by Black Sabbath that gave rise to the genre. Their debut Kingdom Come has always been around in various playlists, heard as background mixed with dozens of other bands and albums, but now getting a nice copy on vinyl affords me the chance to get a closer listen and see what’s that with that skeletal ship sailing across the skies.
Released in December 1970, the first thing I’m reminded of as “Master Heartache” kicks off isn’t the heavy metal stomp of Black Sabbath, but the electrified blues attack of early Led Zeppelin. The Brooklyn trio (John Garner on vocals and drums, Louis Dambra on guitar, and Gary Justin on bass) sound much larger than their three-piece would lead you to assume, something I’m going to go ahead and attribute the stellar mixing work by Eddie Kramer. The sound itself is massive drum and guitar led acid rock and blues, again taking cues from bands like Zeppelin, Blue Cheer and even some Hendrix with the Dambra’s leads searing through the mixes.
Most of the tracks take that approach. Moving through “Hard Rain Fallin” to the kind of sleazy swagger of “Lady of Fire” it’s all fun, stoned out hard rock that sits comfortably with other power trios like Cream, Grand Funk Railroad and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The difference is the extra push to distortion and volume those other bands rarely achieved in the studio – though I say there songs were a bit more memorable than “Lady of Fire” and its bawdy woman oof the night sleaZe lyrics that feel more at home in 80s glam rock despite the fuzzed roar of the guitars. “Lake Isle of Innersfree” takes a left turn into baroque territory, utilizing harpsichord and 12-string guitar, and if at this point things feel a bit varied I’m crediting it to Mike Appel, who would go on to manage Bruce Springsteen but here acts as a focal point for the songs and production. There are moments of Kingdom Come that feel like a sample platter for labels to see what the band is about.
Side 2 acts in much the same way. With the title track the thing I’m drawn to is how drummer/vocalist John Garner can twist his voice into whatever is needed for the suit, from strong, soaring Jack Bruce cleans to snarled and sleazy Robert Plant inflections and everything in between. The trio format suits the songs well: there’s a lot of interplay between there instruments, though by the time of “I Got a Woman” I’m a little tired of the same silly lyrics about having a woman, loving that woman, and finding out that woman is a Hell Hound.
But when I focus on the music, I get it in spades. There’s a tight telepathy going on in Sir Lord Baltimore’s debut, and those leads are just delicious. From a pure heaviness perspective I get the accolades and the acclaim as a progenitor of heavy metal. And when I hear the way everything comes together on “Master Heartache” and late track “Helium Head (I Got a Love)” I 100% get it. All in all Kingdom Come is a fun, left field rock album that hits where it needs to and gets out.