Today’s venture into the forgotten vault turns up a band more mummified than most; Sir Lord Baltimore’s seminal album Kingdom Come released in 1970 (nearly 50 years ago!), just as faster, louder forms of rock ‘n’ roll began to break ground. Still, their sarcophagus is more decorated than most. Sir Lord Baltimore haven’t entirely escaped the due credit their hard driving blues rock sound had on the emerging proto-metal scene. In their heyday, they were one of the heaviest and most innovative rock bands around, and perhaps the most genetically similar to the heavy metal that would rear its unholy head in the decade to come.
Sir Lord Baltimore set themselves apart from the glut of 60’s/70’s blues rock bands with superior talent. It’s as simple as that, really. Guitarist Louis Dambra is a gushing geyser of catchy, bluesy riffs and meaner, proto-metal soloing chops. Vocalist John Garner is massively talented, with the versatility to shriek and wail during Kingdom Come’s metal excursions, as well as belt a whiskey-and-cigar blues rock croak and croon a lullaby ballad. Gary Justin’s bass rumbles with wicked distortion, undulating with a clearly audible thrum that gives the album an irresistible groove.
Kingdom Come charges ahead with a raucous tenacity that doesn’t pause for pomp or convention. Their distorted, aggressive style is more straightforwardly headbanging than other proto-metal acts of the time, like Led Zeppelin. Listen to the A-side opener, “Master Heartache”, to get a sense of the tenacity of this group (note that the YouTube upload linked begins with the B-side). The song opens with a ridiculously distorted bass guitar intro, followed by Dambra’s signature wailing, steel-bending guitar leads, and completed by Garner’s powerful shriek: “WOMAN! You are the master heartache!” Sir Lord Baltimore managed to marry the unbridled, infectious soul of the blues with the intensity and passion of hard rock better than any other band of the early 70’s.
The title track is a tour de force, and one of the most complete tracks on the album. All three band members are in peak form. The swaggering, ridiculously catchy bass riff provides a solid structure for Dambra to improvise with feathered leads and groovy solos. Garner’s rich and versatile (seriously, he can sing in so many styles) voice cuts with screeching intensity and a deeper, mysterious timbre when “Kingdom Come” calls for it.
“Lake Isle of Innersfree” is the ballad of the record. Although the harpsichords plucking the melody look backwards in musical history rather than forward with the prescient aggression of the other tracks, it’s one of my favorite songs. Garner is as versatile as ever, singing with the vulnerable, rose-sweet affectation of teenage love as the slow razzle of harpsichords strikes a poignant tone. The song ends on a surprisingly emotional and introspective note. “Lake Isle of Innersfree” definitely didn’t inspire any future metal bands to speed things up or distort them down, but it is a beautiful song that showcases the versatility of the band.
Sir Lord Baltimore had enough talent to cross the Atlantic and then some, but they never managed to catch anything but flash-in-the-pan success for Kingdom Come, and they soon disbanded. They’re certainly a more well-known band than many that have/will feature in Riffs from the Crypt, but their incredible talent, position in metal history, and relative lack of recognition made Sir Lord Baltimore an excellent candidate for exhumation in Riffs from the Crypt.