SLB: the first band to be described as ‘heavy metal’.
Apology: This month’s issue has repeated copy on pages 51-52. Instead of the same list of ‘Proto Metal’ tracks, p52 should feature the five greatest Sir Lord Baltimore tracks, as chosen by Monte Connor, President of Nuclear Blast records, and proto-metal/Sir Lord Baltimore expert. Sincere apologies to him and to you. Here is his list AND a chunk of the Sir Lord Baltimore story by Ken McIntyre.
Sir Lord Baltimore toured with Black Sabbath and were a core influence on the stoner rock movement. Singer/drummer John Garner looks back at the drugs, dysfunction and dirty deeds that doomed them but sealed their legend.
They were Fuck Barbarians from Planet Garbage come here to splinter skulls, a proto-thrashing teenage bloodbath sealed on wax. Over two albums and just 29 gigs, they defined a genre and left tantalizing clues about the future of rock. Sir Lord Baltimore’s music was so alarmingly intense, it required a whole new terminology to explain it – heavy metal, naturally – and their instrument-smashing, chuggernaut onstage prowess so fearsome even Black Sabbath resorted to (ahem) sabotage to keep up with them. But underneath the neanderthal war-whooping was three freaked-out adolescents from Brooklyn, New York, green but eager, shoved into the spotlight much too early and let loose to flail away in the pantheon of the rock gods. They never stood a chance. Still, their long shadows still loom, and their legend grows with each passing year. The ultimate cult band, as influential as they are stubbornly obscure, Sir Lord Baltimore remain the original heavy metal kids.
“We were the first ones to be called ‘heavy metal’, says John Garner, drummer, singer and founding member. “It was in an issue of Creem magazine. That’s a fact.”
Indeed, Garner’s story checks out. “Metal” Mike Saunders, later of garage-thrashers the Angry Samoans, reviewed the band’s debut album Kingdom Come in the May ’71 issue of the magazine, and pegged SLB as possessing all the “heavy metal tricks in the book.” As well they should, since they invented them. Garner places most of the blame for their sonic excess on their youthful enthusiasm.
“Well, I loved Jimi Hendrix. I loved Led Zeppelin, but who doesn’t? But really, we had our own style, because we were frantic. We were very young, I was 18, and we were super high energy. I sang so hard I’d almost pass out. I used to go through metal foot pedals, break ‘em in half. Cymbals, forget about it, I used to bang the shit of them and split them in half. We were intense.”
For the rest of the story, get the new issue of Classic Rock. Until then, here’s the 5 Greatest Sir Lord Baltimore songs, as chosen by Monte Conner.
Kingdom Come (Kingdom Come, 1970)
If there was one song to serve as the opener of a compilation of the greatest Proto Metal tracks of all-time, this would be it. A towering monster of a title track with John Garner dragging the listener in with eerie, one-of-kind vocals that tell the tale of that doomed ship of bones on the album cover. The fuzz flies from the amps in every direction as the track lurches forward to a crushing conclusion. This is seriously the stuff of legend.
Helium Head (I Got A Love) (Kingdom Come, 1970)
A strong argument could be made that this is early punk rock. This is The Lords’ most chaotic track and it must have sounded mind-blowing to a set of 1970 ears. Garner shouts like a man possessed, fighting to be heard over the thick din of the band. Guitars, drums and bass bounce off each other like over-caffeinated electrons heating in a test tube. Throw in a bastardized take on the vocal melody of “You Really Got Me” at the top of each verse and the picture gets even crazier. The whole thing barely stays on the rails – and how fitting that it fades on Keith Moon-style acrobatics from Garner.
Master Heartache (Kingdom Come, 1970)
It is easy to see why this was chosen as the Kingdom Come album opener. While not quite as manic as some of what follows, the fatness and groove pour from the speakers like quick-drying concrete into a mausoleum’s foundation. The Entwistle-like fuzz bass tone from Gary Justin immediately demands attention, almost upstaging Louis Dambra’s blistering riffs. In the end, neither man wins the battle and it all coalesces into a cement wall of heaviosity that is mixed to utter perfection by Eddie Kramer.
Lake Isle Of Innersfree (Kingdom Come, 1970)
Written by the album’s co-producers, Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, this beautiful ballad features the harpsichord as its primary instrumentation, and stands out from the rest of Kingdom Come as a brief respite from much rougher seas.
Woman Tamer (Sir Lord Baltimore, 1971)
The band’s second record saw a change in the production and writing team, resulting in a major letdown from the monumental debut. While the band earned points for taking chances, the savage power was largely muted by softer sonics and an almost eleven minute album opener, “Man From Manhattan” – a conceptual depiction of how Christ would be treated if he came back, to New York, in 1971. On the plus side, Garner’s so-bad-they-are-great vocals are in still in classic form and the old SLB resurfaces on much of Side Two; “Woman Tamer” revisiting the primal ways of the debut while at the same time sounding very much evolved.
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