Sir Lord Baltimore: Kingdom Come LP (1970)
This week we got in a low-priced reissue of the 1970 debut LP from Sir Lord Baltimore, and I thought it would be a great choice for my staff pick.
My friend Jamie, who played guitar in Devour with me, introduced me to this record. Devour was going out of town to play some shows and Jamie brought a stack of CDs to listen to in the van. Jamie was (and still is, I’m sure!) way more knowledgeable than I am about early hard rock, and three of his picks from that trip stick out: this album from Sir Lord Baltimore, King Crimson’s Red album, and Roky Erickson’s The Evil One. I don’t think I had heard any of the three albums before, but all of them intrigued me right off the bat. I loved Roky’s incredible songwriting and vivid, surrealistic lyrics, and listening to the intricate and angular Red pushed me to write weirder and more complex music. It took me a little longer to find my copy of Kingdom Come, so that was the last of the three that I got into, but it got its hooks in.
Here’s what I know about Sir Lord Baltimore: they’re from Brooklyn, they were a three-piece, and their drummer was also the lead vocalist, which was and still is super unusual. When I see Sir Lord Baltimore’s name mentioned, the anecdote that I typically see is that when Metal Mike Saunders (later of Angry Samoans) reviewed Kingdom Come in Creem magazine, he used the term “heavy metal,” one of the earliest documented uses of the term in print. It’s a shame this anecdote relegates Sir Lord Baltimore to footnote status, because Kingdom Come deserves a lot more than that.
Rather than Sabbath’s heavy doom, Kingdom Come is a blues rock record, influenced by Cream’s musical virtuosity and power trio format. However, it’s not the sound or the genre that is magical on Kingdom Come so much as the execution. The record is as loose, wild, and raw as any Back from the Grave compilation track you can throw at it. Sir Lord Baltimore is just wailing throughout, playing like they’re in a state of sustained manic euphoria. While this is an even more obscure reference, it’s the closest thing I’ve heard to the legendary Speed, Glue, and Shinki album that I wrote about a few years ago, the gold standard for don’t-give-a-fuck heavy blues rock (and, coincidentally, another band with a drummer who handled lead vocals).
I keep coming back to the word “loose” because it describes every aspect of how Kingdom Come sounds. The songs sound like they’re loosely structured around a riff and/or a groove, but no one in the band takes responsibility for holding down that groove. Thus, the songs start out with one musical theme, but the players start improvising around it… guitarist Louis Dambra in particular can barely play through a riff once without twisting and rending it into different shapes. You would think a singing drummer would have a minimal drum style, but not so with John Garner, who lets the beat disintegrate into a mirror maze of fills. This aspect of Kingdom Come reminds me of the era of jazz when bebop drifted into free jazz (see, for instance, John Coltrane’s records from the last few years of his life); songs start off with a legible foundation, but it evaporates underneath you. Suddenly you realize all of the musicians are just free jamming, floating in limitless musical space.
Despite that feeling of airiness to the compositions, Kingdom Come is relentlessly fast, heavy, and complex. There’s no way this album didn’t influence Annihilation Time’s style, even if they favored Thin Lizzy-esque tight orchestration over Sir Lord Baltimore’s barely-there arrangements. It’s one of those records that has so many things going for it I’m sure many people love it for different reasons.