Many bands claim to be among the first heavy metal bands, and Brooklyn’s Sir Lord Baltimore certainly deserve to be in that category. While they might not be the first, they have the distinction of being the earliest-known band to have their sound called heavy metal in print, courtesy of Creem’s review of their debut album. Their existence was brief, but resulted in a triumvirate of albums of heavy, hard-hitting rock. HNE Recordings‘ new collection, Complete Recordings 1970-2006 offers their entire output in one handy package.
Formed in the late 1960s by vocalist and drummer John Garner, guitarist Louis Dambra, and bassist Gary James, the band quickly developed a raw, uncompromising, and original sound. The Brooklyn trio soon caught the ear of impresario Mike Appel. A record deal soon followed, and the band signed to Mercury Records. Their debut album, Kingdom Come, arrived in 1970 and it sounded like absolutely nothing before it. Short, concise blasts of a frenetic blend of heavy riffs? Check. Lyrics that blended spirituality, fantasy, and traditional rock subjects? Yup. Garner’s amazing falsetto? Has to be heard to be believed. Sir Lord Baltimore had very few equals.
Sir Lord Baltimore appeared in 1971, a completely different beast to Kingdom Come. The self-titled album kicked off with its centerpiece, an epic ten minute narrative tale of a Christ-like figure that shows up in New York. It’s a bold move to start one’s album with what rightly should be the album closer. Initially the song seemingly casts a shadow over the relatively brief offering that follows. On further listening, the album comes alive with heavy metal potency. A faux live track, “Where Are We Going,” closes out the first side, and though it’s not a real live track, it most certainly sounds legit. The second side offers four scorching rock numbers that clearly justify the band’s later-date status as heavy metal forefathers.
Unfortunately, the listening public though the album too odd, and it didn’t sell. Amidst drug problems, money issues, and a falling out with Appel, Mercury dropped the band. An attempt at writing a follow-up proved fruitless, and the band quietly called it a day,
Yet after a thirty-year hiatus—one that saw their two previous albums recognized as the building blocks of heavy metal—Sir Lord Baltimore returned. Utilizing the instrumental tracks written in the mid-70s for an unrealized third album, Garner and Dambra came up with lyrics that captured their state of mind. After their split both members became devout Christians; Dambra became a pastor, and the lyrical tone reflected this belief. Thus, the creation of Sir Lord Baltimore III: Raw.
But do not think for a minute that deeper Christian meaning neutered Sir Lord Baltimore.
Because you would be wrong.
Sir Lord Baltimore IIII: Raw certainly lives up to its name. It is raw, relentless, and some of the hardest Christian metal you’ll hear. Opening track “(Gonna) Fill The World With Fire” hits the listener with a gut punch, only to hit even harder with “Love Slave,” “Rising Sun,” and “Cosmic Voice”. They do revisit the mellower narrative style of “Man From Manhattan” with the lovely epic “Wild White Horses”. If this material had appeared in the Seventies, the band would have been recognized for being the innovators they were. But better late than never, as Sir Lord Baltimore III: Raw showed that Garner and Dambra still had it.
Unfortunately, very few heard it, as it was sold only via mail order. Pity that a sympathetic label like Drag City didn’t release it, as the album truly an audience. It would, however, be the final word, as both Garner and Dambra have since passed away. Sir Lord Baltimore: Complete Recordings 1970-2006 offers up the chance to experience one of heavy metal’s lost treasures.
Purchase: HNE Recordings / Amazon