Graded on a Curve:
Sir Lord Baltimore,
Kingdom Come

Recorded in beautiful West Orange and featuring what looks to me like a ghostly Arctic death ship on the cover, Sir Lord Baltimore’s debut LP (1970’s Kingdom Come) is without a doubt the best thing to ever come out of New Jersey. It’s better than the Boss, Bon Jovi, and my ex-wife put together! And it won’t fight you for custody of the dog!

Boasting lots of seriously fucked-up guitar noise and the gold-plated tonsils of lead singer/ drummer/Freak of Nature John Garner, this 1970 monolith deserves its status as one of the pioneering slabs of what would become known as stoner rock.

Imagine an improved (as in freakier, more in-your-face in a Stooges kinda way) Deep Purple. Now imagine a guy whose larynx is capable of incredible feats of strength yet nimble enough to tap dance across the Sahara in its bare feet, which is difficult to visualize I know because your average larynx doesn’t have feet. But that’s the amazing thing about Garner–his larynx does! Two of ‘em in fact! And they wear size 12 shoes!

Why, it’s hard to believe the guy is a Homo sapien in good standing. If a giant bird of prey could sing it would sound either like Geddy Lee or Garner, but I wouldn’t take pot shots with my bb gun at Garner the way I would with Lee (and this despite the fact Geddy’s protected from hunting by law!).

And to make things even better, Garner seems to be channeling the voice of Sir Lancelot or somebody, which definitely ups the LP’s amusement quotient–I’m no scientist, but I posit here for your consideration the theory that Garner is the long-sought missing link between Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power.

As for Louis Dambra he plays some of the most far freaking out guitar this side of James Marshall Hendrix, spitting out big shards of snot phlegm and warped distortion wank and in general pretending to be a human funny car streaking and screaming across the Bonneville Salt Flats towards infinity to the accompaniment of lots of flung salt and the smell of burning rubber. Dammer’s fuel-injected ax scream makes my fucking hair blow backwards as it passes, and he can do tricks too: I dare you to listen to the crazy smokin’ circles he turns on the run amok “Hard Rain Fallin’” without getting carsick.

There are only two losers on Kingdom Come. Any song entitled “Lake Isle of Innisfree” is pretty much fucked from the get-go, and this frilly, sub-Yeatsian evocation of a fair damsel who hast fled (my favorite line: “She was only seventeen/You might say in her prime”) makes me want to nuke said lake isle right out of the water. And not even Dambra’s determined wood-chopping (first he uses his ax and goes thunk thunk thunk, then he says to hell with it and goes running for his chainsaw) can sell me on the band’s more or less by-the-numbers cover of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman.”

The rest are stone cold killers. There’s no denying the dinosaur plod title track, on which Dambra’s monstrous fuzz rumble ploughs Marianas Trench-deep grooves through the seabed of your mind while Garner auditions for the role of King of the Underworld–or maybe just a role in The Sound of Music).

“Hard Rain Fallin’” is a whiplash jerk-crank slaughterhouse rave-up and total bombs away boogie choogle; “Lady of Fire”’s a thermonuclear power-shake blend of Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Deep Purple’s “My Woman From Tokyo”; “Helium Head (I Got a Love)” is a full-tilt blitzkrieg machine composed of equal parts sizzling electric chair guitar, Gregorian death moan and the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.”

On LP highlight “Pumped Up” Garner sounds like he grabbed hold of a 50,000-volt live wire and can’t let go, while Dambra sinks his teeth into a riff damn near as menacingly catchy as the one that propels Zep’s “Immigrant Song.” And proceeds to break its neck by shaking it! “Hell Hound” is a titanic blooze mambo and features more otherworldly shrieks per minute than perhaps any other rock song in history; Dambra, not to be outdone, goes about his appointed rounds like a fencer with a cattle prod, parrying, jabbing and slashing before finally going in for the sizzling electric kill.

“Ain’t Got Hung on You”’s a straight ahead speed racer fueled by pure nitro tonsil power and electric guitar motor oil; on “Master Heartache” Garner sings, “Woooooooman, Ah!/You are the master heartache!” while the rhythm section reduces cities to rubble and Dambra swoops and dives like a lovelorn Stuka.

None of which really captures the sheer visceral thrill of Kingdom Come; you have to hear this shit to believe it. Sir Lord Baltimore is that rarest of creatures–a band that actually lives up to its underground hype. Most of the proto-stoner rock LPs I hear are letdowns, but not this one. Had America dropped this baby on Berlin in 1944 Germany would have surrounded without a shot–the fucking Nazis would have KNOWN they were beat.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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