Sir Lord Baltimore Return As Christian Metal Band
Phil Freeman reports for The Village Voice: It was such a crazy thing, to go out of the basement and play Carnegie Hall," recalls Sir Lord Baltimore drummer-vocalist John Garner. "Where does that happen? We were in the fast lane all the way down. . . . I believe that had the element of drugs not been in the picture, we'd be a household name today."
In some households (especially those where drugs are still in the picture), they still are. The Brooklyn band put a uniquely East Coast spin on the late-'60s/early-'70s power-trio sound, combining Cream's instrumental overdrive with Grand Funk Railroad's raw power. It all started when Garner invited his high school acquaintances Louis Dambra (guitar) and Gary Justin (bass) to jam. After about a week, Garner recalls, "I saw an ad in the Voice that said, 'Heavy band needed to record album.' That was it. We put about 10 riffs together, some crazy avant-garde singing and a few beats here and there, and we went down to audition." Signed (and named, allegedly, after a minor character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) by manager Mike Appel, Sir Lord Baltimore recorded for Polygram and made their live debut in 1970.
More fleet than peers Mountain or Dust, they came out of nowhere to become New York's best metal act for a year or so. Indeed, Metal Mike Saunders's Creem review of their debut CD, 1970's Kingdom Come, featured the first documented use of the phrase "heavy metal" as a genre descriptor. But after another album and an abortive tour supporting Black Sabbath, SLB imploded. Neither Kingdom nor 1971's self-titled follow-up sold particularly well, and both went out of print (they're now paired on a single CD) while all three members went on to other things.
Now they're back. Garner and Dambra have reunited after 35 years apart and self-released a third record, Sir Lord Baltimore III: Raw (available at sirlordbaltimore.com). Recorded with session bassists Tony Franklin and Sam Powell, it packs six songs into just under a half-hour, reviving the band's formula of ultra-hard riffing and thunderous drums. This was always the SLB sound—as Dambra puts it, "I would throw riffs at [John], and he would come back with the drums. He tried to copy everything the guitar did, which was really unusual, because drummers would always just lay a backbeat. But we were high-intensity, we were aggressive, and we were filling every space we could."
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Sir Lord Baltimore circa 2007 is their new lyrical perspective. Despite titles like "Love Slave" and the aforementioned "(Gonna) Fill the World With Fire," their new songs are quite explicitly Christian. "On the narrow road/Burn chariots of fire/Living on a hope/Make God your desire/If ya see Satan coming/Better change your stride/Don't try and stick with him, kid/It'll be suicide," Garner sings on "Fire." When asked about this, Dambra laughs. "Basically, over the years we've made that transition to changing our lives, having godly lives," he says. "In fact, I'm a pastor now. I run a full-time homeless-ministry program for families in Los Angeles [where he lives] called the Homeless Housing Program. It's like a Good Samaritan thing. But even though I'm a pastor now, I haven't lost the knack for playing." That's for sure; his technique is as savage and barely contained as on the most amp-frying moments of Kingdom Come. Even Raw's single ballad, "Wild White Horses," eventually explodes into a frenzy.
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