Sir Lord Baltimore. Kraftwerk and more...
(1970, Kingdom Come)
Sir Lord Baltimore’s debut, 1970’s Kingdom Come, leapt from proto to full-blown metal with a dagger clenched firmly in its teeth. It’s rumored to be the first US album ever described as ‘heavy metal’ in relation to its genre, and although fans of heavy bands such as MC5 were used to deafening volume and out-right aggression, Kingdom Come was a concussion-inducing bolt out of the blue for many. Mixed at Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland studios, Kingdom Come‘s bludgeoning and distorting blues-based tunes provided a warts-and-all, ear-splitting battery of raw riffing—no surprise the album is routinely hailed as North America’s first truly metal release. Sir Lord Baltimore’s self-titled 1971 follow-up was tepid in comparison, and management and artistic difficulties put paid to the band ever leading the metal charge. However, although the group split in the mid-‘70s, Kingdom Come‘s reverberations have been ongoing. It has proven to be one of metal’s most enduring albums, cited by scores of metal artists as a hugely influential release to this day. See also: Cain (A Pound of Flesh) and Tin House (Tin House).
Elias Hulk was a great example of the old guard meeting the new. Essentially, the UK-based band’s first album, 1970’s Unchained, featured every shade of guitar rock from the era. The UK’s de rigueur blues and prog appeared—with all instruments grabbing solo time. The band also settled into a harder groove, with assertive riffing crashing into gentile drifts. Krautrock was evident as well, as was heavily-Doors-influenced psychedelia, and it’s that offbeat mix of everything that makes Unchained so seductive. Admittedly, that diversity also denied Unchained a large audience, and Elias Hulk split-up in 1971 (though it has since reformed). However, Unchained is a great example of trippy rock being introduced to its much crueler progeny, and while the album isn’t a tour de force as such, it certainly provides a tour over fertile and fascinating terrain. See also: Harsh Reality (Heaven & Hell) and Czar (Czar).
Fuse crafted a little-known treasure trove of hard rock on its eponymous debut in 1969. The band is best remembered, if it’s remembered at all, for including Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson in its ranks—both going on to gazillion-selling success with Cheap Trick. However, there was no glam slam shiny pop-rock to be found on Fuse. The album brought late ‘60s melodic keyboard-driven jams and bluesy hard rock together, with an undercurrent of pre-metal bubbling under all. Label Epic rushed Fuse into the studio, and that shows, but Joe Sundberg’s vocals are howlingly successful, with the rest of the band melding acid, hard and progressive rock together well before many more successful early ‘70s bands did exactly the same. Fuse has its share of knockers, but the band’s dual guitars and rock-solid rhythm section make it a heavy psychedelic album well worth exploring. See also: Babe Ruth (First Base) and Tucky Buzzard (Warm Slash).
(1972, I Drive)
I Drive formed in Manchester, England in the late ‘60s, and like many a UK act toured the German club scene for years seeking its fame and fortune. Huge success never came (it didn’t help that band vocalist Geff Harrison exited in 1971 for 2066 & Then) but the group was picked up by a former Beatles manager, and managed to produce a single album in 1972. Thirty songs were tracked for I Drive, but record company machinations saw many of those recordings disappear, and the final product was barely distributed or promoted in Germany, or elsewhere. Shame really, because I Drive is heavy fuzz-laden guitars and Hammond organ (à la early Deep Purple and Uriah Heep) melded to some breakneck proto-metal. I Drive is very much in keeping with the UK ‘70s organ rock of the time, and no one is going to claim it’s an innovative release. But with musicianship honed by years on the road, and a full, warm and grunty production, it’s a severely underrated LP well worth tracking down. See also: Arcadium (Writing on the Wall) and Clear Blue Sky (Clear Blue Sky).
(1971, Live on Radio Bremen)
“Was ist das?” Kraftwerk, on an obscure rowdy rockers list? The legendary electronic pioneers might not be your first port of call when pondering underground influences on metal—although Kraftwerk obviously turns up in contemporary avant, progressive, and industrial metal. However, 1971’s Live on Radio Bremen bootleg, featuring Klaus Dinger, Florian Schneider and Michael Rother, saw the band craft a colossal, and yes, head-banging, stoner metal classic. “Heavy Metal Kids” opens the LP, and then, for over an hour, Kraftwerk mines Sabbath’s doomy stomp and Hendrix’s tempestuous peregrinations, while quarrelsome electronics squirm around in the mix. Kraftwerk never ventured into heavy rocking territory like this again, and really, Live on Radio Bremen is a gigantic ‘what could have been’ tease. For a single night in 1971 the band provided a glimpse into pioneering motorik metal—a tempo since explored by transcendental metal acts like OM. Live on Radio Bremen is much more than a fascinating footnote in rock ‘n’ roll history, it’s a seminal jam, with a resounding echo. See also: 2066 &Then (1972, Reflections on the Future) and Jane (1972, Together).