Thursday, August 17, 2017
Three Essential Proto-Metal Albums
The 1970’s were a crazy time in music; a lot of things were happening all at once in the rock universe. By 1972, Led Zeppelin was already known as the “biggest band in the world” and the Grateful Dead was making their way around Europe in what would become one of the group’s greatest tours. The scene in San Francisco had dissolved for the most part and the acid rock of a decade previous was starting evolve as a result. One of the earliest examples of this evolution is Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vidda” which was released in 1968, marking a definitive turning point in rock music. Following the success of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” many bands started experimenting with heavier sounds both in the United States and around the world. One of those many bands was Brooklyn’s Sir Lord Baltimore whose 1969 debut, Kingdom Come, sent a shockwave through the rock community.
Often considered by many as the “godfathers of stoner metal”, Sir Lord Baltimore was doing things reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix, Motörhead and the MC5 making their sound really unique and perfect for 1970. The album’s opening track, “Master Heartache”, kicks off with a thunderous and ferocious Gary Justin bassline beautifully setting the tone for what’s to follow. Bringing together elements of the blues, jazz, an early form of punk as well as what was left over from the acid rock predating the band’s existence, Sir Lord Baltimore crafted a primitive and new kind of rebellious listening experience. Heavily distorted, ugly and sludgy, Louis Dambra’s riffing is infectious; especially on songs like “Ain’t Got Hung On You” and “Lady of Fire”. The guitar parts are masterfully pitted against the heart pounding and tenacious drumming and singing of John Garner. His voice is rough around the edges and horse only adding to the band’s already blues heavy sound. Along with all of this the band included a stunning homage to the psychedelic baroque rock they’d originated from with “Lake Isle of Innersfree”. The harpsichord builds a gorgeous foundation for the 12-string acoustic guitar and Garner’s voice to float effortlessly on top. However, none of this could’ve been possible without the album that came out a year before it.
In sticking with this power trio idea, no one embodied that moniker more than San Francisco’s Blue Cheer. In 1968 they helped to define what would become known has heavy metal and what a power trio was supposed to be. Their debut album Vincebus Eruptum was heavier and louder than anything that came before it. The phrase titling the album is latin for “controlled chaos” which is a perfect descriptor for what this record is. Inspiring most of what followed it Vincebus Eruptum had on it not only some of the band’s best work but, some of the blueprints for heavy metal was going to sound like. The album starts off with a devastating cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” which became a massive hit for the band and was geared more towards the bikers than the hippies. Blue Cheer created a dark and almost primal listening experience when compared to other of the day and shined a light on the other side of the San Francisco music scene.
The band had undeniable chemistry and it was evident on songs like “Doctor Please”. The unmistakable guitar sound of Leigh Stephens paired with the soulful, raspy howl of bass player and frontman Dickie Peterson. Stephens pushes his amps to the max by cranking things up to 11 (literally) and creates a mountain of distortion and fuzz thrust forward by Paul Whaley’s epic, gargantuan drums. Dangerous and explosive Blue Cheer destroy Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm” and nearly go off the tracks with “Second Time Around”. From start to finish Vincebus Eruptum is an eruption of sound and set a new, electrifying standard in the world of heavy metal.