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Music by VICE

Revisiting Brooklyn's Heavy Metal Roots With Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore

They came, they rocked, they faded away.

by Mike McPadden
Nov 24 2014, 5:02pm

Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore—two bands that invented and codified much of what we now experience as stoner rock and doom metal—could only have come from Brooklyn, New York in the early 1970s. That’s some weird, heavy shit, just like the music itself.

First, you really do have to consider the time and place. Early 70s Brooklyn was to Manhattan what big, dumb Lenny was to sharp, capable George in Of Mice and Men (though this version would've featured a lot more rats). This was the Brooklyn of Dog Day Afternoon, populated by millions of real-life reflections of TV’s Archie Bunker and impoverished minorities suffering though proto-apocalyptic crime and anarchy in flaming urban hellholes like Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bed-Stuy. As a result, the broken bottle/cracked concrete/all-night arson milieu from which Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore arose shares spiritual DNA with the factory towns that birthed metal elsewhere, like Black Sabbath’s Birmingham and the Detroit that gave us Alice Cooper, the Stooges, and the MC5.

As with their better-known contemporaries, the music of both Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore is so fully realized and so instantly commanding that it’s mind-boggling to consider that it was made by high school kids. When you take a listen, there it is: doom metal/stoner rock, wholly and flawlessly formed by teenage longhairs, awash in the madness of Brooklyn circa 1970 A.D.

Dust consisted of four Flatbush boys, none of them older than seventeen. Their self-titled 1971 debut is a Viking-solemn beatdown of pure hard rock might, with an ass-kicking cover by world-renowned painter and fellow Brooklyn paisan, Frank Frazetta. Powered by hell-blues and behemoth in scope, Dust remarkably went gold for Kama Sutra records. Although the label was otherwise focused on AM radio bubblegum pop, the pairing wasn't entirely far-fetched; the band did play a role in the glam metal domination of the era, which was vaguely launched by T. Rex and Slade, perfected by Sweet, and then exploded to world conquest proportions by Kiss. Once again, though, Dust got there first.

Hard Attack, Dust’s quickly-produced follow-up, fizzled, largely because their moms wouldn’t let them drop out of school to hit the road. If that last part sounds too goofy to be true, just ask Dust drummer Marc Bell. He’ll shoot you straight, and then perhaps he’ll fill you in on how he later went on to play with Richard Hell and the Voidoids before permanently transforming himself into punk-rock superhero Marky Ramone.

Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn’s Marine Park, three adolescent pals blew their minds on a cocktail of Hendrix, Cream, and Blue Cheer (not to mention pot, acid, and Quaaludes) and took up as power trio Sir Lord Baltimore. The group scored a Mercury deal, recorded their brain-blistering 1970 debut Kingdom Come at Electric Ladyland Studios, and, in short order, opened for Black Sabbath at the Fillmore East.

Kingdom Come’s ten perfect tracks conjured and let loose an invigorating, unprecedented masterpiece of sludge, heat, speed, and bong-fumed virtuosity that embodied an unmistakable new form of extreme rock—but what to call this racket?

In his Creem magazine review of the album, critic (and future Angry Samoans frontman) Mike Saunders described the sound and feel of Kingdom Come with one of the very first recorded instances of the term “heavy metal.” Talk about banging the nail on the head.

Sir Lord Baltimore’s self-titled 1971 follow-up remains a killer hard rock record, but it lacks the magic of the original. Further waylaid by drugs, bad management, and sheer youthful folly, Sir Lord Baltimore flamed out before they got to fade away, or even turn twenty. The story has a slightly happy ending, though; both groups are still beloved and championed by modern day metal royalty, and have inspired a litany of powerhouse covers, most recently Red Fang’s show stopping take on “Suicide” by Dust and Church of Misery’s skull-splitting version of “Master Heartache” by Sir Lord Baltimore.

Still, there’s nothing like the real thing, and for that you have to go to Brooklyn...all the way back to 1970.

Mike McPadden is from Brooklyn and, more than that, he’s from the ’70s. Follow him on Twitter.

Heavy Metal
red fang
sir lord baltimore
stoner doom
church of misery