Wednesday, February 5, 2014

DB'S Song of the Day (day 36):"NO QUARTER" (1973) Led Zeppelin

Today’s song—yeah, Led Zep again—comes from 1973’s Houses of the Holy, chosen because it suits the kind of weather we’re getting in these parts. This song, written by John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant, is a stately bit of music given much more atmosphere by the way it was recorded. Essentially it’s been recorded at the wrong speed to sound murkier and to create a distortion that makes it feel uncanny. Around this time, the Zep were into magic and tales of swords and sorcery and all that—all of which has returned big time with the likes of Jackson's films of Tolkien’s Rings and then Game of Thrones—and this song, like “The Immigrant Song,” is part of LZ's exploration of Nordic myths: “The snow falls hard and don’t you know / The winds of Thor are blowing cold.”  Pretty much.

Here in the eastern and middle northern U.S., just now, we’re in the midst of gray skies, freezing rain after wet snow, and “the snow drives back the foot that’s slow,” alright. The song, about some band of troopers who have to fight their way through death-threatening weather—to “carry news that must get through”—is apropos, as it fills me with visions of something like the dude in Frank Frazetta’s Silver Warrior (which, I might mention, I painted copies of three different times in those days when Led Zep still trod the earth . . . and, no, I don’t consider the recent reunion in 2007 for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert to be “really” Led Zeppelin, even if it did win a Grammy in 2014).

Frazetta's Silver Warrior
Anyway, the line I always liked best was “Walking side by side with death / The devil mocks their every step.”  But the real glories of this song are not in the lyrics—though Plant’s filtered voice sounds like it’s coming from some other “realm” alright—but in the effects, such as J. P. Jones’ stately little piano section, seeming to float in from somewhere else, that percolating bass line he plays, and the electric piano shimmer that gives it that “woods are dark and deep” feel. Then there’s the riffs Page flings into the mix, all fuzzed-out, especially the part that kicks in after we hear “they choose a path where no one goes”—which is when Plant shifts into his banshee wail for a bit. Then there’s John Bonham launching into crescendos that just about break into out-and-out rout.

The video accompanying this should be something like the final charge into the amassed ranks of Orcs at the siege at Helms’ Deep. “They hold no quarter / They ask no quarter / They give no quarter.”  No mercy, in other words, full slaughter. It’s a blood-thirsty song, well enough, but in the end, to me, it's about merciless weather, coming down on you like an angry horde. The weird effects embellish it all with a lost in the storm ambiance. Like, remember when the Fellowship is trying to cross the mountain pass in the snow before deciding to head under ground at Moria? Like that. The Zep, with songs that drop references to the Misty Mountain, and Mordor, and Gollum, were definitely on that page.

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