Led Zeppelin IV (Untitled) (Deluxe Edition)
Houses of the Holy (Deluxe Edition)
by David Chiu
Led Zeppelin made a huge splash earlier this year with the reissue of its first three albums Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III with newly-remastered sound and a second disc of bonus tracks. Now Led Zep returns again with the next installment of its catalog reissue campaign and the two releases in question represent the apex of the band’s popularity at that point. The fourth album, simply known as Untitled or Led Zeppelin IV, is unarguably the definitive and most popular work by the band, with 23 million copies sold in the U.S. Balancing the hard rock and folk sound of the previous albums, Led Zeppelin IV is a virtual greatest hits album in itself with each of the tracks a popular staple on classic rock radio: “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” “When the Levee Breaks,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “The Battle of Evermore,” “Going to California,” and of course the epic Stairway to Heaven, the band’s ultimate signature song. Led Zeppelin IV is one of the cornerstone rock albums of all time that is now augmented by a second disc of alternate versions and rough mixes of the original studio forms. They don’t depart drastically from the final takes, although the subtle additions or subtractions of instrumentation and/or vocal effects offer a new way of hearing tracks that have been ingrained in our heads for so long — whether it’s hearing Robert Plant’s additional yelps like on “Black Dog” and the prominence of the mandolin on “The Battle of Evermore” and “Going to California,” both presented without the vocals.
While Led Zeppelin IV is the masterwork of the band’s oeuvre, Houses of the Holy is truly the magnum opus that is marked by a swagger and confidence coming off the smash success of its predecessor. There’s still the quintessential Led Zeppelin sound forged on the opening track “The Song Remains the Same,” “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “The Ocean.” But Houses of the Holy also marks a stylistic diversity and an indication of its growing musical evolution: there’s a bit of reggae on the bouncy “D’yer Mak’er”; a James Brown-funk pastiche on “The Crunge”; some Middle Eastern/Indian influences on “Dancing Days”; and orchestral beauty on the lovely “The Rain Song.” Even after 40 years, the standout track “No Quarter” still haunts with its ominous overtones that seems worlds away from the electric blues rock from a few years earlier. The bonus disc for this reissue again features rough and alternate mixes of nearly all of Holy‘s tracks with the exception of “D’yer Mak’er”: the vocal-less versions of The Song Remains The Same and Over the Hills and Far Away really highlight Jimmy Page’s guitar work more noticeably, as the rough mix of “No Quarter” showcases John Paul Jones’ haunting multi-instrumental work and John Bonham’s intricate drumming. Again, the bonus tracks don’t present anything too radical sonically but offers a glimpse of the songs in their somewhat skeletal incarnations.
The sound quality on these reissues is excellent and the most pristine to date. As the first three albums heralded the band’s arrival, Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy capture Led Zeppelin at its most mightiest.