Music

All That Glitters: Led Zeppelin - "The Battle of Evermore"

Leaving behind heavy metal bombast for high fantasy, on "The Battle of Evermore" Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant duets with folk singer Sandy Denny for a thrilling mandolin-driven epic inspired by Celtic myth and some books about hobbits.


Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin IV

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 1971-11-08
UK Release Date: 1971-11
Amazon
iTunes

Before you inevitably ask, let’s set the record straight: yes, this song is totally referencing J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings book series.

Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy had unexpectedly found an enthusiastic readership among the hippie generation, who were awed by the writer’s dense epic about ancient realms, hobbit-folk, and wise bearded mystics. And in spite of his strutting, sex-charged stage persona, Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant was nothing if not a total Black Country hippie. Not only did Plant devour Tolkien’s tomes enthusiastically (a huge fan, he even named his dog Strider, after the alias the hero Aragorn assumes in the first Lord of the Rings book, The Fellowship of the Ring), but was also a history buff, delving into books about Celtic mythology and Middle Ages military history.

Plant’s favorite sections in the library make themselves apparent on the charging Celtic folk of “The Battle of Evermore”, one of the purest examples of the singer’s flowering as a lyricist on Led Zeppelin IV. The musical side of the song originated during a late night at Headley Grange, the old manor where Led Zeppelin IV was recorded, when guitarist Jimmy Page picked up one of bassist John Paul Jones’ stray mandolins to fiddle around with, leading to him and Plant writing the tune on the spot. Plant’s conception for the lyrics however originated back during songwriting sessions for Led Zeppelin III (1970), when he and Page where holed up in a cottage in the serene Welsh countryside to craft that largely-acoustic record.

Having been encouraged by Page to handle more of the lyric-writing himself, on “The Battle of Evermore” Plant eschews verses about loose women and his raging libido in favor of straight-up high fantasy, a topic that would soon become an overabundant heavy metal trope due in no small part to Led Zeppelin’s popularization of the subject matter. In the song, Plant is essentially describing the Battle of the Pelennor Fields from The Return of the King, name-checking Tolkien characters Aragorn (“The prince of peace”), Eowyn (“The queen of light”), and the villainous Sauron (“The dark lord”) and his fearsome Ringwraiths (who “ride in black”). This isn’t exactly Middle-Earth, though, as Plant also mentions the “angels of Avalon”, a distinct reference to Arthurian lore. Plant’s not really trying to painstakingly relate one particular event from lore; instead, Plant is smooshing his inspirations together to craft a mythic battle of his own that despite its late 20th century origins reads as if it was born eons earlier.

Plant and his group succeed admirably. Coupled with the lyrics, the naked acoustics of the mandolins and Celtic-tinged melodies of “The Battle of Evermore” result in a track that sounds positively legendary compared to the more modern, post-industrial society likes of “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll”. The song’s slow fade-in at the start enhances the mood, as if the listener was learning of an ancient tale as it gradually became unobscured by the mists of time. There’s no percussion of any kind on the track, but Page maintains an urgent, rhythmic thrust in the way he plays the chiming chords of the mandolin--punctuated by sharp chord stabs at pivotal moments—that pushes the song continually forward, making the song as exciting and blood-pumping as any of Zeppelin’s heavy rockers.

“The Battle of Evermore” didn’t just spring from the ether with no direct precedent, though. Though the band’s debt to (or outright pilfering of, depending on who you talk to and which song is being discussed) the blues is common knowledge, what’s often overlooked in comparison is how much of an impact the vibrant British folk scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s had on the group, particularly Zeppelin favorites Bert Jansch, Roy Harper, and Fairport Convention. The folk influence was there from the start, functioning as the “light” that balanced out the heavy metal “shade” to create the nuanced stylistic constrains Page strove to maintain, but it was the unjustly underrated Led Zeppelin III that underlined its presence in Zeppelin’s sonic stew. Unfortunately, the negative fan reaction to that LP’s acoustic character meant that the band felt it had something to prove with its subsequent full-length, meaning in the greater context of Led Zeppelin IV tracklist “The Battle of Evermore” comes off as a strange yet thrilling non-rock detour after the full-on metal bombast of the first two cuts, instead of a logical full extension of a previously-established furrow that it actually was.

Zep’s affection for contemporary British folk is made even more tangible on record by the guest appearance of former Fairport Convention vocalist Sandy Denny on “The Battle of Evermore”, who acts a mournful counterpoint to Plant’s narration, functioning in Plant’s words as “the town crier urging people to throw down their weapons”. Denny more than ably complements Plant, matching him every step of the way as his delivery builds in intensity on the journey to the song's climax (Denny mentioned in a 1973 interview that the session had left her “hoarse”, and added, “Having someone out-sing you is a horrible feeling . . .”). Denny’s voice is airy and angelic, almost otherworldly in its timeless timbre; it’s no wonder Led Zeppelin afforded Denny the honor of her very own rune, just like the ones each member of the group received on the album’s artwork.


Previous entries:

* "Black Dog"

* "Rock and Roll"

Music
Music

Chewing the Fat: Rapper Fat Tony on His Latest Work From Hip-hop's Leftfield

Fat Tony proves a bright, young artist making waves amongst the new generation of hip-hop upstarts.

Music

The Bobby Lees Strike the Punk-Blues Jugular on Jon Spencer-Produced 'Skin Suit'

The Bobby Lees' Skin Suit is oozing with sex, sweat and joyful abandon. It's a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing's got you by the short hairs.

Music

Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.

Music

Daniel Avery's Versatility Is Spread Rather Thin on 'Love + Light'

Because it occasionally breaks new ground, Daniel Avery's Love + Light avoids being an afterthought from start to finish. The best moments here are generally the hardest-hitting ones.

Music

Buscabulla Chronicle a Return to Puerto Rico in Chic Synthwave on 'Regresa'

Buscabulla's authenticity -- along with dynamite production chops and musicianship -- is irreplaceable, and it makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Books
Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.

Books

'Perramus: The City and Oblivion' Depicts Argentina's Violent Anti-Communist Purge

Juan Sasturain and Alberto Breccia's graphic novel Peraramus: The City and Oblivion, is an absurd and existential odyssey of a political dissident who can't remember his name.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Film
Film

The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Recent
Music

Chewing the Fat: Rapper Fat Tony on His Latest Work From Hip-hop's Leftfield

Fat Tony proves a bright, young artist making waves amongst the new generation of hip-hop upstarts.

Music

The Bobby Lees Strike the Punk-Blues Jugular on Jon Spencer-Produced 'Skin Suit'

The Bobby Lees' Skin Suit is oozing with sex, sweat and joyful abandon. It's a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing's got you by the short hairs.

Books

'Perramus: The City and Oblivion' Depicts Argentina's Violent Anti-Communist Purge

Juan Sasturain and Alberto Breccia's graphic novel Peraramus: The City and Oblivion, is an absurd and existential odyssey of a political dissident who can't remember his name.

Music

Daniel Avery's Versatility Is Spread Rather Thin on 'Love + Light'

Because it occasionally breaks new ground, Daniel Avery's Love + Light avoids being an afterthought from start to finish. The best moments here are generally the hardest-hitting ones.

Music

Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.

Music

Buscabulla Chronicle a Return to Puerto Rico in Chic Synthwave on 'Regresa'

Buscabulla's authenticity -- along with dynamite production chops and musicianship -- is irreplaceable, and it makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.

Film

The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.

Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Music

Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.

Music

Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.

Reviews

Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.

Reviews

'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.

Reviews

Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.