Music

The Album Remains the Same: Led Zeppelin - "No Quarter"

The proto-doom metal masterpiece "No Quarter" is a classic case of a brilliant track that becomes even more enormous in its live incarnations.


Led Zeppelin

Houses of the Holy

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 1973-03-28
UK Release Date: 1973-03-28
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Thick, smoky plumes of fog creep along a mass of green hills, enveloping the countryside in a blinding gray. At first, there is nothing. But then, suddenly, a war horn blares through the murky clouds, a noise so loud that the blades of grass begin to quiver with the oscillation of the sound waves. Shortly after, these quivers give way to earth-rumbling trembling as a stampede of ironclad soldiers flood the rolling hills, swords and maces in hand.

This is the image evoked by the first 30 seconds of "No Quarter", the seventh track on Houses of the Holy. As the last seconds of the comedy reggae jam "D'Yer Mak'er" fade in to silence, an ominous synthesizer melody is quietly introduced. Then, a single bass note is plucked—echoing deeply, as if ringing through a gorge—further deepening the morose mood of this opening salvo. It's hard to believe for a moment that things have progressed in this way; not but a song ago, Led Zeppelin were leaving the listener equally perplexed and amused (not to mention irate in some cases) with their bizarro take on reggae. To shift to the chilly pre-battle landscape of "No Quarter" may seem like an odd move following such an uncharacteristic Zeppelin track. But, truth be told, there really is no proper way to transition to a song like "No Quarter". Even if the band had placed a full-throttle rocker like "Black Dog" before this cut, there still would be an unavoidable sense of foreboding with the opening notes to this song. The power of "No Quarter" has yet to falter 40 years after it was release to the public. It's undoubtedly one of Zeppelin's compositional masterpieces.

In his Between the Grooves series on Led Zeppelin IV, AJ Ramirez wrote,

Zeppelin always refused to restrict itself to bludgeoning caveman headbangers (something which would result in metal fans often positioning Black Sabbath—an ensemble that is on record as being enamored by and taking cues from Zep—as the “proper” founding father of metal), instead maintaining a broad stylistic palette that incorporated acoustic instruments and diverse ethnic sounds to realize the “light and shade” dynamics Page strove for.

Led Zeppelin's status as the classic rock band is, for the most part, undisputed. Placing them in the lineage of heavy metal, however, is a trickier exercise. Black Sabbath, commonly regarded as the progenitor of the genre, were themselves indebted to Led Zeppelin, and Sabbath itself didn't mark a clean break from classic rock. Rock and heavy metal are deeply interwoven genres, especially in the formative years of the latter. As Canadian metal critic Adrien Begrand once said, "Metal writers should not only know their metal history, but rock n' roll history as well." Being heavy isn't a mutually exclusive goal for the rocker and for the metalhead; stylistic divides between the two undoubtedly exist, a fact simple dichotomies aren't likely to illustrate well.

"No Quarter" is an important case where the lineage of classic rock and metal are fused together. Though not the heaviest of Zeppelin tracks, the song is undoubtedly metal in its mood and execution. I would argue that the track is one of the early examples of what is now referred to as doom metal; though this genre is most commonly tied to the lugubrious, plodding meters of Sabbath, the textural and atmospheric nature of this track makes it easy to see as an instance of proto-doom metal. The minor-key sonic terrain created by the synthesizers and keys on "No Quarter", along with the language of mythic warfare in its lyrical matter, makes this one of Led Zeppelin's defining "metal" moments. If one were to slow this track way, way down and imagine the four members of the band enrobed in ringwraith cloaks, they'd fit extremely well at a Sunn 0))) concert.

The metallic aspect of "No Quarter" really kicks in after the portentous synthesizer opener. After the drums come in and Jimmy Page strums a few shimmering chords, a wicked cool guitar riff comes to the forefront. The band is especially skilled here in their balance of the pervading sense of bloodshed and (what would later be seen as) a hip-hop sensibility; like "When the Levee Breaks" and "The Crunge" before it, this opening guitar/drum interplay would work marvelously as a sample. Yet this riff only stays for a little while; not long after it sets the chord progression for the song, the doomy synthesizers pick back up once again, forming maliciously tranquil verses.

"The winds of Thor are blowing cold", Plant intones. As a spiritual successor to Zoso's "The Battle of Evermore", "No Quarter" shifts the talk of warfare away from the realm of J.R.R. Tolkien references to a philosophical discussion on the nature of violence. The armies of this song "choose the path where no-one goes"; Plant's inversion of the Biblical aphorism about the narrow gate is an extremely good, menacing move here. This path is equally as mysterious as the message carried by the soldiers "wearing steel that's bright and true", Plant insists "they carry news that must get through", but it's never made explicit what this news is. The only thing made certain in the lyrics is that these soldiers—whoever they might be—"hold no quarter". As depicted in the song, these soldiers—also called "dogs of doom"—are a pervasive, relentless force, one that nature could not ever restrain. The world of "No Quarter" is one where violence has reached its point of no return, a fact reflected by the music; rather than getting caught up in brutalizing riffs or feverish arrangement, Zeppelin lets the ambiance set the scene. There is no point in trying to fight against the soldiers who have abandoned surrender. To embrace the doom is the only option.

Within the lyrics themselves, this phrase is potent, but in a large sense context-less. As a metaphor about Led Zeppelin's live performances, however, it's spot-on. Houses of the Holy, as mentioned in the Between the Grooves piece on "D'Yer Mak'er", gets its title from the band's view about the venues they performed in on their famous world tours. They viewed their concerts as, in an oblique way, an act of communion and—dare I say it—worship. With the introduction of "No Quarter" into their live set, the band stated their MO as a live outfit quite clear: they "hold no quarter." They don't let their music do anything other than unleash its unrestrained energy out on to the public. The message is left up to interpretation, but if there's one thing that's evidently clear it is Led Zeppelin's non-negotiable desire to rock.

Though there are many contenders for the title, "No Quarter" stands out as the ubiquitous Led Zeppelin live song. The song takes up a pretty expansive seven minutes of Houses of the Holy, but live it becomes something else; at times, the group would go on for fifteen minutes, really letting the song breathe. The part of the track that begins around 3:00 into the LP version where John Paul Jones begins playing an acoustic piano is where the live version really escalates. Jones would frequently incorporate different classical motifs into his piano solo, enhancing the already epic quality of the track significantly. The two live versions available—one on The Song Remains the Same, the other on the recently released Celebration Day—are phenomenal showcases for Zeppelin's stature as a live band with a force to be reckoned with. The latter is especially worth listening to, as it more than any other song in the 2007 reunion show demonstrated the band's timeless vitality. Page may have looked a little withered on stage compared to his presence in Zeppelin's glory days, but on "No Quarter" he really lets his guitar playing cut loose with an extravagant amount of wah-wah effects.

When that nine-and-a-half minute version of "No Quarter" ceremoniously concludes, it reveals itself to be one of Led Zeppelin's defining moments as a band. Even after ending their career on a relatively weaker note (though, let it be known: In Through the Out Door is awesome), they still managed to take no quarter live, wrinkled and aged though they may have been. "No Quarter" is emblematic of the band Led Zeppelin have always been: innovative, heavy, and, perhaps most importantly, uncompromising. As heavy metal began to rise from the same primordial ooze that wrought hard rock in the early '70s, it was songs like "No Quarter" that provided a key link into the evolution of the genre. The rock and metal worlds would be very different today were it not for this resounding battle cry.


Previous Installments

*Introduction / "The Song Remains the Same"

*”The Rain Song”

*"Over the Hills and Far Away”

*”The Crunge”

*”Dancing Days”

*"D'Yer Mak'er"

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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