If there’s a lesson to be learned from “The Battle of Evermore,” it’s that sometimes the coolest guys in the room are also into Dungeons and Dragons. Led Zeppelin were the biggest and baddest swinging dicks of the heavy blues era, but they were also prone to full-on flights of fantasy-lit nerdery. So after they bludgeoned you over the head with “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll,” out come the mandolins and lyrical hocus pocus. It’s as if the conquering barbarians put aside their weapons of heavy metal destruction and settled in for a night of drink and song.
How is it that a song without electric guitar, bass, or even John Bonham on drums stands every bit as tall as the rest of this epic album? Robert Plant in his prime certainly helps. He wasn’t known for being a conventionally strong singer, but when he was in his comfort zone, you couldn’t imagine anyone else singing the part. This is one of his finest moments, spinning lines of Tolkien-esque gobbledygook into the stuff of Arthurian legend. Nobody, outside of maybe Stevie Nicks, could convincingly pull off such lyrical chicanery without sounding like some buffoon at a renaissance fair.
Also bringing mucho gravitas to the proceedings is the great Sandy Denny. She’s the perfect foil for Plant. Her bonafide folk-rock lends an air of credibility, and the brilliant timbre of her voice conjures a vaguely Celtic/medieval flavour that when paired with Jimmy Page’s unfussy mandolin strumming, soars to panoramic heights. It’s nice to hear the mandolin reclaimed from the dusty realm of sad-bastard country warbling. It’s yet another in a long line of Page’s attempts to emulate distinctly American sounds, but never quite making it off of the British Isles. Even when he failed to get to his destination, he always landed somewhere undeniably awesome. It’s a great lesson: sometimes you strive to sound like your heroes and fall short, but end up sounding like yourself.