Knowing that Robert Plant isn't that into heavy metal is weird. In a 2002 interview with Chuck Klosterman, then helming his first special issue as the metal expert at Spin, Plant quipped: "After you finish this issue about the fucking absurdity of boys trying to be more than what they should be—Conan the Warrior goes on tour, or whatever—come see my new show."
Indeed, it's not that Plant just isn't into metal or, rather, that he detests it entirely. It's that he's permanently disavowed the genre for his new mistress of psychedelic rock, insisting that Led Zeppelin—still his meal ticket as the band that directly inspired almost every wave of metal—was never a metal band at all.
But don't fret the heritage: Metal's other patriarch, Ozzy Osbourne (and Sharon!), has done his job to make it known that he is Majesty Metal. He makes money and absurdly bolsters his legacy with branding, leading dozens of generally generic metal monkeys on an international clusterfuck every year. Ozzy became king because the other dude didn't care about the crown, and he seems somehow content (or comatosed?) with that.
But rock journalists aren't so easy. The old guard feels the need to preserve Plant's order: Sample reviews of every recent hard rock or "traditional" metal band to emerge, and see who the reference winner is. Aging rock critics love to post the Led Zeppelin peg on everything because it makes them feel closer to the origins of cool and, more importantly, because they're sort of lazy. It has become a crutch. The result is either a crippling cause or effect, but honestly, it's getting hard to tell the difference.
Take David Fricke, the Rolling Stone senior editor who gets a lengthwise column in every issue to proselytize about the uber-dope jams he's been rocking up in his Manhattan perch. In a recent issue, Fricke tied together three albums with a thread that, by this point, he must half used at least three dozen times: yup—Led God Damn Zeppelin. One of those bands was Earl Greyhound, a Los Angeles trio with co-ed vocals, a heavy bottom and—yes—a loud guitar. You'd think it was nice, being compared favorably to the patriarchs by one of the most prominent music journalists in the land, the guy who gets ponderous in box sets every quarter.
Being compared to Zeppelin, though, is not an enviable position. In fact, it's a stultifying qualifier that means, almost universally, one of two things: Either the band in question is way into the gimmicks that should have been left alone in the '70s, or they write stale takes on bastardized British blues rock—itself a bastardized take on American blues—and play them with "scorching riffs" and "big bottom" grooves.
Whatever: Led Zeppelin was alway a strings of gimmicks, and each act of ultimate bombast—be it the bow to the guitar, the acoustic anthem, the Tolkien tokes or the inane iconography—still enjoys its own legion of acolytes. Some of those gimmicks literally transmogrified the shape of rock and metal, but they're blanched-boy gimmicks nonetheless. They are also three decades old. To wit, if your bandmate ever says, "John Bonham recorded the drums for 'When the Levee Breaks' in a stairwell" or "We totally need to write an acoustic song to go between those two riffers," quit immediately. You will get no further than the doldrums of a Fricke list, and that is no place to be.
There is, though, another Zep route to the same sanctum: Write "earnest, fantastical" rock songs and play them like you mean them. Earl Greyhound does this, stapling rock to soul to attitude, and ostensibly, that makes them sound like Led Zeppelin. But the members of Earl Greyhound are not the members of Led Zeppelin, and it sounds only vaguely like they want to be. They seem kind of just like a middle-of-the-road, already expired rock band. They probably need a gimmick.
In fact, there is no new Zeppelin. There will be no new Zeppelin. Let the kids write songs and sing them. Or perhaps point an in-need-of-a-challenge crowd to somebody like Mastodon, who are probably too good—technically, theatrically, compositionally—to be the new Zeppelin. But what do I know? I think Earl Greyhound is kind of boring. Better call the downtown deans on this one. They'll phone (it in) right back.
Earl Greyhound plays Local 506 on Wednesday, Nov. 22 with Barbarella. They're pretty "Zeppelin-esque," bro.</p>