Houses of the Holy is near perfect- Even with a bit of the Un-Holy
Houses of The Holy (Remastered, Special 2 LP)
Orig Release Date 28.Mar.1973
We have all had the “Best Led Zeppelin album” discussion at one time or another. Personally, I am a fan of Houses of the Holy. This was my first album purchase to create my own “Stuck on a deserted island w/ only the records I will have for eternity” scenario. When choosing to build my library and coming to Legends of Zep, I chose this as my first crack. A special remastered edition enthralled me with “How good can this Re-Master really be?” wonder. The packaging was re done with homage and respect to the original including a blue cover version on the back and new trifold design featuring the original interior artwork when opening the first fold and 2 band photos when opening the second fold. A classic band photo in front of the Intercontinental Zeppelin Jet and a live show photo of the band ripping it up grace the eyes on the final opening. An included lyric sheet and liner notes tastefully top off the documentation of songwriting info and credits required for your eyes to peruse while listening to the fantastic audio voyage you are about to embark on. The included lyric sheet helps to correct years of incorrectly sang lyrics previously burned into your psyche and reveal a few lyrics still hidden in the mix you have to find. Since this album has been reviewed a million times before and you already know my standing on it, I will try to focus on the Re-master quality and help you decide on if this is a required purchase or not. I will also let you in on some helpful info that would have modified my purchase had I known what I am about to tell you, my good friends.
The Song Remains The Same
It comes to life like the sound of a new car and then gets as intense as the most spectacular ride you can be on. The guitar lead grabs your attention and rattles your brain like an alarm bell telling you to pay attention because this is an experience you will never forget. The bass line has a life of its own and carves powerful notches into song like stone carvings while the guitar whips around as intricately as you have never heard. While the drums have their own lead feel, they are not totally in focus as some of the other songs. Each Remastered Song on this album seems to bring to light certain instruments vital in the understanding of each piece of audio artwork. Plants vocals are smooth and mixed perfectly on each channel and show no reserve when you need to be whipped around after the guitar is done with you. The guitar solos are so perfectly nailed you wonder how many takes it actually took to nail every note of pure perfection. This is the type of guitar playing everyone who ever picked up a guitar strives to be. The mix on this song is pure perfection and easily makes your confident in your decision.
What a way to open an album. How the hell do you follow up with that?
The Rain Song
While this does slow down the momentum from the opener, it is a needed breath for the moment. The multiple guitars on opposite channels compliment each other perfectly. The bass is just present enough. The strings just seem to flow like water, but don’t take the focus from the main stage that leads you through The Rain Song. The piano notes add a touch of class that is tailored perfectly. Bonzo’s ocean cymbal splashes are controlled effortlessly with perfection. Emphasized when needed, and withdrawn slightly until the classic comes to a head and displays how LZ can take your emotions on a journey like a screenplay that is framed in cinematic glory.
Over the Hills and Far Away
The opening guitar riff shows a clever lick that makes you wonder if Jimmy Page is just jamming or laying down the intro of another five star guitar track. He begins to answer your question as the subdued first track lays into the second stereo intricacy forming another legendary LZ classic. The channels are separated perfectly and make you choose which guitar to listen to until you can come back and enjoy it all over again. Then Plant gets into the mix. He sounds beautifully close in the mix and smooth as silk until it all erupts into Zeppelin Gold. What side of the mix you listen to is the biggest decision to make at the moment. Do I listen to the rocking guitar or the acoustic jamming? It is the whole reason this album is like heroin. You NEED to listen to it over and over for a different listening experience every time. Classic solos that you listen to on the first round, multi-tracked guitar rhythms on the next and don’t forget that pan back and forth between the guitar solo.. Holy Crap. Mixing Genius.
Love the classic Bonzo and JPJ riff. This one is definitely their wheel house and shows you how intricate they play together with the bond of cement and precision of an Exacto Knife. Its like an album track born from a jam session by 2 rythm experts. I believe that it may be an early precursor to free-verse melting into a hip hop style that made anyone who looked at all the vocals present over a basic beat start to wonder what else can be done with this free form style of vocals.
The mix opens with Classic Bonzo keeping straight while punishing the basic drum patterns assumed, only to be switched up to our amazement. The guitar leads fit nicely into all the pockets created and sounds very precise. The mix seems very tight and not as open sounding as the first side of the EP but still no shame to be had as it is still beautifully classy. Plants vocals seem grounded and solid.
The drums are so crisp and the cymbals make your eyes water. This is the spotlight BONZO song. This is the sound drummers drool over and try to recreate. The mix is pristine and beautiful. The guitar is tight and split perfectly. You can hear the guitar overdub in the mix if you listen to the verse where the guitar tracks every other measure, but only if you listen very closely. While the bass does not seem as present, upon further inspection you can hear it is playfully dancing and adding a wonderful bottom ended net a bit higher on the neck of the bass. The Vocals have the perfect space to them and perfect amount of reverb. This track truly feels like you are sitting the middle of the band while they record this track and is a shining star of a Re-Mastered track.
Truly Spacey. This is a peak of the album for me. The single bass notes command attention while you are trying to wrap your brain around the lead. This is an anthem for me. The song is so unique I struggle to think of how it was even born. So much instrumentation and leads on each instrument. It’s absolutely CRAZY. The Vocals are incredible. You know it’s Plant, but that filter and effects makes it fit perfectly into this trip. Its almost like the Drums are reassuring you that you are still on earth while giving you a taste of what musical Gods create. I can’t believe this song was released on this planet, let alone in 1973. The piano is incredibly laid back and tucked in the mix while the low necked guitar solo plays on the bed of imagination and keeping you in the same head space of the intricate intro leads. . A little bit of distortion is present in Plants tube-like Vocals in the last section. As well as a little sizzle towards the end of the mix. I wish it was a little more controlled in order to preserve the perfection that this song is. But by the time you notice it the song is over and you are back to reflecting on how amazing a track that was. This however, is the beginning of the end for this amazing trip as our Re-Mastering train flies off the rails at this point.
This mix is totally horrible. It has the potential to rock like The Song Remains the Same, but the awful pressing totally ruins the hard work that is put into this legendary album. This is def a pressing issue. The mix seems to be good but the vocals are totally torched along with the rhythm guitar tracks. Cracks, Pops, Distortion almost make this song unlistenable. Its almost as bad as a poorly sampled and squashed mp3. The last breakout of the song only celebrates the poor mix even more. It makes you want to check every connection on your record player and put another album on as a reference piece. The first time I listened to this I was in total amazement. How could my audio perfection take an un-holy audio dump at the last minute? Upon some research in the LZ online community, I come to find out the USA pressing had someone asleep at the wheel somehow and caused The Ocean to sound like a typhoon of awful. Apparently the UK version of the same release does not have this issue as it is made by another Vinyl Presser. I quickly went to the digital audio release version and gave it a listen. I know any time of digital release WILL SOUND DIFFERENT. I wanted another Vinyl copy to compare to, but sadly I have no other point of reference. The digital version of The Ocean, as listened to on iTunes restores the glory to the Re-master. Crisp and Perfect in comparison to the other tracks on the record. I feel somewhat cheated and wish I could return my copy and buy the UK version, but sad to say that ship has sailed for now. It seems that the best way to avoid the US version of disaster Re-Master is to login to the Amazon.uk site and order it from there. I have not tried this, but a few happy candidates on that forum have and are satisfied.
All that aside the album ends very abruptly and you immediately look for “Whats next???!” . It’s hard believe that the ride ended so quickly. I can easily listen to this album 100 more times and still find myself chasing the dragon. Maybe that was the idea.
The Companion Audio Includes
The Song Remains the Same- guitar overdub reference mix
The Rain Song- Mix Minus Piano
Over the Hills and Far Away- Guitar Backing Track
The Crunge- Rough Mix- Keys Up
Dancing Days- Rough Mix w/ Vocal
No Quarter- Rough mix w/ no Vocal
The Ocean- Working mix.
The Companion Audio included on the second disc is only for the Zeppelin tattooed fan who needs to have every single mix available. Personally, I would have been happier with some live versions of the album tracks similar to the Deluxe Edition of LZ I released on vinyl. While these offer another snapshot of the recordings, they hardly seem as interesting as a true “demo” version of the song.
Red Front, Original Cover,
HOTH Paper slip cover to cover the controversial artwork
3 Panel opens to
Dual interior artwork then opens to classic band photo in front of the LZ tour plane in center panel and and live band photo on the far right panel.
All in all, I would say its a 4 out of 5 star release. The sound of the album before it takes a dump is breathtaking. The packaging makes me appreciate the release more and want to read every lyric as it passes during listening. It would easily be a 5/5 star release if they had a warranty swap out for the terrible mix LP and tossed a true demo or some live tracks. Im still taking it to the island with me, but I’m skipping The Ocean.