We Come From the Land of the Ice and Snow
Swordsman Trivett Wingo unsheathes 'Led Zeppelin III'
Heavy metal's manifest destiny never staked a more righteous and undeniably apropos claim than Led Zeppelin III Viking flagship "Immigrant Song." Robert Plant's wordless invocation, Jimmy Page's "threshing oar," John Paul Jones' battering basslines, and the marching beat-down of John Bonham conquered a subgenre still in its infancy with lexiconic imagery that forever branded its generational spawn:
The hammer of the gods
Will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying:
Valhalla, I am coming!
The Sword's scrappy plundering of "Immigrant Song" found its way onto last fall's 12-inch vinyl split with Swedish sorcerers Witchcraft, the Austin overlords stripping their cover down to oaken basics with a shipyard snarl. By contrast, the local quartet's April 1 sophomore release for New York indie Kemado Records, Gods of the Earth, hammers the Sword into the ultimate killing machine where even Page and Plant's LZ3 opener "calmed the tides of war."
Inasmuch as the Sword's steady-selling debut, Age of Winters, advances stoically through Napoleonic snowdrifts of riff (see "Winter's Wolves," Feb. 3, 2006), Gods of the Earth takes the River City crew from mono to stereo, varying tempo, song length, and tonal palette while remaining dazzlingly compact in all but the band's epic vision. From crystalline intro "The Sundering" and three-minute amputations "How Heavy This Axe" and "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians" to five towering minutes of "Lords" and closing hydroelectric-damn bursts "The Black River" and "The White Sea," Gods of the Earth headquarters in Valhalla.
Atomizing the album live, start to finish, the Sword's exclusive day party debut of Gods during South by Southwest 08 at Spider House's neighboring United States Art Authority now stands as one of the local foursome's most fearsome hometown sunderings. And there have been a few such absolute crushers since the Sword's 2004 in-store debut at North Loop music emporium Sound on Sound. Low ceilings trap high-watt chain reactions starting in the sternum.
The week prior to SXSW, Trivett Wingo (né Trivett Copley Wingo), the band's ever-lively drummer and still manager, took up the gauntlet of dialoguing a favorite album via e-mail. His online discourse and in-person wrap-up on the eve of a UK tour dispel the notion of metal producing only leaden IQs while reaffirming the music's cast-iron ecstasy. Why 1970's LZ3?
"Led Zeppelin III and 'Immigrant Song' introduced the world to the term 'heavy metal,'" wrote Trivett, 29, initially. "The fact that this song appears on an album dominated by folk and blues really speaks volumes."
Austin Chronicle: Nice choice.
Trivett Wingo: I've just been a fanatical Zeppelin fan since I first heard them in third grade. As I've grown older, III has become for me the greatest Led Zeppelin album. Led Zeppelin along with Black Sabbath and bands like Deep Purple are the inventors of metal. People seem to forget that heavy metal was/is just a type of rock music. Zeppelin III really challenges the narrow-minded and uneducated newcomers who want to redefine heavy metal in terms of newer subgenres that are more derived than seminal and authoritative.
AC: If I'm not mistaken, though, Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" coined the musical term "heavy metal," which isn't in "Immigrant Song."
TW: I think "Born to Be Wild" is the first song to use "heavy metal" in the lyrics, but I seem to remember reading in the book Hammer of the Gods that "Immigrant Song" was the first actual song that the term was applied to in print. The term was coined to describe that song. I'm not sure how accurate that book is, though. Robert Plant refuses to read it based solely on its authorship.
Independent of the issue of print, "Immigrant Song" is arguably one of the first real metal jams. It was, of course, performed loud as fuck, had a chunky evil riff at its root, featured some admirably fast fretwork on bass, and had lyrics about Vikings. Sounds like metal.
On a side note, I don't think Led Zeppelin's metalness began with "Immigrant Song." LZ II is a heavy metal album too, just predates the terminology.
AC: Has the Sword toured Scandinavia?
TW: We've toured Scandinavia from Malmö to Finland, and they eat that shit up with a spoon. Norway is probably the place we get played on the radio the most in the world.
AC: Ever visit the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo? "Immigrant Song" loops in your head in the presence of those vessels.
TW: Don't recall making it to any museums, but then again there's a lot I don't remember. Wanna talk about loops? I only have a tape deck in my car. A couple of years ago, I popped in a Led Zeppelin III cassette and didn't eject it for a full month.
AC: Think Zeppelin ever visited the Viking Ship Museum? I always liked that Mastodon made a group pilgrimage to Phil Lynott's grave in Dublin. Has the Sword ever done anything like that?
TW: Nothing that awesome. We did make it a point to visit as many castles as possible on our last trip to the UK. And we ate some reindeer in Helsinki (sorry, don't know what that has to do with anything). One time JD and I went to the building that's on the cover of Physical Graffiti, but that was years ago, before the Sword.
AC: One of my LZ3 favorites is an outtake – "Poor Tom," from Coda. Then there's "Hey Hey What Can I Do," B-side to "Immigrant Song."
TW: Very interesting. Here's the Led Zeppelin playlist I made for a plane trip about a month ago to shoot a video in L.A. [for Gods' "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians"]: "Bron-Yr-Aur," "Sick Again," "We're Gonna Groove," "Poor Tom," "Travelling Riverside Blues," "White Summer/Black Mountain Side," "Hey Hey What Can I Do."
I've gotten so burnt on the staples that these are some of the only tracks that really get me high these days. These are also just some of my favorite Zeppelin tunes regardless.
AC: Burnout is a very germane subject with Led Zeppelin.
TW: I got burned out really hard a long time ago and then have only been able to listen intermittently over the last 10 or 15 years, with the exception of becoming totally obsessed with certain records, most notably III, Presence, and Physical Graffiti – stuff I didn't really devote much time to the first time around. The Sword/Funeralizer did a cover show as Led Zeppelin II where we faithfully re-created that album live. Not to brag, but we nailed that shit down to the bare-handed drum solo. I think I have a recording somewhere. The funny thing was that it was so spot-on that people's minds were blown, and they assumed we had had to rehearse for months to pull that off. We actually had just three practices, and I barely even listened to the record but a couple of times. The songs were etched into my DNA just waiting to be played.
AC: Seen any of the band live?
TW: Never have, but we're playing Bonnaroo this year, and Robert Plant's gonna be there with Alison Krauss. I have this dream that he would be willing to get onstage with us and sing "Immigrant Song," which we already cover, of course. Mentioned to my booking agent trying to contact his management about this, but I don't think it's anything that could be seriously entertained.
AC: For your same reasoning, LZ3 was a real discovery for me, so I ended up wanting less rockers à la "Out on the Tiles" and more hootenanny fare like "Gallows Pole."
TW: When I first got Led Zeppelin III back at, say, age 9 or 10, I liked "Immigrant Song" and the rock and blues stuff on side one but had no patience with "Gallows Pole," "Tangerine," and the mellower stuff like that. I remember trying to get into it and it just not working for me at that age. I wanted more "Whole Lotta Love," "Living Loving Maid," and "Heartbreaker"-type shit that you could crank up and jump on the couch to. (I used to turn my jambox up full blast, put on Zeppelin tapes, and generally bounce off the walls and go nuts to that shit, especially "Over the Hills and Far Away.") It wasn't until a couple of years ago – that month I listened to III constantly – that I started enjoying the whole album. Basically, the same [Funeralizer] lineup that had done LZII live also did "Out on the Tiles," though we never played it live, and not long after that, the Sword started playing "Immigrant Song." We did it as part of a medley of covers one night at the Whisky Bar, when we took a whole show to ourselves, dubbed "An Evening With the Sword." We ended up padding out our first European sets with "Immigrant Song" for the reasons that A) we didn't have an hour's worth of original material yet and B) we were immigrants driving our ships to new lands to sing and cry.
More recently I started to really en-joy "Gallows Pole," "Tangerine," and "Friends" to the point that I bought an acoustic guitar (though I've never played guitar) to try and learn acoustic Zeppelin songs, so I could understand them better. This then sparked my interest in Roy Harper, whose album Stormcock is a straight-up masterpiece, and Bert Jansch, from whom Jimmy Page stole "Black Mountain Side." Bert Jansch's first album really blows my mind. People go back and forth on whether "Black Mountain Side" is "stolen" from Jansch, and the gainsayers fall on the argument that his "Blackwaterside" is a traditional, and you can't steal something like that. Having personally researched this, I've realized that the lyrics and vocal melody are the traditional part, and what makes each artist's rendition distinct is how they deliver it and what they compose on the guitar to accompany it. Page just took the guitar accompaniment Jansch wrote and then left off the vocals. Voilà! "Black Mountain Side."
To get back to "Gallows Pole," "Tangerine," etc., I think what's so inspiring about those songs is how powerful they are in the moments where there's only guitar and vocals. There's something so immediate, pure, and essential about this instrumentation. It's the tradition of troubadours and itinerant minstrel blues singers. There's something almost fablelike about traveling with a guitar and that being all you need to put on a show. Something liberating about that. It's almost a kind of vulnerability to need electricity and a truck full of gear to do your show. I have a real admiration for bands whose songs can still have their effect without the need for power outlets.
AC: LZ3's "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" definitely qualifies as one of those.
TW: I did just get ahold of this The Roots of Led Zeppelin disc that came out with MOJO a few years back and has Bukka White, Bert Jansch, Joan Baez, John Fahey, Howlin' Wolf, etc. on it. It's really rad. I rather like Joan Baez's version of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You."