While many would probably disagree, for me the high point of the amazing Led Zeppelin was this album and the various tours of 1973. All that had come before was synthesized with elements the band would work out later in their career to make a very well-balanced, mature, and influential album. The first thing I’ve always liked about this disc is the bright and clear production value, which even Jimmy Page has been quoted as saying was maybe the best they ever had. All the tracks and all of the instruments sound great on this record and it sounds really good crankin’ loud! The band’s comfort in the studio and Jimmy Page’s abilities to do what he called “building up guitar armies” were taken to a whole new level and that’s the second thing I like about the album. Because of these factors, Houses of the Holy expanded on the blues rock foundations Zeppelin had mined through the first 4 albums and laid the groundwork for later tunes like Kashmir and Achilles Last Stand.
It has the incredibly classic and ambitious The Song Remains the Same, which is not only one of John Bonham’s greatest rhythm tracks, but also contains some of Jimmy Page’s best soloing. Other great hard rock crunch includes The Ocean, No Quarter, and Over the Hills and Far Away — phenomenal Zeppelin material for sure! Then there is the intricate open-tuned glorious blues with mellotron of The Rain Song, the chimey guitar / almost Beatle-esque Dancing Days, the drum slam of D’yer Maker and the John Paul Jones favorite The Crunge. All of the bombast of the band, which they did better than anyone, is used more for effect and less as a rule on this album. There would still be plenty of over-the-top crunch on tour and on the four sides of the next album, Physical Graffiti, but this album shows the band in a comfortable and more diverse plane of existence. As a guitarist I can’t help but marvel at the sounds Page got on all of these tunes, especially Dancing Days, The Rain Song, The Song Remains the Same, The Ocean and Over the Hills and Far Away. These are all classic Zeppelin guitar rips and I have had great fun over the years jamming on them! Jimmy Page and the rest of the band were certainly inspired to great performances throughout.
Also, the album cover is a classic! It was designed by the legendary Hipgnosis and featured photos of Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland (h/t to reader DC Cardwell)