The Battle of the Metals: Zepp and Metallica
by Paul Haifley

When it comes to rock, the best bands have a combination of talent, drive and raw energy.  Many bands have had these redeeming qualities and still have not hit it big or endured over time, revealing the unusual world of rock n’ roll.  When a person thinks of their favorite band or artist it usually conjures memories of driving down the road with the windows down while screaming the words at the top of their lungs, providing an escape from the real world.  These artists have songs that make a person cry, ponder the questions of life, laugh, and break stuff.  When I think of these artists, two particular ones come to mind that have endured the ages and have their own sound.  These artists are Metallica and Led Zeppelin.  Despite both of these bands being incredibly talented and driven, I believe that Led Zeppelin edges out in my book of affinities due to the age in which they played and because of the variety within their music.
Endurance is one of the largest factors for a band’s success.  Both bands have endured throughout the years.  Metallica formed in the 80’s and released their first album, Kill Em’ All, in 1983.  They brought underground heavy metal to the forefront and rock down from the galactic clouds, over accentuated by the hair bands of the 80’s.  Metallica was raw, walking and talking like they were from the street.  They endured the media and tensions within the band to record nine ear-splitting albums between 1983 and 2003, clearly defining and representing the heavy metal genre in case anyone was confused.  They overcame the death of bassist Chris Burton and endured the changing taste of the public and mutating face of music, actually keeping relatively the same sound as before.  While this is very impressive, Metallica had many influences to draw from and were safe from losing an established base of fans, as their “Song Remains the Same” mostly throughout their careers although their genre and personality limited their versatility.
Led Zeppelin formed in 1968 from the demise of the Yardbirds, eventually becoming a record-setting heavy metal force that will never die.  This band produced nine albums between 1969 and 1979, gaining massive popularity and touring relentlessly throughout the majority of that time period.  The band drew off of and combined elements of rock, blues, folk, funk, and psychedelic rock.  They combined these to create what is now known as hard rock.  They experimented with sounds, such as a violin bow on a guitar in the song Kashmir, to produce an overall versatile sound that was unpredictable, highly influential, and unparalleled by anyone.  To create a completely different genre of music by combining totally diverse elements of music is mind blowing.  This band set a precedent and even records for things such as fan attendance for future bands, like Metallica, to strive for.  Metallica, by building on what Led Zeppelin had created, corrected the only aspect bothering me.  Metallica created a harder, grittier, thrashing style than Led Zeppelin, which fulfilled my need for anger in music.  I also respect Metallica for overcoming the death of their bassist, while Zeppelin never overcame the death of their drummer.
When it comes to talent, both of these bands were effervescent with the ability to produce incomparable combinations of sounds to produce a concoction that filled a person’s soul with an overflowing satisfaction.
  Metallica had a raw, gritty lead singer in James Hetfield, whose voice had a definable growl and could hit the high notes also.  Kirk Hammett could produce deep, heavy, fast riffs with his guitar, producing a rhythm that matched Hetfield’s growl and was an overwhelming, hard, in-your-face sound that reverberated throughout the whole band.  Lars Ulrich was a crazy man on the drums, ripping out complex combos that added to the overall chaos of their sound.  Cliff Burton’s bass playing added to the effect of the band.   Metallica had a definable sound and could create any sound they wanted with the lineup that was obtained, but were limited in their genre of thrash metal.
Led Zeppelin was a band that was put together by an all-star from the Yardbirds.  Guitarist Jimmy Page assembled a band first named The New Yardbirds after seeing vocalist Robert Plant sing, recruiting drummer Jon Bonham at Plant’s request from being in a former band with him, and obtaining bassist Jean-Paul Jones from previous recordings and jobs together.  Lead Singer Robert Plant’s high-pitched scream pinpointed the group’s energy and aided in distinguishing them from other bands and even from the rock n’ roll genre.  Jimmy Page’s versatile, inventive, and arguably revolutionary guitar playing propelled the band to new heights.  Bassist Jean-Paul Jones carried the rhythm and complemented Page’s guitar playing like mashed potatoes and gravy, and occasionally could produce his own leading sound.  All of this was brought together by Jon Bonham’s complicated, fast, and hard-hitting drum playing.  These elements combined to form a talented and versatile group.  The only element missing was a heavier sound that jump-started your heart, which Metallica added later. 
The last and most important aspect that these bands needed and had was a combination of soul, energy, and heart.  Metallica had a dark, creepy, hard-hitting style that got inside you and conjured everything up to the surface until it exploded into a fit of rage.  They could also create songs that had soul and created a feeling of reflection and contemplation.   This combined to establish an aggressive and cathartic sound.  The only problem with this was that I’m not always in the mood for the anger of Metallica.  They also disappointed me with their lawsuit against Napster, in which people were allowed to download music for free from the Internet.  It could have been an egotistical move to gain money and pride, or an ethical stand to provide equality for rights to music and profits for them and other bands.  I disagree with their action due to the fact that they have made enough money off of fans, fans will still buy CD’s, and I hope Metallica was not ignorant enough to believe that they stopped free downloading of songs on the expansive Internet.  I think that this took away from the overall integrity of the band and also revealed Lars Ulrich’s true colors, although I believe he is a wonderful drummer.
To contrast the monstrous energy and rage of Metallica, Led Zeppelin combined tales of love, folklore, and mythology to match the mythical sounds of Page’s guitar and Bonham’s thunderous drums.  They created almost completely different songs on every album, causing a person to unknowingly listen to every track all the way through due to the anticipation and unpredictability of each song.  With each track they seemed to create something new, with a freestyle and free-flowing feel to it, as if every time they recorded it was jammed out right there in the studio with no writing involved and the artists being allowed to shine for as long as they wanted.  The only thing stopping them on an album was space on a record or disc, and that change when they played live.  During live shows they could play one song for thirty minutes, revealing more versatility and love for the music. 
When comparing the aspects of these two super bands, it is obvious that they both revolutionized the music industry, as well as affected the mindset of millions of people around the world in relation to what the soul, energy, and definition of rock n’ roll is.  Whereas Metallica does produce a heavier and more aggressive sound, Led Zeppelin wins in my book because of their versatility in being able to produce almost any sound imaginable, by recreating rock n’ roll and creating the new genre of hard rock, accumulating a never-ending legacy, and most importantly creating a collection of songs that will never grow tired of enlightening me to new aspects with each listen and also overachieve the status of greatness.