Review Summary: When people give you weird looks for saying this is your favourite of the tight first 4, remind them that a Led Zeppelin represents a combination of both heavy and light, and has to shed its weight on occasion.
I find it interesting that a band like Led Zeppelin, who have been part of the epic contention for the title of "Forefathers of heavy metal" can still maintain and nurture a wide selection of acoustic songs. In their third effort in just over 18 months critics and Ledheads were treated to a nearly completely acoustic album as a highly unexpected follow-up to I and II. Today it's highly unsurprising to hear of a Metal band going acoustic for a little bit - maybe this explains why I was in awe of Opeth's Blackwater park for reasons other than hearing electric and nylon guitars in the same 10-12 minute epic, which, now that I really stop and think about, is an awesome idea.
Today metal can go in any direction it likes; we've witnessed the creation of millions of little niche genres, like "nintendocore". While some, like this one, offer little to no musical merit, and don't appeal to anyone over the age of 15 with their natural hair colour, it says something about metal's ability to transcend and re-invent itself. However I don't think Led Zeppelin set out to be the forefathers of metal; they would have set out to showcase as much diverse musicianship as they could, and, if it took them a couple of albums to get around to fulfilling such an aspiration, then you can't really complain - how many sophomore/junior albums have you heard where bands are suddenly adding strings and orchestral passages to their songs? That's the sound of a band's secondary agenda, not the sound of inconsistency or self-indulgence.
So now you're convinced that Led Zeppelin III is no longer underrated or frowned upon simply because it's acoustic; it's a key component of Led Zep's repertoire that still makes appearances on setlists in recent times. It's hard to remember that I and III are only 18 months apart in release date. Today we pine for such frequent material turnover. Therefore, when you remember that this album came out in late 1970, all the folk influences are suddenly justified. Each song on III is just as appropriately Zeppelin as anything on their prior two albums, even offering, as the others did, an appropriation or "cover" of a folk song that goes by many names - appearing on this album under the name "Gallows Pole". Equally welcome are the almost bluegrass style influences that surface in songs like Bron-Y-Aur Stomp and Tangerine. Furthermore, Immigrant Song, Out On The Tiles and Celebration day are still staple setlist tracks. Songs like this are ultimately cherished a whole lot more when they're on an album with 6 acoustic tracks.
Led Zeppelin II's blatantly perverse innuendo and awesome chops would have still been lingering at the time as well, so to introduce an album like this just a year later would or should have left people in even more awe of this band's astounding musical span. All you have to do is look at the album cover, and you should work out pretty quickly that this is a game-changing album, that should not come unexpected. There are hints of it all through the first two releases. After all, what are Zeppelin's designed to do but float?