From its conception, the Michigan-based rock band Greta Van Fleet has been struggling to shake the fact that it sounds a lot like Led Zeppelin. But it was never just that lead singer Josh Kiszka sounds almost exactly like lead singer Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. The entire band seems to have been inspired by that Zeppelin sound in a way that was difficult to ignore in its 2017 EP From the Fires and debut album Anthem Of The Peaceful Army.
But Greta Van Fleet saw a major improvement in developing a unique sound on its sophomore album The Battle at the Garden’s Gate. While The Battle at Garden’s Gate, released on Friday, is not some magic shift away from blues rock, it has become harder to claim Greta Van Fleet is stealing from one band.
The Battle at Garden’s Gate is at its best when Josh Kiszka’s vocals and Jake Kiszka’s guitar shine on their own. At times, Jake lays down some incredible riffs that carry entire songs. The punchy and energetic riff for “Stardust Chords” is probably the best part, but Josh’s vocals hit a high point as he nears the heavenly “woah” at the end of each chorus.
The second half of the nearly nine-minute rock ballad “The Weight of Dreams” is notably better than its first half because Jake is given four minutes to go wild with an epic and powerful guitar solo. As the song closes out the album, it may go on a little too long like the rest of the song, but the young guitarist is arguably the best part of the band and he impresses when given the opportunity.
Lyrically Greta Van Fleet has not evolved too much since its first two album releases, and it leaves a bit to be desired. “Light My Love” is a generic rock love song on the album, and the remaining songs aren’t replaced with anything truly spectacular. The opening verse for “Age of Machine” feels like it’s setting up some spectacular space odyssey or a critique on how the internet has taken over our lives as a long interlude of eerie yet airy guitars opens the song. But the song’s lyrics fail to amount to much meaning with only two unique verses that string together scattered ideas about internet culture, as Josh sings, “plugged in since the womb” and “unplug from the source.”
“The Barbarians” focuses on how violence consumes society, even from a young age, as Josh sings about “children with their toys of war.” But rather than lyrically diving deeper into this systemic issue, Josh spends a lot of the song’s runtime singing “woah.” There’s a lot of wasted lyrical potential like this throughout the album, and it’s disappointing to see Josh avoid saying anything substantial with his powerful vocals.
Something that shouldn’t go unaddressed is the length of the album and the span of each individual track. While each track spans about five minutes, the album moves at a fairly brisk pace. The only time you wish that a song would end a little quicker is once again on “The Weight of Dreams,” which might be a minute too long.
The reason the album doesn’t feel so monstrously long is that a lot of time is allocated for Jake’s guitar performance. Josh’s vocals even fade out at several points throughout the album such as on the second half of “The Weight of Dreams” and on Jake’s guitar solo on “My Way, Soon.” The time spent giving Jake room to breathe makes the album feel bigger and even a bit epic. But the length of the album also masks the lyric problem. It’s difficult to complain about Josh’s sparse and underdeveloped lyrics when they’re intercut with one of the better young guitarists in music right now.
Josh’s lyricism is really one of the only things holding this album back. These are five-minute songs with two verses and a chorus or two. The one thing that would help Greta Van Fleet’s future albums is a concept or story to better tie the tracks together. The lyrical exposition presented in “Age of Machine” could have made for an epic space ballad or a critique of consumerism, but once again, the lyrics fall short of creating deeper meaning and insight.
In general, fans of Greta Van Fleet will have a fantastic time listening to The Battle at Garden’s Gate, while its critics probably won’t be as enthused. Greta Van Fleet has been a band wearing its influences on its sleeve from day one. Even though this new album definitely doesn’t feel like a Led Zeppelin rip-off, Greta Van Fleet is probably going to have trouble shaking such claims. This is still a blues rock album and comparisons are going to be made to the greats that came before them. But, the band has made it much harder to find those influences, as Greta Van Fleet starts to find their own sound.
Photo Courtesy of Lava Records