On the debut full-length album from Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, they ask the question: What do you call classic rock when it is re-packaged with a modern rock sound? For starters, we can answer that with an emphatic response of calling it: “pretty damn fun.”
Greta Van Fleet has drawn immediate comparisons to rock and roll hall-of-famers Led Zeppelin, for obvious reasons, but they have listed several other core sound influences (such as hard rock, jazz, and blues) when interviewed by other media outlets. The band is comprised of three brothers: lead vocalist Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka, and bassist Sam Kiszka. Rounding out the foursome is the drummer, Danny Wagner. Coming off of a successful and highly-hyped EP, From the Fires, anticipation was at an all-time high to see what these kids from Frankenmuth, Michigan had cooked up for their debut album.
Anthem of the Peaceful Army is structured around the loud guitars from Jake Kiszka and the Robert Plant-esque vocal delivery of Josh. Josh, in particular, really shines on this debut album by showing his incredible vocal range as well as the restraint on some of the quieter moments found on the debut. Kicking off the set with “Age of Man” shows the evolution of their direction from their aforementioned EP and expands with some modern rock flair, thanks to the helpful tutelage of producers Marlon Young, Herschel Boone, and Al Sutton. Josh sings on the opener, “In an age of darkness light appears/And it wards away the ancient fears/March to the anthem of the heart/To a brand new day, a brand new start/To wonderlands of ice and snow,” which is likely a nod to the classic Zeppelin tune, “Immigrant Song.”
The second song, “The Cold Wind” brings up the tempo more-so than the opener and showcases the blues and hard rock influences that each of the four members brings to the table. With tracks as shiny as this one, it’s easy to buy into the incredible amount of hype and buzz surrounding this artist. “When the Curtain Falls,” the lead single off the record, is filled with several key nods to Zeppelin. From Josh’s vocal style to the starts and stops of the music, all along to the tongue-in-cheek nods in the lyrics such as, “They all said they loved you (didn’t they, darlin’?)” all come off as a band trying to find their way in the crowded rock realm. Whether or not these Led Zeppelin references and trademark nods to the past are intentional, it comes across as a tad “tribute band-ish.” Some critics have even gone as far as saying this band lacks an identity, but I don’t buy that. Instead, I feel like this band is experimenting with several sounds on this record and they will find their way when their career is all said and done.
“Watching Over” and “Lover, Leaver” both have their key moments of awesome riffs, pounding drums, pulsating bass lines, and trademark howls. What I felt these tracks could have benefited from is a bit more creativity in modern rock song structures and production. Take for example a band that makes clear nods to the past (Queen) in The Struts. They would not be accused of ripping off Queen unless they sounded exactly like the classic rock staple. Instead, they have modernized their approach, play killer live shows, and have a sound/identity of their own. I feel like these two bands (The Struts and Greta Van Fleet) are likely going to the be the poster children for Rolling Stone’s latest issue of why “Rock Isn’t Dead Yet!” but that would be doing both of these young bands a considerable disservice. To look for a savior in a genre that seems to be pretty damn well already, from my standpoint, seems a tad out of place and clumsy.
Greta Van Fleet is more than capable of writing great rock songs as showcased in tracks such as “You’re the One” and “The New Day.” On the latter, I saw more modern elements in their sound that were lacking on the From the Fires EP. For example, the simple acoustic guitar and trademark vocals of Josh are enough to drive the song to prominence and don’t sound like a band trying to imitate their idols. Instead, this is showing me an artist willing to take a few risks along the way.
As I posed the question in the beginning about how to classify a classic rock record in 2018, it would be unfair to write a scathing review just because the lead singer sounds like Robert Plant, and the rest of his bandmates are influenced by some of the greatest musicians to ever walk the earth. Instead, I’ll leave you with this thought: wouldn’t you much rather see an artist find their way using classic rock artists that have stood the test of time than a band cashing in on the “flavor of the month” style of rock that may be popular next year? Greta Van Fleet have left room for improvement, yes, but at the same time, we are looking at a debut album that shows a ton of promise moving forward.