Battle at Garden’s Gate: Can the world’s new favourite band keep up their momentum?

Greta Van Fleet is a young classic rock band from Michigan. Formed as recently as 2012, the band burst into the mainstream scene a few years ago with their single Highway Tune; a song loved for its old-school rock feel and singer Josh Kiszka’s vocals sounding eerily similar to one Robert Plant’s. Since then, the band has released two albums (including this one) and an EP and has only grown more and more popular, being one of the leading bands of the new music scene. I have to say, while I am not the biggest fan of the band in the world, they are all top-notch musicians and have put out some fantastic songs over the last four years or so. So, I shall remain as impartial as I can, as I really do like a hell of a lot of classic rock music so for all intents and purposes I should like this too, and also promise to mention Led Zeppelin as little as possible, due to the band not liking the comparison. Join me in checking it out!

Greta Van Fleet’s Official Facebook

One of the four singles, ‘Head Above’, starts things off. It opens on 40 odd seconds of synth as a drum roll builds up louder and louder. It then explodes out into a huge, slow, 70s rock-sounding riff. It’s surprisingly uplifting for a rock song, something that you don’t hear very often anymore. The acoustic coming in for the verse sounded nice too. Instead of Plant, Josh channels his inner Geddy Lee for his vocals, them soaring high and grating on me just a tad. This may be a long review. And I’m a big fan of Rush too, but I listen to them because the instrumentation is the main focus, not the incredibly high vocals. There are also times where he almost yodels, and while he can pull it off it was making me laugh just a little bit. This, if anything, gave me more Grateful Dead vibes than anything else, it’s all very upbeat and slow and light, nowhere near as heavy as I was expecting given the songs I am a fan of by them. It’s also a very strange choice for an album opener, unless (hopefully not) the whole album is this sort of style. It’s not particularly a bad song, it would make good, chilled-out background music, just like Grateful Dead. However, it isn’t exactly something I would choose to listen to, and if this is the future of rock then count me out.

Next up is the album’s lead single and the only one I have heard before this review, ‘My Way, Soon’. It opens better than the other, with a great classic rock guitar riff. However, the drums behind it are pretty slow and light, and that carries on through the verse. It again has massive Rush vibes to it thanks to Josh’s vocals and the fact that the song focuses a little more on some of the awesome riffs in it. The vocals themselves are catchier in this one than in the last too, both in the verse and chorus. In fact, the chorus on its own is fantastic, and one of the best they have written, in my opinion. We also get a great guitar solo from Jake Kiszka; pretty simple at times but channelling lots of swagger and emotion. This was good and made the playlist, but I’m already worried it will be my favourite on the album.

Their most recent single, ‘Broken Bells’, is up next. It starts with a slow, almost Dire Straits-esque guitar riff (nearly said it but found another band instead, clever I am!). Josh’s voice comes in over the top and ruins it just a tad for me, but it’s still tolerable. However, I have to say it: I’m sorry guys but this sounds A LOT like Stairway at times. It sounds good, don’t get me wrong, and suitably epic, but it’s so hard not to make that comparison sometimes with these guys. Maybe the internet has just ruined this band for me? I would probably be able to get into this song after a few more listens, but on this first one it didn’t do a whole lot for me. It’s so far all a little slower and lighter than I remember them being. I know that they aren’t always fast-paced hard rock, but so far we haven’t heard any of that and we’re 15 MINUTES into the album. The highlight of this song by far is another fantastic solo from Jake. The effect he’s using is a little like Kirk Hammett’s and I love it. A good song, but damn did it plod along for too long at six minutes.

Time for the first non-single, ‘Built By Nations’. It opens on an awesome blues riff, slow but sleazy. It’s actually my favourite riff by quite a way on this album so far. Said riff continues through the verse, with Josh reigning in his voice a little which was nice, saving his high screeching for the choruses instead where it makes more sense. There isn’t a great deal to the song, but it’s a little rockier than the rest so far and the added focus on the guitar has helped it out a lot in my eyes. The backing vocals accenting parts of the chorus were also great, adding a nice extra layer to the song.

‘Age of Machine’ immediately sounds like something from ‘2112’ when it opens, the clean guitar tones building up slowly more and more. It takes until a minute into the track before anything changes, and even then it’s just a case of Josh singing over the top. It stays pretty slow throughout again, though in my opinion isn’t as good as Broken Bells. Again, it’s not a bad song, but having already had a plodding song on the album and we’re not even halfway through… it isn’t doing much to hold my attention. The song is nearly seven minutes long and there isn’t much more I can say about it, honestly. It’s slow, steady, and probably every 70s rock and psychedelic fan’s dream song. However, as someone who is not too into Pink Floyd or the longer, drawn-out Led Zep (sorry) stuff, it just gets boring. At least Jake’s solo is awesome again, right?

The shortest song on the album, clocking in at just under four minutes (right?) is up next: ‘Tears of Rain’. It opens on a pretty slow but beautiful guitar chord progression. Josh’s vocals come in over the top and actually fit quite nicely over the top for a change. Maybe they’re finally growing on me? That or I’m getting Stockholm Syndrome. This is slow still but pretty beautiful in its basicness, mainly comprising of the vocals with either some slow guitars or piano behind it. The very small amount of drums in the first half was also a nice touch, so much so that when they came in it added even more awesomeness and great layers. However, that high note from Josh REALLY grated on me, over and over again. Still, I preferred this to the last song, and it was almost enough to make it onto the playlist. Almost.

‘Age of Machine’ seemed to have started something as it takes nearly a minute before anything happens at the start of ‘Stardust Chords’, too. However, the guitar riff is awesome when it finally kicks in, almost reminding me of an old-school Iggy and the Stooges riff. The whole song is built around this riff, even during the chorus we just get a variant of it. Makes sense with the song title, I guess! Again, I feel like Josh’s vocals fit in over the top of it all, for the most part. It isn’t the kind of vocals I’d have personally wanted over the top of this, he really has leaned fully into the Geddy Lee style of screeching, but it’s at least tolerable and a little more reserved for the most part on this track. It feels almost redundant at this point to say that the guitar solo is the highlight of the song, but if I’m honest Jake’s playing has been the main highlight of the album so far. Another good song, but it probably won’t be one that I go back and listen to very often.

‘Light My Love’ opens on some beautiful piano… which is almost immediately overshadowed by a mass of distorted guitar and big drum sounds. It drops back down again for the verse, sounding pretty nice and steady, but the piano is completely lost in the mix. I’d have preferred it being more of a piano and vocal-based verse, but either way, it is still beautiful. Again, though, that high notes he hits EVERY LINE OF THE CHORUS is killing me; it’s honestly giving me a headache. Who told Josh that was a good idea to do over and over again? I can’t imagine there are too many people out there that want to be wailed at on that regular a basis, right? Like, until their ears are nearly bleeding. Plus, were GVF always this slow…?

‘Caravel’ at least opens on a couple of pretty cool guitar riffs, but again outside of that, there isn’t too much I can say about the song. I’m sick of Josh’s stupidly high vocals and his yodelling. I’m sick of all the songs being plodding, similarly paced slow, Led Zep-esque ballads. I’m sick of the bass and drums being given very little to do except for hold a basic beat or follow the guitar line. I want something DIFFERENT. Something INTERESTING. Please, Greta. You’re supposed to be the future of rock music, y’all are like my age for god sake, but they’re writing like a 70+-year-old Robert Plant does now, slow and emotionless. Where’s the attitude and fire? Where’s the FUN? At least the likes of Wolfmother and Kingdom Come imitated the faster, more energetic side of Led Zeppelin, it wasn’t all just the first half of ‘Dazed and Confused’. Rant over. Moving on.

I’m running out of energy with this album so for the final three songs (still a further 18 minutes of the album!) I’ll try and summarise what I like and dislike and my thoughts more succinctly. The wah-filled guitar solo at the start of ‘Barbarians’ was nice. The ending solo for ‘The Weight Of Dreams’ was also awesome, though FAR too drawn out. It’s not like I was listening to ‘Free bird’ or anything. I listened to the whole of ‘Trip The Light Fantastic’ while having a conversation with my partner and I don’t feel like I missed a single thing while I was only half paying attention. And hell no, I am not going back and listening to it again. I didn’t like the sheer length of the final song, it didn’t need to be nine minutes long when it was essentially just THE SAME SONG AGAIN. I didn’t like that all three felt like they were around the same tempo and feel and drawn-out boring dullness. Damn, for a band that wrote ‘Highway Tune’, this album was the hardest slog I have ever had to listen to review.

Overall: Damn, that was a hard listen. If you are a fan of Pink Floyd or Rush’s extensive slower back catalogue, you will most likely love this. However, if not, if you are like me and prefer something a little more upbeat or concise, this probably isn’t the album for you. The musicianship was there, they are all clearly talented young guys, but the over-indulgence and constant slow pace was their downfall for me.

Overall: 3.5/10

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