Anthem Of The Peaceful Army

Greta Van Fleet

Republic Records, 2018

http://gretavanfleet.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/31/2018

I hate music reviewers.

Ponder if you must the psychological implications of that statement for a guy with my job title, but in fact a significant part of the reason I started doing this in the first place is because reading the reviews produced by major music media outlets pissed me off so much. (And yes, it’s an over-generalization scaled up for dramatic effect—I don’t hate all music reviewers… just a bunch of them.)

The best recent example of reviewers sending my eyes a-rolling would be the musical cognoscenti’s collective wailing and rending of clothes over Greta Van Fleet, a band whose sound is both distinct and familiar enough that Robert Plant himself declared “They are Led Zeppelin I.” The reviewer at one notoriously snarky media outlet—let’s call them Bitchspork—nearly soiled his drawers tantruming over GVF’s alleged lack of originality, willfully ignoring the fact that, 60-plus years into the modern era of popular music, the charts are almost exclusively populated with acts whose sound is derivative in one way or another.

The question is whether the act under review, in the process of recycling and reimagining familiar sounds, brings something fresh to the table. Greta Van Fleet does—not so much the sound, which Plant quite accurately described—as the energy, the intention, the commitment. These four guys are true believers preaching from the high pulpit of rock, and it shows in every move they make.

Following up on an initial run of EPs, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army constitutes the first official full album release from Greta Van Fleet, comprised of brothers Josh Kiszka (vocals), Jake Kiszka (guitar) and Sam Kiszka (bass/keys), plus BFF Danny Wagner (drums). As such it’s an opportunity for the band to make a statement both about who they are today, and who they want to be in the future.nbtc__dv_250

What they want to be, judging by various quotes floating around, is the band that leads hard rock back into the mainstream after a lengthy banishment. And while this album shows they have some growing left to do yet, there’s nothing to say they can’t one day achieve their goal.

The promise found here begins with the choice the band made to open this album with the six-minute “Age Of Man,” a rangy, shifting number with at least as much progressive as hard rock in its bones. The fantasy-tinged lyrics are a bit of a jumble, but the arrangement offers atmosphere aplenty as it builds through heavy choruses towards an almost orchestral climax.

Lead single “When The Curtain Falls” is a tasty confection, spotlighting Jake Kiszka’s snaking, resonant lead riff on the opening and choruses, before turning to him again to deliver a suitably ecstatic solo that’s nonetheless tight and pointed. Other highlights include: the “Kashmir”-flavored chords between the thundering verses of “Watching Over”; the elastic rhythm guitar on “The New Day” (a.k.a. “Over The Hills And Far Away” Pt. 2); the simultaneously airy and bluesy stomp of “Mountain Of The Sun”; and Josh’s playful mocking of his own tendencies as he wails “Mama-mama-mama” over and over in “The Cold Wind,” as if trying to purge his vocabulary of this particular Zeppelin-ism.

Where the album occasionally falters is when the guys seem to reach for something they can’t quite grasp at this point in their development (twins Josh and Jake are 21, Sam is 18 and Danny Wagner is 19). The acoustic focus of the mid-tempo “You’re The One”—featuring Sam on Hammond organ—provides a nice palate-cleanser between heavier numbers, but is undercut by a chorus simple enough to evoke a hair-metal power ballad (eek). “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)” is a big, bruising cut with a lot of potential that simply overstays its welcome, its six-minute girth further undermined by a pseudo-mystical jumble of a lyric.

Which points the area where the band has the most growing to do. For all his enthusiasm and commitment, Josh Krizka has a tendency to oversing, pushing into a shriek when his normal, powerful voice would carry the moment even better, and his lyrics sometimes lapse from playfully imaginative into pure word salad. That said, his presence up front is never less than compelling and an integral part of the sinewy, seemingly effortless teamwork that drives GVF’s music.

In the end, I suspect the problem some have with Greta Van Fleet may be generational as much as anything. My sense is that a certain cohort of writers-about-music has been wishing classic rock would finally just go away, which has to make it frustrating when a new band garners wide attention while embracing classic sounds. Regardless, you can count this writer-of-a-certain-age as a solid fan of what GVF brings to the table: raw, passionate rock and roll that feels both familiar and timeless, and burns with youthful energy.

Rating: B-

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