The Battle At Garden's Gate

Greta Van Fleet

Republic Records / Lava Music, 2021

http://gretavanfleet.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/02/2022

Let’s get this out of the way, shall we? Greta Van Fleet sounds just like 1969-76 Led Zeppelin.

JUST LIKE THEM, from the fat, fuzzy, frenetic electric guitar leads to the limber, athletic basslines, to the powerhouse drumming, to the lead singer’s urgent, throaty wails. Every song they’ve ever released sounds like an homage to “Heartbreaker” or “Ramble On” or “Houses Of The Holy.” It’s their thing, and it’s beyond me why anyone would have a problem with that, considering (a) how derivative most mainstream music is today, and (b) that Led Zeppelin made some of the most memorable music of the rock era during those seven years. When choosing a band to emulate, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

Far from shying away from that obvious point of comparison, Greta Van Fleet embraces it with open arms, draping both the physical CD of The Battle At Garden’s Gate and the music itself in a Zeppelinesque aura of shadowy mysticism, all the way down to assigning mysterious rune-ish symbols (shades of Zep’s untitled fourth album) to each track here. It’s become like a game now, and why not? They sound how they sound; it would be silly to fight it.

What’s perhaps most notable here is that after a series of releases of varying lengths, this is the first album Greta Van Fleet has issued that actually sounds like an album, rather than a hastily-assembled collection of songs. Which also begs the question: does this band—brothers Josh (vocals), Jake (guitar) and Sam (bass, keys) Kiszka, and Danny Wagner (drums)—have something to say in an album-length context?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Hold that thought for a moment.

The musical highlights here are many. Full-bodied opener “Heat Above,” a celebratory anthem, features acoustic and electric guitar playing off prominent Hammond organ, supplemented with heavy percussion and a string section. Second track “My Way, Soon” offers an equally punchy follow-up with strong dynamics, muscular lead guitar, and a terrific solo/bridge section. From there you get an abundance of dramatic, occasionally ominous riffing (“Built By Nations,” “Age Of Machine,” “Stardust Chorus”) sandwiched around a melodramatic ballad (“Tears Of Rain”).

Notable moments in the second half include the isolated electric solo that opens “Caravel”—a very Zep move—before transitioning into a grinding groove, as well as the dark and heavy opening to “The Barbarians.” Lead vocalist Josh modulates his delivery more effectively here than he has in the past, doing less wailing and more singing, always in complement to guitarist Jacob’s fiery riffing and the rhythm section’s explosive dynamics. The band also effectively incorporates both keyboards from brother Sam and the string section that shows up on multiple tracks.

At the end of 63 minutes what I’m left with is that GVF as a band is about capturing a sound and the energy and attitude that goes with it. On that level, this album succeeds brilliantly; it’s never less than entertaining. As for meaningful, emotionally resonant songwriting, this album’s lyric sheet suggests that’s a next step this quartet has yet to take. As Josh declares in the opening verse of the otherwise stellar cut “My Way, Soon”: “I’ve seen many people / There are so many people / Some are much younger people / And some are so old.”

Ahem. Like I said: they *sound* great!

Seriously, there is supposedly a narrative running through these songs about “ancient civilizations and parallel universes” or some such, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and in the end it honestly didn’t matter. The songs roll by in a consistently captivating blur of blazing riffs, tricky tempo shifts, and old-school hard-rock swagger that’s all too rare in the current era. I’ll take vibrant guitar rock over auto-tuned synth-pop 10 times out of 10, regardless of lyrical quality.

The Battle At Garden’s Gate uncovers several truths about Greta Van Fleet. Lyrics remain a soft spot, but the familiar noise these four young bucks make together is just as charismatic and compelling as it’s been since 1969. It’s easy to understand why they’ve become a favorite target for certain critics, and also easy to understand why they’ve moved millions of units. There is an abundance of musical talent on display here, and if the lyrics ever come together, GVF could actually make a mark, as well as a buck. I’ll take that ride.

Rating: B

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