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Greta Van Fleet - The Battle at Garden's Gate (Album Review)

Monday, 26 April 2021 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen

Greta Van Fleet are a preposterous band because of course they are. They have to be—they are modelled on some of the most preposterous bands in the rock canon, and to commit to such a high-wire act of mimicry on this scale is preposterous in itself. The Michigan group’s second LP ‘The Battle at Garden's Gate’ is a serious, beautifully presented record that wears that sense of ridiculousness with a flourish, suggesting rather forcibly that their interests do not include worrying over press clippings.

Here vocalist Josh Kiszka still sounds an awful lot like Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant locked in an embrace with Rush’s Geddy Lee, and his twin brother Jake still slings riffs and solos that are fair approximations of Jimmy Page’s work in his pomp. But as hackneyed as the leads of Built By Nations are, after a certain amount of time these comparisons stop holding much critical water—look at these successful nerds who can shred is hardly the sickest of burns.

The challenge for Greta Van Fleet—completed by a third Kiszka brother in bassist Sam, and drummer Danny Wagner—is matching their chops with something that carries not only the muscularity of the bands they’re aping, but also the conviction and originality.

They get closer to that mark here than they did on their frequently maligned debut ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’, but still fall someway short.

When they hit paydirt, these dudes rip. The opener, Heat Above, is an overblown scene-setter that goads you to do anything other than get swept up in its strings and histrionic chorus. Its execution is a pointed reminder that influences only go so far and, perhaps, there’s a bigger target on Greta Van Fleet’s back because their vibe involves stuff that’s never really been cool: it’s about catsuits instead of flannel shirts and reverb.

My Way, Soon follows and is similarly excellent. Josh Kiska has one mode—all out lung-busting screech—but there is still an ease about its rolling riffs that suggests a more nuanced, dare we say more stereotypically American, view of their strengths. Batting third, Broken Bells returns to the Zeppelin well to good effect, rounding off an opening salvo that leaves the rest of the LP bobbing in its wake.

Songs such as Caravel are more rote, and more deserving of the sort of kickings that were dished out around the release of album one. In this setting you long for something of Greta Van Fleet’s own personality to shine through. Even the lyrics can’t do any real heavy lifting to help fill this void, confined as they are to the spacey philosophising of a thousand second tier prog bands. ‘The Battle at Garden's Gate’ is a step forward, but into what sort of future? One where the past is always there to be mined, or one where this band find something genuinely interesting to say of their own?

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