Friday 23 April 2021

Greta van Fleet - The Battle at Garden's Gate (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 16 Apr 2021
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Yeah, yeah, Led Zeppelin, derivative, ripoff, moan, moan. That's what you're looking for from a Greta van Fleet review, right? Well, with the acknowledgement that there's definitely a lot of Led Zeppelin in their sound across all four band members, I'll ignore all that because this is an outstanding album and, amazingly, still only their second. The greatest aspect they've taken from Zeppelin to my way of thinking isn't their sound, but their ability to hit the ground running more mature and accomplished than any band truly has any right to be at this point in their career.

To be fair, Led Zeppelin isn't the band I heard first here, though it was certainly the band I heard last, because the nine minute epic closer, The Weight of Dreams, is as close to a hard rock song to sit in the company of Kashmir, Ramble On or No Quarter as I've heard in a long time, especially during its last four minutes. For a while, I heard a good deal more Rush than Zep, because of Josh Kiszka's vocal style. He's pitched right up there with Geddy Lee and Burke Shelley and, while he doesn't usually deliver in the same way, he doesn't always deliver in Robert Plant's way either. That said, there are certainly moments where he borrows from each.

The first Zeppelin moment I couldn't ignore was during Broken Bells, which is three songs in and is the first overt highlight. It runs shy of six minutes, so it's not an epic in the truest sense, but it surely feels like one from its very first note. It builds nicely, Kiszka finding quite the snarl as he adds emphasis and the style evolving, from Budgie into Pink Floyd around the halfway mark and eventually Led Zeppelin for the last couple of minutes. Josh Kiszka's twin brother Jake on guitar channels Jimmy Page here in no uncertain terms, but it's magical to hear. It's just as magical to hear the band behind him help that build throughout his solo and then ease into a natural wrap up.

Everything here is excellent but there are songs like Broken Bells that stand out from the crowd. It's a generous album at over an hour, but I wonder if it would have benefitted by a judicial cropping of a few of the lesser songs to be shifted out to be B sides for fans to track down. For instance, Heat Above and My Way, Soon aren't bad songs at all to kick off the album but Broken Bells instantly wipes them from memory. I've listened through in entirety a few times now and I just can't remember what they sound like, because my brain is all about Broken Bells. Built by Nations, on the other hand, works as a bridge to Age of Machine, the second overt highlight, so ought to stay.

Age of Machine is an odd song. It leaps out for attention from moment one but, even at seven minutes, it doesn't feel as epic as Broken Bells. It often feels to me like an extended 12" single version of a shorter song, a song with roots not in the blues that built rock music but world music. I'm still trying to figure out why but I'll persevere. It's deep in the vibe of the song but there's African music in the way this one moves. That continues into Tears of Rain, where I couldn't help but feel that they could perform it with a very different singer like Gigi Shibabaw and her Ethiopian band with very different instrumentation.

I wonder if some of this is due to Josh Kiszka's vocal approach, because he doesn't just sing, but snarls and coos and soars in turn, a song like Stardust Chords highlighting all these and more, because there is a vocal break like a yodel throughout too. Sure, there are points where he commands like Jagger or Joe Cocker, as if the audience is utterly in the palm of his hands, but he vocalises on this one far more than he actually sings and that's just not a rock approach. This may be my favourite song and for that reason, even if Broken Bells and The Weight of Dreams are deeper and more accomplished.

And talking of that closer, there are a lot more songs for you to discover and explore here, because it really is a deep album that will reward anyone leaving it on repeat or even shuffle. However, it's sure that it's always going to come back to The Weight of Dreams, which is the epic any album of this sheer quality frankly demands. I remember last time all these Led Zeppelin ripoff moans found themselves hauled out, but I don't remember Kingdom Come recording anything this epic. I should go back to see.

1 comment:

  1. A fantastic review Hal, and one that I totally concur with. I've only had it in my collection for a few weeks but it has provided an abundance of pure musical pleasure... an album that I have to hear again and again... in some ways it really is a throwback to the golden age of album rock but then it is also a strong statement of where we are now... in a new golden era of classic Rock! Such a young band but one that continues to impress... GVF will be around for a long, long time...