What is there to do in Frankenmuth, Mich.? With a population of just over 5,000, there is only one answer to that question: Relaunch rock ’n’ roll by stripping it back down to its raucous, bluesy beginnings. Greta Van Fleet, a band of brothers and childhood friends from the small Michigan town, experienced a whirlwind of fame once bigtime publications got wind of its hauntingly authentic sound in 2017, when the band released its first EP, From the Fires.
Almost a year later, the young rockstars-in-training have traded in their training wheels for major record deals, cross-country tours, and a debut album that perfectly encapsulates their mobilization for a rock revival: Anthem of the Peaceful Army, an 11-track modern manifesto that declares rock music a force to be reckoned for the first time since The Strokes and The White Stripes captivated the hearts and ears of the world in 2001.
Slow, evocative tones compose the first minute of the opening track, “Age of Man,” but menacing guitar riffs don’t trail far behind. Above all else, Greta Van Fleet is a guitar band. Long instrumental pauses in between verses in the first song don’t feel awkward or underutilized without a flashy extra flare—guitarist Jake Kiszka makes sure every bridge has good bones.
Greta Van Fleet sounds as if it is fresh out of the ’70s with its groovy basslines and esoteric lyrics, but some of the members have just barely graduated high school. Yet the band’s classic sound is comforting to millennial audiences who grew up on their parents’ favorite Beatles and Stones songs, and the substance of its music is a breath of fresh air for the present rock genre, which has long been plagued by alt-rock bands that only want to sing about sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll—think The 1975, The Neighbourhood, and FIDLAR. “The Cold Wind” is carried by chilling, eloquent lyrics such as “Keep the children snug as the wagon rolls on / When the cold wind blows most of them will be gone.” Avoiding trite themes in its lyrics positions the group among modern rock giants The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, and Cage the Elephant.
“When the Curtain Falls” opens with a guitar- and drum-driven melody that sounds like it could have been pulled straight from a Led Zeppelin track. Jake Kiszka ramps up a riff that plays tag with Danny Wagner’s syncopated drumming, mimicking the drum groove John Bonham made famous, before the first verse even starts. Adding to the authentic Zeppelin feel, Josh Kiszka’s guttural vocal delivery has received attention from Robert Plant himself for its haunting similarity. “Watching Over,” a single from the album, adds to its Zeppelin vibe with hard stop guitar revs and ferocious vocals. Jake Kiszka’s guitar solos on the track prove to be some of his best yet, winding through experimentation with morphing and inversion while keeping pace with Josh Kiszka’s primal screams.
Greta Van Fleet is much more than a Zeppelin offshoot, and the band proves it in its debut album. The acoustic building ballad “Anthem” is exactly what it claims to be, an anthem for the chaos of the present. “Your opinion only knows the one thing / That you seem to want to have most,” Josh Kiszka croons in the second verse, displaying wisdom far beyond his 22 years. “You’re the One” is the quintessential love song necessary to complete any album, but Greta Van Fleet dresses up the otherwise average lyrics with acoustic guitar chords that carry a country kick and soulful keyboarding. Constant comparisons to classic rock giant Led Zeppelin have prevented the band from defining its own sound in the past, but slower tracks and relevant reflection help Greta Van Fleet break down those barriers and expand its repertoire.
A classic rock scrapbook would not be complete without a tribute to psychedelia, and Greta Van Fleet pays homage to the classic rock fiend on twin tracks “Lover, Leaver” and “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer).” The latter builds on the hellfire love song with an added instrumental guided through space by a strange voiceover and eccentric bursts of sound, much like any given Pink Floyd song. Screaming slide guitar toward the end of the track showcases the depth of Jake Kiszka’s mastery of guitar.
Greta Van Fleet rose from the ashes like a phoenix on From the Fires, but Anthem of the Peaceful Army assembles a tracklist that proves the band’s rock residency will be anything but transient.
Featured Image by Republic Records