From Detroit, Michigan, a young quartet of three brothers and their childhood friend have slowly built a reputation as the band with the most potential in rock today. Their second EP, From The Fires, was compared by legendary Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin to his band’s own eponymous debut album. After wowing audiences at festivals across 2018 with their distinctly retro sound, Greta Van Fleet’s highly anticipated debut album Anthem of the Peaceful Army has dropped. With one of the most unique sounds of 2018, the real question is, are these young men reviving a lost sound or simply a nostalgia act?
With a sound that’s highly derivative of 70s hard rock, the album is filled with soaring vocals, screeching guitars and a firm rhythm and bass section. As a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the cohesion between each band member is their greatest strength. Vocalist Josh Kiska displays one modern rock’s most impressive vocal ranges, mixing the husky howl of Robert Plant with the raspy growl of Joe Cocker. Twin brother Jake, while understandably not as gifted as his inspirations, The Who’s Pete Townshend and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, can convincingly shred through solos reminiscent of 1970s psychedelic guitarists. While it would be easy to dismiss younger brother Sam and drummer Danny Wagner, their complex accompaniments not only tie the melodies together, but compliment them with a kinetic sense of energy. It is refreshing in 2018 to not only hear music that embraces such vibrant virtuosity but also a band talented enough to perform it.
Opening with ‘Age of Man’, the band shows how much their song-writing has developed since From the Fires. Evoking powerful images through lines such as “in an age of darkness light appears, and it wards away the ancient fears”, their lyrics give the song a sense of grandeur that goes on to define the album’s concepts. Anthem of the Peaceful Army is exactly that, a call to harmony, love and respect for humanity, nature and the world they share. The instrumentation on this track is gentle, with Josh adding to the accompaniment with soft scat singing, slowly building to a crescendo before blasting the listener as Josh bellows the chorus, “and as we came into the clear”. For an opening track, ‘Age of Man’ embodies the almost mythical imagery of the album, as the huge scale of the music rises to meet the epic scale of their lyrics.
The album contains a depth to the sequencing that is often ignored in the world of digital streaming, establishing a strong Side A and B. Side A is an adrenaline fuelled rush, with ‘When the Curtain Falls’ and ‘Lover, Leaver’ epitomising their 70s rock style. Side B introduces some slower songs in preparation for the powerful ‘Brave New World’. This all culminates in ‘Anthem’, a stripped back, acoustic song that uses its choral backup vocals and bongo drums to draw on the band’s flower power aesthetic. As a result of the careful sequencing, this is a record to be experienced start to finish, not streamed on shuffle.
While their sound draws on clear influences, it’s the subtle variations in emotion and timbre across tracks that keep the album interesting. Whether the acoustic guitar of ‘The New Day’ and ‘Anthem’ or the blues stylings on ‘The Cold Wind’ and ‘Mountain of the Sun’, the changes in instrumentation add some much-needed texture to separate the otherwise similar songs. The array of emotions add some essential changes in pace, exemplified in the melancholic frustration of ‘Watching Over’ and ‘Brave New World’ and the joyful ‘You’re The One’ breaking up the hard aggression of ‘When The Curtain Falls’ and ‘Lover, Leaver’.
However, as their sound is so derivative, it is impossible to discuss Greta Van Fleet without discussing the band they are evoking, almost to a fault, Led Zeppelin. The band is aware of the connection, throwing in some playful references, such as the “land of ice and snow” in ‘Age of Man’, paying homage to ‘The Immigrant Song’ by Led Zeppelin. However, some overwhelming similarities make their work seem too derivative, such as the Aeolian scale of the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ solo appearing on ‘Watching Over’.
While their songwriting shows some originality, there is a distinct lack of innovation, with the main appeal of the album being an absence of Zeppelin’s vibrant rock style rather than the presence of Greta Van Fleet. However, it is a testament to their genuine talent that they can even replicate Led Zeppelin’s sound, all while providing new, original tracks and a cohesive album with powerful imagery and consistent quality. Nearly 50 years on from the release of Led Zeppelin 1, Anthem of the Peaceful Army is reviving the hard style of 70s rock, and introducing it to a new generation.