Greta Van Fleet - Anthem Of The Peaceful Army: Album Of The Week Club Review

Greta Van Fleet: are they here to save rock'n'roll or sully it? Both opinions are available

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Greta Van Fleet - Anthem Of The Peaceful Army

1. Age of Man
2. The Cold Wind
3. When the Curtain Falls
4. Watching Over
5. Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)
6. You’re the One
7. The New Day
8. Mountain of the Sun
9. Brave New World
10. Anthem

Geta Van Fleet have divided opinion more than any other band in recent rock history, and in the age of polarised opinion the chasm is even more noticeable. For every person who loves the band for their youthful exuberance and for their similarity to artists of yore, others despair for the very same reasons. And each side of the debate seems to be further exasperated by the other side's position. It's complicated. 

Then you've got the band themselves, who seem to intent on conjuring up a new age of Aquarius amidst all the bickering. There's that album title. There's the videos, which inevitably present the band in soft focus, cavorting with nature. They recently sent an email to followers that contained a tour pre-sale code, presented as "A Rose of Gratitude". 

Perhaps they're hoping another summer of love will emerge from Trump's divided America, with Greta Van Fleet a musical Moses, leading people to a promised land of peace, unity, and lengthy guitar solos. 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Background

It’s natural to be sceptical when Greta Van Fleet take the stage. Faced with the prospect of this cherubic Michigan quartet – average age 20 – the usual response is to fold your arms, arch an eyebrow and prepare a savage put-down to shout into your mate’s ear. Then they start playing…

“It’s always been that way,” shrugs frontman Josh Kiszka. “When you’re fifteen and you go into a bar to play rock’n’roll, you can see it in their faces. But after that initial jolt their minds change pretty quickly.”

Given their youth, there’s not a whole lot of back story to get through. It was in 2012 that Josh took up with twin brother Jake (guitar) and younger brother Sam (bass); they added Daniel Wagner (drums) a year later.

“Everyone has their different qualities,” Josh explains. “Jake is the rock guy, Daniel is the soul man, Sam is the jazz type, I like world music. Daniel is a little docile. Sam is the classic smart-ass. Jake is a romantic, that classic picture of a man with a bottle and a guitar. And… I dunno, I can’t say much about myself.”

Let’s cast Josh as ‘the screamer’. In fact Josh’s exhilarating ‘ooh-mama’ screech is so reminiscent of a certain golden god – an impression rammed home by his twin’s swaggering blues-rock riffage – that you’d be tempted to roll out the ‘next Zep’ tag were that not invariably the kiss of death.

“When bands get compared to Zeppelin, it’s not always in a favourable light,” Josh considers. “But there are worse things to be compared to.”

Other albums released in October 2018

  • Atreyu - In Our Wake
  • Eric Clapton - Happy Xmas
  • Ace Frehley - Spaceman
  • Disturbed - Evolution
  • Haken - Vector
  • Anathema – Internal Landscapes 2008-2018 
  • Blackberry Smoke – The Southern Ground Sessions
  • Coheed and Cambria - Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures
  • David Crosby - Here If You Listen
  • Daughters – You Won't Get What You Want
  • Haken – Vector
  • Hawklords – Brave New World 
  • Pijn – Loss
  • Razorlight - Olympus Sleeping
  • Robben Ford – Purple House 
  • The Struts – Young & Dangerous

What they said...

Anthem Of The Peaceful Army isn’t quite the finished article. Josh Kiszka’s Plantalike vocals hit the high register from the start and stay right up there throughout; more than once you find yourself wincing and muttering: “Turn it down, sunshine.” And the closing title track lays on the cloying, hippie-dippy sentiment so thickly that you can’t help thinking that perhaps Altamont wasn’t such a bad thing after all. At the final count, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army is shaping up to be the finest debut album of both 2018 and 1972. (Classic Rock)

But for as retro as Anthem of the Peaceful Army may seem, in actuality, it is the future. It’s proof of concept that in the streaming and algorithm economy, a band doesn’t need to really capture the past, it just needs to come close enough so that a computer can assign it to its definite article. The more unique it sounds, the less chance it has to be placed alongside what you already love. So when the Greta Van Fleet of your favorite artist finally lands on your morning playlist, spark up a bowl of nostalgia and enjoy the self-satisfied buzz of recognizing something you already know. It’s the cheapest high in music. (Pitchfork)

There’s an element of the ridiculous in this. But there’s also a charm to their guileless, retro-fetishist conviction. And dudes have chops. “Age of Man” is lighters-up prog-rock spirituality. “Cold Wind” and “When The Curtain Falls” flaunt the physical graffiti that got them noticed. The scream on “Lover Leaver” conjures the money shot finale of “Whole Lotta Love,” although this ascends where Zep’s descends. Lyrics could help push this past nostalgia, the way Amy Winehouse spun Motown, mascara, and beehives. But the writing isn’t there. (Rolling Stone)

What you said... 

Alex Kleinwachter: I absolutely LOVE that you chose this as the AOTW purely for the entertainment of the impending avalanche of comments from crotchety get-off-my-lawn cranks with a stick up their ass about how these undeserving young whipper snappers only copy what came before them, as if Zeppelin themselves weren't also in their early 20's ripping off every blues artist that ever existed in the late 60's.

Dear Lord, a rock band that wears their influences on their sleeve? Whatever shall we do?! This has never happened before! 

GVF is an absolute blast. What can possibly be bad about a group of energetic young kids who can really play, have some songwriting chops, and put on a rip snorting rager of a live show? Sound like Zeppelin? They sure as hell do, but last time I checked Zeppelin haven't done anything for the last 40 years but try to make me buy their back catalog 8 times over, so I say bring it on. It's exciting to have an honest to goodness rock band generating this kind of buzz and interest for the first time in God knows how long.

As for the new record, I've only been able to listen through a couple of times so far, but it's just what I wanted and expected out of their debut full length. A little more time to stretch out and add some light and shade (Anthem, etc...) to the howling, blustery blooze rock (When The Curtain Falls, Lover Leaver, etc.) It's also smartly concise, clocking in at 10 songs and around 45 minutes, so it doesn't overstay it's welcome and makes you want to circle back for a second go round rather than wondering when it's going to end by padding it out with 5 tracks of filler like so many modern albums do.

They're not breaking ground here but I'm not asking them to. They've got the rest of their career to grow and expand (and I hope they do.) But for tonight, I'm happy with meat and potatoes for dinner. 8/10.

Timothy Morris: I absolutely love this band, their first two EPs and this album. The album represents a growth in their songwriting and a step forward in finding their own direction. Not a bad track, personal favorites include “When the Curtain Falls” and “Mountain of the Sun”.

Hai Kixmiller: I've been on Spotify, jamming to Greta Van Fleet's new album since it came out. Was listening to You're The One, at sunrise, drinking my coffee and watching the fog burn off as the daybreak grew stronger. The moment swept me away... magical Man! Just pure Rock magic!

This album has it all. Fist pumping, lip snarling, make you dance like nobody's watching tracks; The Cold Wind, When The Curtain Falls, and Lover, Leaver really get you off your seat. Then, when your all spent and sweaty and need to lie down to have a good toke, the mellow track You're The One just snuggles you up like it were a coat made of kittens, while the next track, The New Day starts off acoustic and mellow, it soon turns into a rousing little rock song that gets you all up and dancing around again. 

I don't care that the echoes of Led Zeppelin are all over this music. Maybe that classic sound is what draws me to it, or, maybe I like it because it's just plain ol' damn good Rock N' Roll!

Neil Wilson: It's a good debut and while it's no killer, neither was the debut by the band they get compared to so much - I remember when Led Zeppelin released their first album and it too was a good debut, it certainly wasn't a killer either!

Eckard Nieman: I was afraid that the hype would ruin it and was a skeptic, thinking they could never live up to it, but I've had the album on repeat a few times since Friday and I think they've pulled it off. These kids are the real deal and I seriously hope that the haters don't end up killing them. 

This is great stuff and I for one would like them to keep it coming.

Jim Kanavy: I love this band and their approach but god dammit the drummer needs to listen to songs other than Whole Lotta Love and Hey Hey (What Can I Do?). Someone get that kid a few Rush albums, from the 70s. Just get him All The World's A Stage. STAT.

Benjamin Kelk: Absolutely love this album, been listening to it non-stop since Friday. Not perfect, but definitely a solid start to hopefully what will be a long, great career for this band. Favorite song is definitely When The Curtain Falls, but it's all great on this album. Can't wait to see where these guys go next!

David Alejandro Cepeda Benavides: First, I don't get why people criticize them for being close to Led Zeppelin. I can see that they' re obviously influenced by them, specially the singer, but he ain't Robert Plant... he's a cross between Robert Plant and Geddy Lee, with a lesser vocal range but still a good voice. Sometimes, depending on the song, he sounds closer to Robert Plant, but that's not a problem, at least for me. 

The rest of the band does pretty good. I liked plenty of songs from this album like Anthem, The New Day, Lover, Leaver, Watching Over and The Age Of Man. They are just starting, but it's a decent beginning for them, they got talent. Maybe people should listen to the album more carefully, without prejudice or comparing them to Led Zeppelin.. i know it's difficult but that helps to understand the album better

Mike Bruce: I thought this album was going to come on like a riddle: When is a tribute band not a tribute band? Instead it's more like an acronym. Computer programmers have it as GIGO; garbage in, garbage out. Here it's more like Zeppelin in, Zeppelin out. Now anyone who says that isn't going to lead Greta Van Fleet anywhere really needs to go and listen to the first two Rush albums. Will they spread their wings as Rush did? Who knows but on this evidence I have... concerns. 

My problem so far is that they've never learned to cook. 

When you cook you take different ingredients and blend them in layers. That's what Led Zeppelin did. They took influences from all sorts of musical palates and ignited them in their own way lending the result a real depth of flavour that I think is missing here. There's precious little sign that GVF have poured over The Incredible String Band and albums of Berber folk music. What GVF have done is closer to a process of distillation where a couple of ingredients are condensed to become "purer" and stronger, but best taken in small doses. 

But my my, like it says on the bottles "enjoyed responsibly" this album is a hell of a lot of fun. My first thought wasn't "Zep rip off" is was "Boy is that guy's voice high! He'll do himself a mischief." They've got a good grasp of melody as well as riffsmanship and can write a good song. Indeed the songs are good enough that I was distracted into playing "spot the riff."

At the end of the day though while listening wasn't in any way a chore (I will be back), afterwards I didn't want to press repeat, I wanted to listen to the originals. Or Joni, Moby Grape or Howlin' Wolf.

So yeah, I reckon it is a tribute album. But lets stay positive I hope it's a tribute to four young guys making the kind of music they want to make and hopefully having a ball doing it. I'll let you decide which four.

James Praesto: Are these guys the prophets of a new era in classic rock, or is it just another case of a record label selling their manufactured snake oil in the houses of the holy? Let’s shake off what we think we know, and instead spin that record a few times so we can find out the truth for ourselves.

I discovered Greta van Fleet about the same time I came across The Struts, Scorpion Child and A Thousand Horses, a couple of years back. I was on a mission to hunt down new and exciting bands that carried the torch of classic rock, but still kept the spirit of it close to their own hearts, without just being copy cats. I bought and enjoyed Greta’s first two EPs, and filed them under “interesting”, but did not assign them any rock’n’roll super powers. This debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, however, proved to be a real challenge. I really liked parts of it, hated parts of it, and, maybe most frustratingly, I absolutely loved the half-realized potential of it.

The swelling organ in the beginning of Age of Man lays a wonderful welcome mat under your feet as the song opens up with a sound right out of 1973. The lyrics are whimsical and abstract enough that you don’t have to really care what they are about, but you still retain enough to hum along even after the song has stopped playing in your head. The Cold Wind is straight up rock’n’roll swagger, with an infectious bluesy riff and a nice chord progression leading the transition into the bridge and chorus. As is the case with many of our favorites from that era Greta van Fleet wish they were born in, the songs often tend to outstay their welcome with endlessly repeated choruses or jams at the end of songs. Greta van Fleet hover in that area on pretty much every track, but just barely enough to not be annoying. 

When the Curtain Falls is a song you have heard a million times before, but you can’t remember what band had it on the air waves back in the day… until you realize nobody actually did. It was these guys all along. The riff is timeless, the hooks are smart and memorable, and the pulse of the rhythm section beats with a strong steady pace. Bassist Sam Kiszka and drummer Danny Wagner sound like they have played together forever, cutting their teeth in seedy bars and venues with sticky floors for decades.

Just when I feel I have had enough of the up tempo rockers, and need a little break, Watching Over slows things down a little and brings to mind a time when you could smoke in bars and had that exact right buzz where every song sounds fantastic, no matter what they play. Lover, Leaver shakes things up again, with a cool little riff and a lot of room for every instrument to shine. What I like about a lot of the tracks on this album is that they sound like they were recorded live in the studio. There is a genuine synergy between the guitars, drums and bass that many bands could take notes on. However, I wish they hadn’t dubbed a second guitar on most songs, as it is not needed, and also takes away from that live feeling (knowing there is only one guitar player in the band). You’re the One is probably the most straightforward song on the album; not much going on in terms of innovative riffs or rhythms, but the song is an effective ballad, and the Hammonds adds that layer of sophistication that saves it from being a filler. The New Day keeps the acoustics while Mountain of the Sun delivers almost a Suede-like chorus, I even had to go hunt down Animal Nitrate to see why I made that connection, and I guess it is just the way Josh sings the chorus that emulates the 90’s brit pop flair.

On my first listen, I felt that the album ran out of steam towards the end, and I was wondering if maybe it wouldn’t have been better served if the track order had been rearranged to keep the momentum going throughout. After several listens, I totally disagree with myself. The intensity of the first half is a dragon ride that is brought back down to earth in the second half, to be enjoyed cross legged on the floor instead. Bring your lava lamp. Anthem should have closed the album and dropped the curtain, but for some reason we get an unnecessary reprise of Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer). Whatever.

So, let’s address the elephant in the room…

I don’t mind bands being influenced by Led Zeppelin and incorporating some of their sound into their own. My favorite band, Badlands, did that with just the right amount of worship and homage, while still developing a sound that was their own. Kingdom Come rocked a commercial sounding 80’s version of Zep, while still staying relevant within their genre. Greta van Fleet are obviously emulating the very core of Led Zeppelin’s rockier sound. The Bonham beats, the bass lines, the wailing, the acoustic guitars… it’s right out of the manual. 

At first it really bothered me, but after a while, and many many listens, I got over it and just enjoyed the music. Some of the stuff on here is so very Led Zep-ish that you just can’t help imagining what it would have sounded like with Plant actually singing. And there is the rub… Josh Kiszka’s voice grates on my fucking nerves. Granted, as time went by this week, I kind of got used to it, but I never liked it. For the same reason I can’t get into Rush with Geddy’s infantile singing, I just want to rip Josh’s arm off and beat him to death with it. His helium infused, almost parodic, wailing and screeching never gives the listener a place to absorb the impact of the music as a whole, and even in the songs that do show musical variety, his voice puts the same howler monkey stamp on them, over and over (and over and over), making them sound very much like the same song being played on repeat. 

At the end of the day, Greta van Fleet is not the next Led Zeppelin. The next Zep would be a band not afraid to recklessly abandon formulas and manuals, and dive into uncharted territories, feet first and mind wide open. As a contrast to Anthem of the Peaceful Army, The Struts fucking nuked everybody with their new album this week, which spans classic rock, ranging from Queen and Elton John, through Rocky Horror and T-Rex, to David Bowie and Oasis – all wrapped up in a sound that is undeniably “The Struts”. That is what Greta is missing. They come across a bit one-dimensional still, and utterly styled and fashioned into desperately looking the part. I see stylists, reps and agents plucking and prodding at them. “Josh, darling! Your feather is a little crooked”, (*snaps fingers at assistant), “Another feather for Josh, please! Bring the blue one! And another vest!”

Maybe when they have had their hearts broken, suffered some internal struggles, experienced some coke highs and heroine lows and a plethora of STDs, we will see the true potential of Greta van Fleet. They have it all. It’s right there. They just need to break free from the corporate puppet show shackles and come into their own. That is the difference between the next Led Zeppelin and the next Hanson Brothers.

Douglas Burton: Afraid to say I am just finding it incredibly boring. There are Zeppisms and Rushisms but no more than a lot of other bands, one-paced like a lot of modern bands and albums, so much so it could actually be one song divided into acts. The singer's voice is beginning to grate but then again I was never biggest fan of either Plant Or Lee. If song came on radio I wouldn't turn it off but I wouldn't go out of my way to listen to it again. Now where are my Kingdom Come albums.

Robert Dunn: This band are new to me, so I did some reading and there was some pretty vicious stuff out there, calling them Lite Zeppelin etc. It wasn't until the final track that I heard Robert Plant phrasing though, for the rest of the album it sounded to me like a rock singer singing his band's songs. So lighten up people, after all Deep Purple got rid of a perfectly good singer after hearing Zep as they wanted a singer who could scream. So yes, they sound like a mix of bands from the 70s but so do The Black Crowes but people don't sneer at them for sounding like The James Gang, The Guess Who, CCR and others. I enjoyed this album a lot and will give it another few listens and a couple of tracks may well end up on a playlist. So they may take a bit more time to find their own sound, but until then I intend to buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Brian Carr: To dig into a new album, especially one from a (relatively) new band, you have to turn everything else off and just listen. The hype, the interviews, even videos - distracting crap. Listen first, then decide.

So I listened. The vocals seem to receive the majority of Zeppelin clone comments, but the guitars: same tones, similar riffs, similar lead breaks. The drummer’s attack and phrasing are very Bonzo-esque (patent pending). So do these things bother you? If so, then baby, baby, baby you won’t like it. Personally, I didn’t hate it. Not sure how much I’ll go back to Anthem, but after listening twice in the car today, I will spin it at least once more through headphones and see if it makes me want to assist James Praesto with the arm pummeling.

As a few have mentioned, whether you like Greta van Fleet or not, at least they’re playing rock with real instruments and some ability. Would you rather another hip hop, pop or country act? If they inspire younger musicians to pick up an instrument, and maybe even dig into some classic rock albums, they’ve done their part to keep our beloved music alive.

Gary Claydon: So, do the latest holders of the title 'Saviours of Rock' live up to the hype? Nah, but then that would have been a pretty big ask given everything that's been said and written about them thus far.

GVF are a young band who wear their influences on their sleeves, pretty much as young bands have always tended to do. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what those influences are so I reckon it's time to simply let them do what they do & see where it takes them.

If this debut long player is the future of rock'n'roll then, as is often the case, the future has one foot firmly planted in the past. There is nothing here that we haven't heard before. I wish they'd picked something else to open up with. Age of Man doesn't work for me. It doesn't help that it reminds me a lot of Yes, a band I've never really cared for but apart from that I like albums that hit the ground running. This track hits the ground limping then grinds to a halt and contemplates it's navel for a while. To my ears it sounded like they were getting the album filler out of the way early and the vocals on this one really do irritate me. 

It would have been better if they had opened with the two tracks that follow - The Cold Wind & When The Curtain Falls. OK, so both are pretty straight forward rockers but they are decent ones and at least they pick up proceedings markedly after the mid-tempo plod of the opening track. In fact these two and Lover, Leaver are the rockiest tracks on the album which leads me to another slight problem I have with it. Overall it lacks punch, there is nothing here that makes you go "wow" and that's a shame. There are plenty of good moments. The three just mentioned are competent, enjoyable rockers, Mountain of the Sun and Anthem work well but the rest tend to blend into each other with Your The One being the low point, that track is just dross.

Overall I think I preferred the two EPs over this, but not by much. For me , GVF are filed firmly under 'Promising'. There is enough there so far to have made me buy the records and the gig tickets and I for one am very interested to see how they develop.

Final Score: 7.02 ⁄10 (316 votes cast, with a total score of 2219)

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