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I get a lot of classic era Rush in the first few spins of Greta Van Fleet’s new long-player ‘The Battle at Garden’s Gate’ – not just in Josh Kiszka’s vocals which seemed to have grown in stature and turned slightly away from the warm Plant-like delivery of their last outing towards the cold wastes of Canada, but also in the more progressive construction of the songs.
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After a three year wait since their debut long-player ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’, during which the band has pricked up awards as they crossed the globe on their ‘live’ trek (even stopping off in Australia on the way), the new record is finally here and it’s impressive in both its scope and its detail. Indeed the attention they’ve received in that time might even have made you think that Classic style Rock was again of more than a passing interest to the mainstream. And in all honesty I can see that spike in interest rising again this time.
1. Heat Above
2. My Way, Soon
3. Broken Bells
4. Built By Nations
5. Age of Machine
6. Tears of Rain
7. Stardust Chords
8. Light My Love
10. The Barbarians
11. Trip the Light Fantastic
12. The Weight of Dreams
With it’s ‘Tolkeinesque’ cover and intriguing title, as well as a much publicized relocation to Nashville the band somehow seems to have broadened their horizons despite the last year’s global lockdown. And it’s that new appreciation of the world and their growth as a result that seems to have added even more to this musical melting pot. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by all those new things there’s a real sense that everything these guys have encountered in the past three years has just inspired them more. You imagine that all of them – vocalist Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka, bassist Sam Kiszka, and drummer Danny Wagner have grown musically and personally as a result of the opportunities music has afforded them so far.
This is a big jump for a band that the unkindest of critics have labelled ‘Led Zeppelin wannabes’ previously. It’s a confident record, expansive and dynamic: I’d be lying though if I said it didn’t sound like Zeppelin, but then so what? Plenty of bands, make that most bands, have ‘done Zeppelin’ badly over the years and at least Greta manage to channel that essence and twist it their own way.
In the press there’s lots of talk about current hot topics all with a yearning philosophical bent – like the effect of technology on life; money and power; inequality; and global conflict; but thankfully we’re spared gender and race politics, and its that harmonious ‘we are all one’ attitude that makes things rather refreshing. No tales of late night and partying of course but plenty of retold ancient tales.
For me sonically this is all about classic sounds of the past made and remade by a modern band, this is not as some will claim ‘bracingly modern’ – its modern only in the sense that its been made in 2021 and benefits from some lovely production by Greg Kurstin (Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney). It’s not even ‘genre-blended musical freedom’ as one critic put it, well not any more than any progressive rock work is. It’s almost as if some of the modern writers out there are willfully trying to anoint Greta as something new (for who knows what agenda) – they’re not – but what they are is timeless. And that is far more important and valuable than being ‘modern’.
If I’m honest I love what I hear on ‘The Battle at Garden’s Gate’ but those two opening tracks that most will have heard ‘Heat Above’ and ‘May Way Soon’ do really remind me of vintage Rush as do a lot of the longer arrangements here like the latest epic single ‘Age of Machine’ – which is pure Prog and quite majestic! Don’t get me wrong there’s variety in there though with the crispness of opener ‘Heat Above’ and the towering chorus and hook of ‘My Way Soon.’
In between there’s ‘Broken Bells’ – an acoustic grower that builds like Zep replete with wails and wonderful solo and ‘Built By Nations’ a shorter classic rock Zep shuffle; and following it another remarkable song ‘Tears of Rain’ a piano ballad that falls for me somewhere between Wings and Zeppelin that you could probably sense a hundred other bands in the mix. It’s all pretty addictive stuff.
The second half of the album kicks off with ‘Stardust Chords’ – a song that has it all and is wonderfully coloured by some expansive guitar and beautiful orchestration. There’s even a little gentle hint of Blues at the offset of ‘Light My Love’ another light and rather short ballad decorated with some nice keys, it’s a wonderfully free composition that shows the value of letting a song breathe.
‘Caravel’ (a light 15th Portuguese sailing ship) gets all ‘Yes’ on us as it stomps and struts; and ‘The Barbarians’ which follows starts out cinematically as the Hendrix guitar slides in and a folky vocal bites, It all adds to the light and shade of a remarkably textured album. The final two tracks couldn’t be more at odds or more impressive – first ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’ feels like an echo of Greta’s past – taking a traditional. simple arrangement with a nice riff and great hook and rocking out. As a contrast closer ‘The Weight of Dreams’ shows what these guys can do given free reign – it’s an epic track, the longest here at almost nine minutes, that builds and ebbs and flows in cinematic, breathtaking glory. Of course there are echoes of Zeppelin in it and of course it sounds great. At the moment it sounds to me like they saved the best till last.