The long awaited full-length debut album by Greta Van Fleet has finally arrived. Released on October 19th, 2018, Anthem of the Peaceful Army received negative reviews from rock critics. As a fan of their second EP From the Fires, I tried to ignore the noise, and I tried to listen to the album with open ears. Unfortunately, with a heavy heart, I want to say that all of the reviews are correct: Anthem of the Peaceful Army is a lackluster, overproduced 70’s throwback that lacks grit and creativity.
To state the obvious, there is something about Greta van Fleet that makes me think of a famous rock band from way back. What was the band’s name? Lead Balloon? Led Blimp? I forgot. Sigh.
All joking aside, Greta Van Fleet’s sound is Led Zeppelin. No one can deny that fact. Personally, I didn’t mind—at first—their sonic sound. In fact, I remember the first time I heard them was on my car radio, and I was instantly hooked within ten seconds of “Highway Tune.” The fact that Joshua Kiszka had the vocals of Robert Plant and Jacob Kiszka had the technical prowess of Jimmy Page fooled me into thinking that I was listening to a long lost Led Zeppelin outtake. I knew that this band could play. But, I hoped it was a just a phase. I wanted to see them expand their vocabulary on their debut album. I wanted them to experiment a bit. I wanted them to find their own sound.
Nevertheless, on Anthem of the Peaceful Army, Greta Van Fleet reuses Led Zeppelin’s sound without the rawness of From the Fires. The opening track, for example, “Age of Man,” is an overproduced sludge of 70’s rock cliches. From the space-rock like introduction to the wall-of-sound climax, the song reeks of their desire to make their own “Stairway to Heaven.” However, with its typical rock song structure and unusually high-pitch, clean vocals that seem like a poor imitation of Robert Plant, “Age of Man” is nothing more than a boring, throwaway song that offers nothing to the album.
The second song on the “The Cold Wind” also tries to emulate the raw ferocity of their earlier hit “The Safari Song,” but it ultimately fails. The stereotypical hard rock riff and guitar is uninspired. I’ve heard it a million times before from other hard-rock blues bands. The vocals again seem a little too clean for such an album, and there was a section in the song (around 2:15) where his vocals had actually made me laugh in displeasure.
The best cut on the entire album is third song “When the Curtain Falls.” With its reference to “A Hard Day’s Night” in the beginning and its great dynamics, the song musically encapsulates Greta van Fleet’s true potential. Lyrically their strongest song of all time, it talks about the effects of stardom on a woman. The fierceness of the guitar riff and the solo seems perfectly woven into the overall song. Joshua’s passionate vocals elevate the song into the stratosphere. This song has great production value that doesn’t mask all of the band’s coarseness.
Unfortunately, the band’s next song “Watching Over” goes back to dull attempts of previous attempts to imitate a classic. Reminiscent of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” the band experiments with a more exotic sound. With Jacob’s guitar trying to imitate the sound of a sitar, the song firmly tries to match “Kashmir” through its Eastern scales, but “Watching Over” ends up becoming a throwaway demo in comparison. It is nothing more than a standard rock song that doesn’t dive completely into its experimentation.
The band hits one last high point on “Lover, Leaver.” Just like “When the Curtain Falls,” the song has great dynamic range. The guitar riff is dirty and Joshua’s vocals are the most powerful on this song. I even appreciated the use of keyboards on this cut. But, the greatest aspect of the song is Daniel Wagner’s drumming which drives the entire song and makes you actually feel the song.
Even though the band reached an apex with “Lover, Leaver,” they instantly hit rock bottom with the weakest and most substandard song of their entire career: “You’re the One.” This is nothing more than a lame attempt of a rock/power ballad from the 70s completely with an organ solo and multi-tracked chorus. The lyrics are absolutely cliche and seem like they were written by a love-sick fifteen-year-old. Unfortunately, there is no redeeming quality in this song and the next obligatory “soft” song, “The New Day,” is just another average folk rock ballad. Lyrically, it is stronger than “You’re the One,” but vocally, there is another mismatch between Joshua’s screaming vocals and the twangy, sunshine sounding production.
“Mountain of the Sun” has the greatest riff throughout the whole album. Reminiscent of Elmore James’ tone, the Jacob’s slide guitar creates a great vehicle for the song and his guitar solo scorched through my headphones. But, the lyrics are average and seem to fit a more Beatlesque band: “The sun shines brighter from above / And you’re the woman that I love / Climb the mountain even higher /To kiss the sun, fight the fire.” The song’s inclusion of a typical arena-rock style break concretely makes it nothing more than a stereotypical dad rock song.
The second longest track on the entire album, “Brave New World” is another bore with its progressive/hard rock tendencies that actually put me to sleep. With its muddy guitar work to the inclusion of an angelic vocal break, the song rehashes the worst aspects of every throwaway hard rock song in some compilation album, which makes it nothing more than an unwanted lullaby. Its chorus shares some melodic similarity to “Age of Man” which adds to my repulsion to the song.
The final song is “Anthem” and is also the strongest acoustic piece on the entire album. Lyrically and compositionally inspirational, the song makes some bold choices from its slight hippy politics to the background vocals. Furthermore, the addition of the ethereal slide guitar provides a somewhat strong ending to an uneven album.
I want a Led Zepplin for my generation. I really do. I want my generation’s Jimmy Page wailing through huge Marshall stacks. I want my generation’s Robert Plant screaming passionately through a microphone. But Greta Van Fleet isn’t it. The era of power rock ballads and long, flowing 70s hair-dos are long gone. For the older generation, perhaps, this is nothing more than a nostalgia trip of the good ol’ days: “Back in my day, musicians actually played their instruments,” “Kids nowadays don’t know what real music is,” and “They actually wrote their music back then.” Yeah, right. But at least Led Zeppelin knew how to take a song and properly remake it with their own sound and identity.
Using the words of the past, “I’m not trying to ’cause a big s-s-sensation / I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-g-generation,” or in other words, “the times-they-are-a-changin’.” Who knows? Maybe, there’ll be another rock revival in the coming decade due to Greta Van Fleet, and I would be the first one to admit that I was wrong about them. But, if current state of rock music means completely ripping-off a band’s sound, then rock is truly dead.
Recommended Tracks: “When the Curtain Falls”, “Lover, Leaver”, “Anthem”
Album Rating: 3/10
Album Review By: William Padgatoon