Back in May, I reviewed Great Van Fleet’s “From the Fires”, an 8-Song double EP that included the #1 hits Highway Tune and Safari Song as well as other fan favorites from their concerts and a couple of covers. Since discovering them around this time last year I’ve been following their rise with great interest.
Greta Van Fleet consists of four guys from Frankenmuth, a small town in Michigan, who are currently in the beginning stages of living the Rock’n’Roll dream. Over the Past year they have been working on a debut album, all the while making friends (including Sir Elton John and Tom Hanks) and some enemies. Their fans are avid, devoted supporters. Their critics are quick to point out their youth and parrot a prevailing belief that they are ripping off musical styles of some legendary 60’s and 70’s bands.
I must laugh at the latter. Do these same critics challenge the rips sampled of classic rock music riffs behind certain pop music? Well? What is there in music that is not in some way derivative?
You see, all music is in some way an extension or evolution rooted in elements of a past genre of style. There are elements of classical music in many Rock famous songs, for example, but largely the entire genre is borrows heavily from Blues and Country. I believe it was Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull who said when asked about some other noteworthy bands being charged with plagiarism, there are only so many chords and notes to be arranged in a finite number of ways. Sooner or later something has got to sound like something else. GVF share many of the same same influences as those bands they are sometimes accused of copying. But to my ear, there is something additional in their sound, and it is the blending that makes their music worth giving a listen.
I’m hard pressed to recall the last time I anxiously awaited an album release as much as “Anthem of The Peaceful Army”. You’d have to go back to at least the early 80’s, but more likely the late 70’s. You see, I’m one of those people the music industry has written off as an unlikely buyer for ‘new’ music. I turned 30 in 1986. And it is true that my interest in new music waned around that same time. Hey, I was in Asia for a while and completely not interested in the pop music played on the other side of the planet. Also, it was hard being 13 time zones away from home to be tuned in to the mainstream of American culture for those couple of years. Around that same time I married and began a family, eventually having three kids. When I returned home I started working 40+ hours a week and all that. However, my interest in music returned around the time my kids stopped thinking it was cool to watch Barney and idolize the Power Rangers. I began listening to the bands and artists that my kids were interested in and, in turn, I began to follow some of them as well. The Rocker inside never died, just I felt like the music biz went off on a tangent and I had no interest in following it down that rabbit hole. Also, it was hard – very, very hard – for me to appreciate anyone’s music when it did not come from a real musical instrument.
And so, here’s the core reason I like Greta Van Fleet so much. Jake Kiszka plays real guitars, and his brother Sam plays a real bass and real keyboards. Danny Wagner plays an authentic set of Ludwig drums. In fact, they play their instruments pretty darn well. That excites me because I know they will continue to evolve and grow over the next few years and, hopefully, at least as many new albums. But a large part of the bad rap the band has been getting is how much lead singer Josh Kiszka sounds like Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) or Geddy Lee (of Rush). Honestly, he does at times, but not all the time.
As a first official debut album “Anthem of The Peaceful Army” impresses me as a sort of response to the band’s many critics as much as an attempt to satisfy their growing fan base. It offers a variety of styles and at times sounds it does bring early Rush to mind, as in “The Cold Wind”. The Rolling Stones influence in “You’re the One” can be felt. But there are a few times that I hear bits and pieces of AC/DC as well as some other bands. Rarely does this new album remind me of Led Zeppelin.
They are not a cover band, as is the assertion many of their harshest critics. Sure, Josh Kiszka has a wild and wicked falsetto, hitting some high notes I’ll bet Plant wishes he still could. Josh’s voice goes from ethereal to primal and guttural. But if you want to know who he really sounds like, he’s exactly like Josh Kiszka!
It’s hard to say which track is my favorite. Since its release last Friday, I’ve played the album many times. Of course, nearly every song was familiar to me as they have been introduced in live concert here and there over the past year. Also, the band did something remarkable in advance of the album’s release, putting out five singles. “When the Curtain Falls”, which they performed on national TV (The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon) back in July, came first. About a month later they released “Watching Over”, which they performed live about a year ago as a tribute to Tom Petty after his untimely death. And guess what, that one sounds like it was slightly influenced by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – go figure!
“You’re the One”, “Lover, Leaver” and “Anthem” round out the singles released prior to 10.19.2018, each showing a different aspect of the band’s developing style and range, acoustic to hard-driving Rock and back again. The album leads with an eerily haunting melody, “Age of Man” that sets the tone and mood for what’s to come. Common threads throughout are love, peace and respect for the environment. “The Cold Wind” is next followed by four of the singles: “When the Curtain Falls”, “Watching Over”, “Lover, Leaver” and “You’re the One”.
The next three songs have rapidly become my favorite tracks for differing reasons:
“The New Day” has an unexpected, killer hook along with its up-tempo beat and uplifting lyric. It is also one of the songs that relies on an acoustic guitar.
“Mountain of the Sun” begins with a striking, bluesy slide-guitar riff carried throughout the song. Again, its lyrics are positive about love and sharing the journey of life.
Next up, “Brave New World” returns to an environmental message with more haunting riffs that will hang with you beyond your first listen. Toward the end there is a powerful bass and lead guitar jam between Sam and Jake Kiszka that’s reminiscent of the late sixties.
“Anthem” rounds out the album, tying the messages and threads together in another acoustic driven melody behind a positive lyric.
There is an 11th track on the Digital Version of the album, an extended version of the single “Lover, Leaver” titled “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer) which includes a jam similar how the band presents the song when performing live. I’m told the CD and LP have this version of the song and not the single version that appears as Track #5 of the digital version.
Band members from Left to Right: Danny Wagner (Drums), Jake Kiszka (Guitars), Josh Kiszka Vocals, and Sam Kiszka (Bass and Keyboards)
“Anthem of the Peaceful Army” will be supported with an international tour called “March of the Peaceful Army”, in reference to the swelling number of fans around the world that have adopted the name “GVF Army”. Look for this band in a city near you and, if you get the chance, see them live. As solid as their performance is on this album, they are, and I expect will always be, an exciting band to watch.
Overall rating: 4.5/5 Stars