By Yosef Rosenfield, Features Editor
It’s been two and a half years since released their first album, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army,” but the wait is finally over: on April 16, after much anticipation, “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” blessed the contemporary rock music world. Greta Van Fleet, for those who have not yet joined ‘The Peaceful Army,’ hails from Frankenmuth, MI and is arguably the only present-day “classic rock” band. The rock ‘n’ roll quartet consists of three Kiszka brothers — Josh (vocals), Jake (guitar) and Sam (electric bass) — and Danny Wagner (drums). “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” leans further into the band’s uniquely retro sound, doubling down on musical and lyrical motifs from their previous releases, while simultaneously incorporating modern-day pop sensibilities.
“Heat Above,” my personal favorite song off the album, sets the tone with a sonically dramatic entrance: a lone organ plays a slow, heavenly intro before being joined by the swelling of a drumroll; a short drum fill briefly silences the organ — then, with a crash of the symbols and the thrash of an electric guitar, the full musical arrangement comes together to welcome the vocals. The catchy and anthemic “My Way, Soon” occupies the number two spot, having topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and becoming Greta Van Fleet’s fifth song to do so. “Tears of Rain,” a few songs later, can be described as melodically ethereal and lyrically apocalyptic. Perhaps the biggest surprise from a stylistic standpoint comes from “Caravel,” which features noticeably more falsetto than is typical of Josh’s vocals for a given song, complemented by edgy riffs evocative of Metallica (with whom, coincidentally, Greta Van Fleet had been scheduled to tour). The album closes with “The Weight of Dreams,” a scathing criticism of those involved with the California Gold Rush and of the dangers of greed in general.
“The Battle at Garden’s Gate” in many ways parallels its predecessor, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” (2018), as well as Greta Van Fleet’s 2017 debut EP, “Black Smoke Rising.” Musically, Jake continues to draw a line of chord suspensions on guitar — which date all the way back to “Flower Power” and have become a distinctive mark of his performance style — in songs such as “You’re the One” (off of “Anthem of the Peaceful Army”) and now “The Barbarians.” Even on vocals, the new album is peppered with Josh’s signature descending melodies and dramatic sustained high notes that have been around since “Black Smoke Rising,” through “When the Curtain Falls” and are still present in more recent material that includes “Heat Above” and “Light My Love.”
Greta Van Fleet’s newer songs also feature lyrical themes similar to those present in their earlier music. In “Anthem” (2018), Josh sings about bringing people together in divisive times through music: “Where is the music, a tune to free the soul / A simple lyric to unite us all…” Likewise, some of the lyrics in “Broken Bells” appear to echo this sentiment of unity: “I believe there comes a time / When out of silence we will sing / And even broken bells will ring.” Additionally, “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” contains messages — reminiscent of those found in earlier releases — that seemingly address the question of rock music’s survival as the older generation of rock ‘n’ roll dies out. Early lyrical phrases like “the black smoke rises from the fires” and “we will stand up in the cold” (Black Smoke Rising,” 2017) have since been accompanied by comparable lines that include “to wander lands of ice and snow” and “they pass the torch and it still burns….it’s now our turn” (“Age of Man,” 2018). This imagery — suggesting that Greta Van Fleet represents a remaining ember from the extinguished rock ‘n’ roll scene — is now mirrored by their new album, with phrases such as “the fires still burn and rage all around” and “fire still burning on the ground” (“Heat Above”).
The album gets 5/5 stars from me, simply because there is nothing that could have made it any better; “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” is all it was cracked up to be. The album explores a somewhat progressive sound for Greta Van Fleet, yet still manages to incorporate familiar musical and lyrical themes that speak to those who know the band’s prior work. As a loyal fan, I even recognize a few guitar licks scattered throughout the album from a 2018 Greta Van Fleet concert I attended (it was incredible, obviously) and other live performances. So I’ll be listening to “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” on repeat for a while, patiently waiting for Greta Van Fleet to release their next album.