'Anthem of the Peaceful Army' review: Greta Van Fleet's debut LP is exactly what you'd expect. Nothing more. Nothing less
Michigan rockers Greta Van Fleet finally unleashed their highly anticipated debut full-length effort, and they do it own their own terms — with loud guitars and even louder wails
It's finally here. The amount of hype that's been drummed up in the run-up to Greta Van Fleet's debut studio album 'Anthem of the Peaceful Army' is dizzying. Ever since the Michigan-based classic rock revivalists burst onto the scene with their 2017 debut EP 'Black Smoke Rising', the rock world has been eagerly waiting for their first full-length effort. After countless comparisons to Led Zeppelin and an army of fans (peaceful army?) defending the barely 20-something rockstars against claims of ripping off a sound that was relevant four decades ago, Greta Van Fleet's big moment of truth is here.
The pressure of the hype machine is something that doesn't always work in one's favor, especially in today's streaming era. Some bands are plagued with the curse of never being able to match up to their flawless debut albums. It's the case with The Strokes' 'Is This It'. It's perhaps the case with Alt-J's 'An Awesome Wave' too and MGMT might never match up to the poppy glory of 'Oracular Spectacular'. Greta Van Fleet's challenge starts much before that. They have the daunting task of matching up to the sheer force and glory of their six original tracks so far (that featured on last year's double EP 'From the Fires').
Ever since they arrived on the scene, Greta has been touring extensively across both sides of the Pond, hitting some of the biggest music festivals around the world, including a slot at CalJam 2018, Austin City Limits, Coachella and more. They've shared the stage with the likes of Elton John and opened for fellow Michigan native Bob Seger. They were the first artist to be featured on Apple Music's new 'Up Next' series and their fan base has been steadily expanding across the world — all this before even releasing their first album. It should be illegal for a band to live up to this much pressure!
But it looks like the four young rockers are nearly oblivious to the pressure. They sound as confident as ever on the slightly cringeworthily titled 'Anthem of the Peaceful Army'. Yes, they still sound like Led Zeppelin and vocalist Josh Kiszka's howls, yelps and frequent "Mama ma mama ma" skats are eerily similar to that of Robert Plant's. Get over it. It's their first record and they're sticking to their guns, doing what they do best — belting out loud and proud, relentless rock tunes. What may be viewed as them 'playing it safe' could very well be Greta doing what comes most naturally to them, and they really can't be criticized for it. Yet.
Early lead single 'When the Curtain Falls' is a prime example of Greta's signature sound, marked by guitarist Jake Kiszka's bluesy distorted guitars and his twin brother Josh's glass-shattering wails. Album opener 'Age of Man' is also a solid start to the album that blends the old-school sound of the band with fluid, modern production that's especially noticeable during the intro and outro of the track.
Since it's their debut-full length, it's also the longest collection of original material and that gives the band some room for versatility. While Greta doesn't pull any drastic surprises and maintains the cohesive sonic theme, they do switch things up a little every now and then.
On the previously released title track 'Anthem', we saw the band's softer side on a soulful acoustic ballad that's sure to be a crowd-favorite singalong soon. That soulful side is further displayed on the harmless love song 'You're The One', a bare-bones, stripped back acoustic number that sees Josh sing instead of belt out the usual wails. Well, for the most part!
'The New Day' is another mostly acoustic number — a carpe diem tune with a relaxed tempo with only a short, contained electric guitar solo at the end. The rest of the album is pretty much straight up rock and roll. One track that particularly amused me was the Aldous Huxley homage 'Brave New World'.
Something about the vocal composition and the power ballad style of the song couldn't keep Iron Maiden (who also have a song by the same name that sounds nothing like this one) out of my head as I listened to the track. No offense to Josh, but I think it would be interesting to see Bruce Dickinson try the vocals on this one!
Across 11 tracks and 49 minutes, 'Anthem of the Peaceful Army' is a comprehensive reflection of Greta Van Fleet's talents. Although the need for two versions of 'Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)' is questionable. It could very well have been 10 tracks spanning 46 minutes. The longer, six-minute version of the track, with it's psychedelic interlude featuring Pink Floyd-like samples of hypnotic, rambling voices is surely the more definitive version and is the perfect album closer. During their live performances, they often stretch it out to nearly 10 minutes and sometimes more. It's a jam-friendly number that can go in many directions. So why Greta would feel the need to include a shorter, three-minute version right in the middle of the album is a good question. They could have just released the shorter single and unveiled the full-fledged version upon the release of the album.
Thematically, 'Anthem of the Peaceful Army' is unsurprisingly a call back to the '70s flower power era. The esoteric mysticisim in the album art and the creatives leading up to the release prove as much. The lyrics also recall a similar aesthetic, calling for peace, love and togetherness in these divided times while drawing vivid imageries "wonder lands of ice and snow" and "ashes and acid rain". Sometimes, they do lay it a little thick though, like in the chorus of 'Anthem', which goes "Just you and me can agree to disagree / And the world is only made of what the world is made of." Wouldn't the world be wonderful if things were actually that simple? If this simple platitude could just shine the light of reason on these grisly times of "alternative facts" and "truisms"?
'Anthem of the Peaceful Army' might not be the answer to the woes of the modern times, but it definitely is a pleasant respite from the giant dumpster fire that is the modern political landscape. It's a worthy debut album that's been due for a long time now and like any big release that rides on a massive wave of hype, it will polarize a fair chunk of listeners. But that's all right because it shows us the signs of a band that is confident in their skin and sure about what they're doing at a very young age.
There's a lot of promise here and there's no denying that Greta Van Fleet has an infectious appeal with their simplistic approach. It's a pleasant distraction from the modern rock landscape that is constantly adopting more and more elements of electronic music and a time when synthesizers are back in fashion again. What remains to see is if both 'Anthem' and Greta will stand the test of time; whether this sudden burst of nostalgic restoration of the classics will endure or fade away as a passing trend.
Apple Music subscribers can stream 'Anthem of the Peaceful Army' below: