Greta Van Fleet – The Battle At Garden’s Gate (Album Review)

Michigan natives Greta Van Fleet have taken the American Rock world by storm with their media-worthy comparisons to bands of Rock past. Their newest, The Battle at Garden’s Gate, released via Republic Records on Friday, April 16, 2021, is a mature step for the band to become all their own.

Started in 2012, the Kiszka brothers—Josh (vocals), Jake (guitar), Sam (bass)—and friend Danny Wagner (drums) signed to Lava Records in 2017. With Josh Kiszka receiving massive attention for his soaring vocals, the band’s 1970’s Blues-Americana instrumentation and their dedication to touring, it was finally time for their debut EP, From the Fires, to be released. It went on to win a Grammy for Best Rock Album later in 2019, paving the path for their first full-length, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.

Known for their aesthetic and showmanship, Greta Van Fleet deliver a more developed sound, without taking a massive departure from what fans know and love, on their latest. The 12-song Battle at Garden’s Gate kicks off with “Heat Above,” one of the album’s first singles, allowing a more ‘70s operatic synth to be the grand opener to a supposed opus. Josh Kiszka soars to daring heights, vocally, something we’ve already witnessed but it seems to be further matured and stylized here. The addition of strings gives more dramatization, resulting in epic instrumentation that clearly deserved to be a single.

Following suit, “My Way, Soon” starts with a desert-like acid trip effect and is the quintessential 1970s Rock sound expected from the band. Incorporating a little more Blues, it has a feel that is similar to a road jam that can be heard from a convertible speeding down an abandoned highway; no rules, as the song mentions. “Broken Bells” takes more of a sullen, melancholy turn, musically, with almost a dreamy quality, akin to the lyrics that follow the same suit with orchestration to boot.

Throughout the album, the guitar work from the Kiszka brothers is also more intricately detailed, with long, strung-out solos that seem to fit their goal; that they are getting closer to conquering. “Built by Nations” creates more of the Led Zeppelin like atmosphere with a guitar opener that evokes early Jimmy Page, creating the atmosphere of a battleground.

Similarly, the muffled guitars of “Age of Machine” amplify the song’s slow tempo dramatism, as if the climax of the mellow, hippie epic has gone on just a little too long. Meanwhile, “Tears of Rain” continues the melancholic approach with solid opening guitar work taking some influence from The Who’s 1969 Rock Opera Tommy, with a little bit of 1973’s Quadrophenia thrown in with its high, battle-cry vocals and a side of lighters waving through the stadium air. 

At the halfway mark, “Stardust Chords” sounds like the start to a cowboy shoot-out scene minus the guitar twang. It takes more of an upbeat approach, while “Light My Love” opens with a beautiful Americana Rock piano melody, seeming more gentle, and could easily be heard coming out of a jukebox at a good old-fashioned dive bar. Next track “Caravel” takes more advantage of the lead’s high falsetto capabilities and creates a head bouncing hypnotic rhythm that leads to “The Barbarians,” which uses a lot more synth as background and tells a lyrical coming-of-age story with a forlorn sense of sadness.

A trip, indeed, “Trip the Light Fantastic” starts off strong, and coasts back and forth between a questionable detour and a magical discovery along the way. This builds to the album’s epic finale, “The Weight of Dreams.” This final track is the longest, and weaves back and forth as if Led Zeppelin did a Rock Opera in their early days. It plays to each member’s strengths, from beautiful guitar licks to screeching yet soaring vocals, all as the drums maintain a mighty beat. Working as a unit, the band gives the dreams embedded in the track the instrumentalized weight it needs, skirting on unnecessary at times. 

With The Battle at Garden’s Gate, Greta Van Fleet has certainly created their own unique sound and are living up to their over-the-top reputation. While it is what Elton John asked of them when they opened up for him at a party, sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s too much for the particular song. Both the guitar work and vocal work on the album have certainly shown how they have bloomed, and though it’s beautiful to witness, sometimes it can be in excess. It’s almost as if they have created a schtick and are trying to force their point; the subtlety just isn’t there. But they are certainly continuing on their way, so Cryptic Rock gives Greta Van Fleet’s The Battle at Garden’s Gate 3 out of 5 Stars.

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