ALBUM: “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” by Greta Van Fleet
RELEASE YEAR: 2021
LABEL: Republic Records
BEST TRACKS: “Built By Nations”, “Age of Machine” and “The Weight of Dreams”
Bringing true rock ‘n roll into the 21st century can be tricky. Should we keep the sacredness of what was, mimicking the classic bands and their godliness? Or should we infuse it with modern styles and technology? Toeing the line between reinventing the wheel and being a nostalgia act is something Greta Van Fleet has dealt with since the release of their first album in 2017. Critics and fans alike endlessly compare them to Led Zeppelin, but “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” is an obvious attempt from the young band to create their own identity in the world of modern rock.
Part of the reason behind their meteoric rise to fame (and honestly the reason why I first started listening to them) is how well they’re able to echo the greatness of classic rock. On stage, they don’t lipsynch or use background tracks. Most of their first two albums were produced organically. It’s the powerful simplicity of their sound that has made Greta Van Fleet so refreshing for both new and old audiences.
“The Battle at Garden’s Gate” is a significant shift for the band. It’s cinematic and heavily produced, lacking both the grittiness of “From the Fires” and the twinge of blues in “Anthem of the Peaceful Army.” The running theme throughout the album is one of unity, peace and light. I love the sentiment, and I appreciate that they’re trying to go in a new direction, but it feels almost overdone. There’s a definite pop undertone in several of the songs which take away from the richness of the entire album.
Something else I noticed is how absent their guitarist seemed throughout the album. If you’ve ever seen their live performances, Jake Kiska is an absolute madman on the ax. He’s not afraid to spend some time on his screeching solos. Their first two albums were soaked in heavy riffs, which made their two hit songs “Safari Song” and “Highway Tune,” so fantastic. However, in “The Battle at Garden’s Gate,” his guitar work seemed like background noise at best. The few songs where he does have time to shine, such as in “Built By Nations” and “The Weight of Dreams,” are easily the best of the entire album. My question for them is why they opted for more of the lead singer’s wails instead of utilizing (in my opinion) their most powerful member.
Despite its flaws, “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” still has some beautiful tracks. “Age of Machine” is intense and atmospheric, while “Tears of Rain” whispers a heavenly acoustic ballad. Originally released as a single, “My Way Soon” is energetic and lively. However, if you’re a first-time listener, I’d head back to their earlier albums.