It’s been 4 years or so since Greta Van Fleet first came onto the scene. While many people latched onto them quickly and saw great potential in them as a figurehead in the increasingly imminent revival of rock, a common point of criticism for others was their glaring similarity to Led Zeppelin, something Greta disputed (and later accepted) but was never quite able to shake. Now with a few years and a couple albums under their belt, they may have made a shift for the better. Their latest single “My Way, Soon” showed significantly less Zeppiness than their previous output and indicated that the young Michiganders might be finally coming into their own. Now on the heels of that comes the corresponding album The Battle at Garden’s Gate, determining in 12 tracks whether the shift is a one-song fluke or a legitimate sonic evolution.
“Heat Above” opens the record with a warm, swirling organ swell, breaking open into a cozy campfire tune with an old school Rush-y vibe. Between that and the following aforementioned rocker “My Way, Soon”, the new, sonically matured Greta becomes more and more apparent, Josh Kiszka’s Geddy-ish tinge notwithstanding. Then there is “Broken Bells”, strings, keys, guitar and all, a remarkably deeper tune in comparison to the likes of “When The Curtain Falls”, followed by the energetic “Built By Nations”, a combination of Page and Bonham with some lightly proggy inclinations. “Age of Machine” carries the most weight out of any tune thus far, pounding away in a slow drag and showing the band’s strong instinct on how to execute longer numbers without filler. “Tears of Rain” likewise is a far cry from From The Fires, though while the new experiments and dynamics are great, all the slowing down and reflection does make you yearn somewhat for the likes of a “Highway Tune.”
“Stardust Chords” does the best job thus far of taking what would be classified as an old sound and refurbishing it to not really be all the way retro- in fact, it almost sounds like a step forward as far as rock goes. “Light My Love” isn’t too far off that mark either, but despite all its fullness and texture a livelier number would do better at this point to keep up the energy. The groover “Caravel” fulfills some of that need while “The Barbarians” holds down the Crime Of The Century end of Greta’s new approach. Second to last is “Trip The Light Fantastic”, once again straddling the progressive and the anthemic, then there is the 9-minute “The Weight Of Dreams” to close the album out. Not to speak blasphemy about a song of such stature or to besmirch Greta’s sonic evolution, but you do get “Stairway” vibes listening to “Weight”: The song length definitely factors into the perception, but the gradual build up to an epic climax gives you those same vibes too. Outside of those parallels, it’s a fantastic closer.
With The Battle at Garden’s Gate, it’s clear that Greta can no longer be dismissed as a poor man’s Led Zep. Sure, those influences will always be there in some capacity, but this record definitely shows the boys finding themselves and expanding what they can do as a collective. The amount of balladry could have been lower, and the Rush vibes cut down too, but again, this is an experimental record; a reflection of a work in progress , and more so a band in progress on top of that. It’ll definitely be worth following what they do over the next few years, and what impact they bring upon rock as a whole.