Ever since the breakout success of their 2017 EP From the Fires took the music charts by storm, the Kiszka brothers and Daniel Wagner of American rock band Greta Van Fleet have been known as some of the main faces of modern rock music in the mainstream. With three Grammy nominations and one of them being a win for the aforementioned From the Fires for Best Rock Album, they have received high praise from many about their talent in a genre that has fallen out of the spotlight in recent years. But even with the massive success of their music, GVF has faced their fair share of criticism with arguably the biggest dig on them being their striking similarities to rock bands of the past, most specifically Led Zeppelin. But even with everything that has put GVF in a negative light, it’s clear on their latest record The Battle at Garden’s Gate that they still aren’t afraid to show where their influences come from. Only this time around, they focus on bringing brand new styles to the table on top of the old ones, and it makes for a fantastic listen for classic rock fans and mainstream listeners alike.
The record kicks off with an absolutely stunning opener, that being the both whimsical and gritty track “Heat Above.” With Josh Kiszka providing a focused yet incredibly emotionally charged vocal performance, he nearly steals the show entirely with his powerful yet effortless voice. Not only is he able to sound fantastic when he is at a more natural range, but his signature high pitched shrills give a breadth to the performance that can’t help but command the attention of anyone listening. Along with the vocal performance, the writing on the track is a high point too, with a clear theme of positivity and wanting to make the world a more peaceful place being prevalent. In lines such as, “Marching across the land, is a peaceful army joining the band / Walking hand and hand, to an anthem loudly sung where they stand,” GVF paints a picture of coming together with those around them for good.
With lyrics like these, a mood of hope and comradery is brought to the listener and makes the song just that much more of an enjoyable experience. On top of the great vocals and writing, the instrumental performance is one of GVF’s best in recent memory with a clear point being made to branch out the sonic qualities of their music. This is first apparent with the opening of the track being a lush organ performance that matches the heavenly atmosphere of the song as a whole. As the track progresses, the strong guitars and drum hits that their rock style caters towards come in, but rather than all at once and in an aggressive fashion like in some of their more rocker type of songs, they opt for varying intensities instead which merge flawlessly with the dynamic vocals already present.
Coming shortly after “Heat Above,” the track “Built by Nations” is a shift back to the more traditional rock style that GVF has stuck to on the majority of their discography. The vocal performance here isn’t quite as strong as the album’s opener, but there isn’t a single track on the album that would qualify as a bad vocal performance from Josh Kiszka. Though even with the solid vocal performance, the star of the show on this track is the killer instrumental arrangement. Bassist Sam Kiszka layers the background with deep, heavy chords that provide the perfect foundation for the rest of the instrumentation. More prominently featured in the “Built by Nations” instrumental are the groovy drums from Daniel Wagner and the sharp guitars from Jake Kiszka. The back and forth between the two of them with a guitar focused section followed by a drum solo plays even more into the rocking tone that GVF is going for on this song.
There are new elements throughout the album that are done very well and show them really focusing on developing their own unique sound, but it’s songs like these that show that even when they don’t go in a new direction, it can still sound just as fresh as the experimentation on their other new material. What makes this song such an important one on this record is not necessarily just the merit of the song (although that does make it a highlight as well) but rather that it shows that GVF is not afraid of those that have criticized them in the past for sounding too much like the bands that have inspired them. Rather than backing down from their strengths because of pressure from some critics, they have embraced their roots and have come back even stronger to once again make another headbanging hit.
Switching gears yet again a few songs later is the track “Light My Love” which still maintains the rock style that is commonplace for GVF, but includes some mellowed out elements like some changes in vocal delivery and the addition of some soft piano in certain sections. Instrumentally, the pianos are placed very appropriately on this track because of the softness to them that the band’s other signature instruments don’t have, which fits the tone of the song nicely. In regards to the vocals, the chorus continues the same sort of delivery present on “Heat Above” but in both of the verses Josh Kiszka opts for a calmer tone of voice, and it ends up working extremely well. More often than not, GVF has gone for the intense rock style, but the verses on “Light My Love” show that they are working on developing their sound to be dynamic rather than a one trick pony, even if that one trick is already done well.
Going along with the vocals, the song’s lyrical themes are about love as the name would imply, and really focus on developing the feelings that come with it through both beautiful and detailed imagery. One such example of this is the first verse, “Can you light my love? / Flames growing bright as the sun / Deeper than oceans you run / Watch as our world has begun,” which displays that use of imagery to develop the tone of the song for the listener more effectively. When combined with the more down to earth sound of the vocal delivery, it creates the perfect atmosphere for the themes of the track. This song is not only a beautiful ballad great both sonically and lyrically, but it just goes to show again that GVF can switch up their style with new components and still be successful.
Finishing off the album is the near nine minute long epic of a track, “The Weight of Dreams.” There couldn’t have been a better place to put this song on the record as every single aspect of it perfectly cements exactly what GVF’s goal is with The Battle at Garden’s Gate, that being to make some fantastic music to rock out to while still allowing themselves to delve deeper into unique paths for their sound. Everything from the dynamic vocals in the first half to the thumping drum beats throughout to the insane guitar solo at the end, there is never a dull moment. Talking about each component of the song doesn’t do it justice, as this song makes it a point to have every aspect working together to form each section of the song into its own unique part perfectly.
Opening up the track are rich guitars building up to the vocals coming in, and the vocal performance is just controlled enough that it isn’t too intense but still allows for plenty of emotion to come through. But as the guitars and drums pick up, so do the vocals, with Josh Kiszka’s extremely high range coming in full throttle and the instrumentals going into an all out jam session. The second half of the track is Jake Kiszka and Daniel Wagner channeling every ounce of energy into their instruments with the drums layering the background of the song and the guitar shredding every last note on top of that. If “Built By Nations” was just a taste of GVF going all in on their hard rock style both vocally and instrumentally, then “The Weight of Dreams” is them leaving everything on the table in a blaze of glory.
The Battle at Garden’s Gate is something that Greta Van Fleet needed in their discography, both to show their critics that they aren’t afraid of taking influences from classic rock bands and embracing them regardless of criticism but also to show that they have what it takes to truly develop their own sound. Throughout the record there isn’t a dull moment, from the consistently incredible vocal performances to the interesting lyricism to the intense yet structured instrumentation. For Greta Van Fleet, this record wasn’t one that was supposed to completely shift from their previous work and go in a new direction.
Instead, it’s a statement.
A statement that even if they borrow some sounds from the bands that came before them, when listening to one of their records, you’re always going to know it’s Greta Van Fleet.
Liam Fitzpatrick is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl