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Greta Van Fleet: The Battle at Garden’s Gate

Music critics are a fickle bunch who seem to take a perverse pride in their ability to disagree with each other, but 2018 provided a rare unifying moment for critics and rock enthusiasts across the world when they all came together to make fun of Greta Van Fleet. Indeed, it’s difficult to hear a few minutes of Anthem of the Peaceful Army and not make fun of them. Between an image that could best be described as “Coachella hippie-chic” and songs that faithfully and sincerely reinterpreted ‘70s classic rock to their detriment, the album positioned these kids into becoming the critical punching bags that they ended up being. Given the chance to course-correct with a new album, they instead chose to lean into it with The Battle at Garden’s Gate. If you hated Greta Van Fleet before, their newest album is a dare asking you to hate them even more.

Over the course of two proper albums, Greta Van Fleet have honed their craft down to a pretty well-worn formula that’s easy to pick up on, and Garden’s Gate doesn’t divert away from that for a second. Led Zeppelin is the obvious comparison point throughout the course of the album, but there are time-signature changes peppered throughout that give their songs a bit of a prog feel, which is only further encouraged by singer Josh Kiszka’s reliance on his higher vocal register to the point that one wonders if Geddy Lee is subbing in on a few of these songs. What’s more, the band appears to have fully embraced the nerdier side of their songwriting, with lyrical allusions to travails through the depths of Hades (“Built by Nations”) and robots (“Age of Machine”) that place them firmly in Gary Gygax territory. This is all done with an earnestness that, in the right circumstances, could be charming, and if we jaded rock critics and music obsessives may sneer at Greta Van Fleet’s sincerity in aping their heroes, it’s also not hard to see how a younger audience less familiar with these tropes might find The Battle at Garden’s Gate appealing.

At least, they would until the album puts them to sleep. What gets lost in all of the talk and jokes about how derivative Greta Van Fleet are is how their songs aren’t particularly good or interesting, and Garden’s Gate doesn’t change that at all. That formula that the band relies on ends up being so rigid and unmovable that the album begins to sound the same; the songs blend into one another, each featuring crunching guitars, overly crisp-sounding drums and Kiszka’s banshee shriek. There’s nothing approaching real dynamics on the album, and the one song that does divert ever so slightly from the band’s established way of doing things, “Tears of Rain,” is undone because Kiszka sings ballads with the same wailing intensity that he uses for the band’s hardest rockers. Aside from that, The Battle at Garden’s Gate is simply more of the same lumbering hard rock that Greta Van Fleet has been doing for years and that several other bands have done with far more panache and vigor.

Perhaps the greatest failing of The Battle at Garden’s Gate is that it’s not fun, and for a band like Greta Van Fleet, that’s suicide. For all of the complaints about the band’s shameless aping of classic rock tropes, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal if they did it with a sense of joy or excitement. Yet, as their much-maligned “Saturday Night Live” performance made evident, they either don’t seem to have fun, or they take themselves way too seriously. The lumbering, po-faced performances indicate that the latter is more likely to be the case, and the end result is the worst kind of record. It’s one thing for an album to be bad, but The Battle at Garden’s Gate commits a far worse sin: it’s boring.

Summary
For all of the complaints about the band’s shameless aping of classic rock tropes, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal if they did it with a sense of joy or excitement, neither of which is found here.
33 %
Deflated Zeppelin

One Comment

  1. Lindsey Maddux

    June 8, 2021 at 11:36 pm

    Sounds like there’s very little in life to bring you pleasure. Hard critic indeed with hell’s shadow following you with every tone. The shrieking of beautiful compositions keeping you up at night seems about right. Banshee’s scream of sorrow echoing through the stone hallways of your dower mind. Sure it’s hard to share a room with misery, makes it hard to recognize beauty

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