In an Age of Darkness Light Appears
Yo, this be Reuben. Surely by now pretty much every rock fan has heard of Greta Van Fleet. I introduced them to this site with a first impressions feature on the introductory single they released for this here album, which I’ve been edging to listen to ever since. So, in a move against the very crux of my moral compass itself, I downloaded Spotify so that I could hear it, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the CD any time soon, and I wanted to review its ass.
First off, what the hell kinda name is Anthem of the Peaceful Army? Their promo stuff leading up to the release of the album was weak at best, just plain weird at worst, as they re-coined such phrases as “hearken and ruminate”, which apparently means listen and think, but we all know that’s some Dungeons & Dragons shite. That album name was really the nail in the coffin, and it almost made me reluctant to carry on listening to the band.
Still, I had ALL THE TIME for When the Curtain Falls, and second single Watching Over was a brilliant listen, so I wasn’t gonna be dissuaded by some lame promo from giving this album a go — never judge a book by its cover, after all. So yeah, I downloaded Spotify on my PC, a heretic crime I refused to do for so long, because I couldn’t resist this badboi any longer.
I’ve made my thoughts on When the Curtain Falls clear before, in that aforementioned first impressions feature where I gushed out all my love for the song, but does the rest of the album live up to it?
Well, for starters, we’ve got the six minute opening track that is Age of Man, which I can safely say is genuinely wonderful. It’s a glorious beast of a song, with a beautiful emotion running through its veins as it’s subtly progressive, and oh-so-powerful. With rock-solid, memorable melodies at its core, the band seamlessly turns pondering organs into mid-pace rock heaven, and into a selection of tasty crescendos, all lead by the passionate vocals of Josh Kiszka. I gotta say, some of that lame promo must be rubbing off on me because I feel like writing something like: “this song places the band on the precipice of fate, setting the stage for grandeur.” But I’m not. It shows a band who have, after a surprisingly short amount of time, finally found their feet. Might this be their Stairway? Who knows…….
That joke, actually, (and yes, it was a joke (please laugh)) brings me nicely onto that pesky link this band seem to have with Led Zeppelin. By this point it’s just unoriginal to label them Zeppelin copy-cats, agreed? I can see the comparison, but I can appreciate a band who can unashamedly wear their influences and inspiration on their sleeve, and while that’s respectable alone, I think its a testament to how good they are that it still sounds fresh for the most part. And of all the bands to successfully sound like, are Led Zeppelin not a very good one? Considering how young these fellas are too, hell, I wish I could ever play music as well as they do. It may not be quite so inspirational as Zep were in the first place, but I think it’s hard to come across a band as obviously enthusiastic, raw and energetic as Greta Van Fleet do here.
And when I say they sound fresh, I mean fresh. The mix on Anthem of the Peaceful Army is, as I said before, “clean, raw and powerful all at once, not sounding over-produced but with a modern sheen which is SHINY”. It’s raw enough to let that genuine passion in the music shine through, but produced enough as to not alienate young listeners who are used to more glistening mixes than what they put together in the late 60s. And while, yes, some could say it’s just trying to emulate music from that time period, through this mix and its high production values, it sounds very new, and it sounds good. LITTLE SIDE POINT THOUGH BOIZ: I think if there was more character in the drum and bass recording they’d sound a lot better, because right now they sound a bit flat. This isn’t the best mix ever, by any stretch, but it is good, and it captures the right tone, despite that shortcoming.
But let’s get back to the music itself. It’s not just a knock-off late 60s rock n’ roll replica, don’t believe what Pitchfork tell you. I can’t underline enough the energy and passion that so clearly shines through practically every note played on this damn thing. Anthem of the Peaceful Army has an extremely listenable quality to it, it’s an album I find I can stick on in the background of anything, and while it may not always distract me too much from whatever I’m doing with sheer brilliance, I never tire of it.
This listenable quality is attributed to the songwriting, which by all means, considering that three quarters of the band is below 21-years-old, should be sprouting and unpolished, maybe a little rough around the edges. However, listening through, it sounds like an album put out by already accomplished musicians. It’s filled with classic rock n’ roll tropes, a smorgasbord of stompin’ riffs resting on the backbone provided by rolling, branching bass lines and drumbeats. But what is crucial to the album’s listenable quality is its structure, which puts forward 11 tracks that never get too heavy, or too soft. There are no extremes in the peaks and troughs here, and that makes it an easy, pleasant listen.
Within these 11 tracks lie a few gems, that’s fer sure. The brightest lights are definitely Age of Man and When the Curtain Falls, and those two will likely at least near-top my year-end song list. Alongside them, we’ve got the fantastic Watching Over, which with an interesting mid-pace intertwines arpeggiated guitar progressions with a simple but effective drum and bass combo, to make for an easy-listening and pleasant sound. This sound, however, has the potential to rise to crashing crescendo after crashing crescendo, as again Josh’s vocals seethe with passion throughout, as he masters the quiet-loud dynamics of his voice, punctuating a brilliant overall output on the record with perhaps his best single performance to date. Moving on, we’ve got The New Day. It’s just flippin’ lovely, mate. It’s so happy. I love it so much. Finally, we’ve got Mountain of the Sun, which is a mighty-fine example of the strength of melodies that Greta can put forward.
Anthem of the Peaceful Army plays very much like a natural progression of Greta’s first two extended plays, and while it sounds grander, more spacious and by all means better, a criticism that could be drawn from that is that it shows a certain lack of ambition, or the creativity necessarily needed to change things up in a substantial way. While I think, for a debut album, it was important for Greta to solidify what they had already started with their EPs prior to it, I would have liked to hear a few more extremes in heaviness and softness. Because, despite being a comfortable listen and an accomplished record, after a few listens it becomes clear that beyond that, there isn’t actually that much of interest or to excite the senses any more than a little grin or head nod, so in terms of lasting appeal, the album could fall a little short here. It can also be said equally though that this means it’s a very easy album to stick on repeat. I think what it means is that it can be good, sometimes truly great, but this isn’t going to be a spectacular, enduring album for the ages.
Moreover, while the instrumentals are very solid and the musicians themselves are very promising, there is little in terms of intricacies in the music that you’ll notice on re-listening to it, as it becomes clear that there is little beyond ‘solid’ in Greta Van Fleet’s music here. Nonetheless, I couldn’t reasonably expect there to be spectacular turns by any of these musicians considering their age, and for a debut LP, it provides a genuinely exciting foundation from which they can build on in the future.
Still, there are points in this album where it feels pretty standard, and a lack of creative ambition really shows. I’m afraid to say that with its 1970s keyboards and lame-ass lyrics, You’re the One does actually smack a bit of wannabe Zeppelin. It pains me to say it, but it’s really been done before. I would honestly rather listen to Thank You, that one pulled off the cheese, Greta’s attempt doesn’t — it falls flat and it’s one I’ll be happy to skip, thank you (ha, get it?). The guitar tone in The Cold Wind waltzing in at track two to follow up the glorious wonder of Age of Man sounds like its been completely copied from any which song you’d like to choose from Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, and although much less of an extreme case of it than You’re the One, it does sound pretty rip-off-y, and there’s much better to hear on this album. I also could really take or leave Lover, Leaver and just have in Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer) by itself. I honestly can’t understand why they have a shorter and longer version of the same song on the same album, let alone when it’s got so much less to it than the best on the album.
I don’t want to be harshly critical here though, because other than perhaps You’re the One, there’s nothing on this album that is bad. At worst, the album’s a bit standard, and unfortunately oh-so inferior to the influences it wears so proudly on its sleeve. But at its best, although quite far from the best rock music you’re ever gonna hear, it’s a gratifying and immensely fun listen, steeped in passion, joy and youthful energy, and this shines through clearly in just about every corner of the record’s run-time.
It’s admittedly limited in its delivery, and it’s probably not gonna be my album of the year, but Anthem of the Peaceful Army is a solid debut LP, one that for now comes easily recommendable to just about anyone, and one that points towards greatness in years to come. These boys are gonna be filling stadiums very soon, and I wanna be there to see it happen. If there’s any straight up rock band today that needs your support, it’s Greta Van Fleet, so give ’em a shot.
BEST SONGS: Age of Man, When the Curtain Falls, Watching Over, The New Day, Mountain of the Sun
WORST SONGS: You’re the One, The Cold Wind, Lover, Leaver
SUPPORT ‘EM BOIZ:
Buy the album HERE
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