Greta Van Fleet’s first proper LP, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, follows two EPs that generated a lot of buzz and fame within indie circles. The young Michigan quartet has been praised for its musical chops and compared – both favorably and unfavorably – to Led Zeppelin. With the new album, the band hopes to distance itself from the Led Zep comparisons while carving out its own sound.
Anthem of the Peaceful Army largely accomplishes those goals. It’s an album loaded with retro riff rock but it sounds more organic than the EPs. Singer Josh Kiszka still sounds a lot like Robert Plant at times, especially when really belting out the vocals, but on this album. his voice feels more natural. Guitarist Jake Kiszka lays down massive rock riffs, but they are placed in the context of each song’s structure rather than standing out as the featured element. As a whole, on Anthem of the Peaceful Army, Greta Van Fleet has created a more cohesive album that results in finely crafted songs rather than just stand-out moments.
The album begins on a surprisingly soft note with the power ballad, “Age of Man.” Slow, swirling guitars begin the track before the rock riffs join in. As on much of the album, the song features good riffs, but they’re not the centerpiece.
After a softer start, the album kicks into gear with several consecutive hard rock songs. In “The Cold Wind,” Jake Kiszka goes into guitar-hero mode with a riff-heavy jam while Josh Kiszka howls the vocals. “When the Curtain Falls” follows with an excellent slide riff, Jake Kiszka’s slide frenetically flying across the neck.
Though Anthem of a Peaceful Army focuses less on histrionics than the EPs, it is those grandiose moments where Greta Van Fleet shows what it does best. Josh Kiszka is at his best when in a full scream, and as a result his scream is overused. Over time he should learn to work more vocal nuance into the songs. Jake Kiszka plays some subtle, complementarian guitar at times, such as the acoustic fingerpicking of “You’re the One,” but his best moments are when he unleashes a nasty guitar solo or infectious blues-rock riff.
In the environmentalist rock ballad, “Watching Over,” Josh Kiszka sings of the destruction of the planet over music that flows from a slow arpeggio to a sitar-like pre-chorus, to a power chord-heavy chorus. “I wonder when we’ll realize this is what we’ve got left and it’s our demise,” he sings over a thumping rhythm.
The fast, infectious guitar riff of “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)” stands out, as does Jake Kiszka’s slide solo, anchored by Danny Wagner’s propulsive drums and Sam Kizska’s bass groove. Over the dirty licks, Josh Kiszka makes unfavorable comparisons of a lover to “an angel straight from hell” and to the “Witch of Endor.”
One of the album’s themes is a desire to unite a world that has become increasingly divided and hostile. “Just you and me can agree to disagree and the world is only what the world is made of,” Josh Kiszka sings over a slide shuffle in “Mountain of the Sun.” The album closing acoustic strummer “Anthem” has him singing about uniting people through music, “a simple lyric to unite us all.”
Greta Van Fleet is not a subtle band. From Josh Kiszka’s howling vocals to Wagner’s pounding drums to Jake Kiska’s virtuoso fretboard theatrics, it is a band that thumps its chest for attention. With Anthem of the Peaceful Army, though, the band has scaled back those elements for a more controlled attack, resulting in an album that is more streamlined without losing any of its power.