There was a rich irony missed by the many observers who criticised Greta Van Fleet’s early output for bearing too much of a Led Zeppelin influence. After all, Zep themselves didn’t start out as paragons of originality; their approach was not so much to take inspiration from blues and folk tunes, more that they just took them, frequently without credit (until the lawyers came calling).
So if we concede that most new bands, especially those formed by musicians barely out of their teens, are likely to still bear their formative influences pretty noticeably, how long do we give them to develop a sound that’s more identifiably their own?
The Battle At Garden’s Gate, GVF’s followup to 2018’s Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, showcases an undeniably more varied sonic palette, even if that just means there are more classic bands that its 12 songs remind you of.
On opening track Heat Above, the high-register voice of Josh Kiszka combined with an acoustic-based anthem throws up echoes of REO Speedwagon. Or you could be hearing Geddy Lee keening his way through Trip The Light Fantastic and My Way, Soon, a feeling strengthened by gutsy Lifeson-like guitar chords and the lyrics ‘I’ve packed my bags and I’ve got my freedom… I’ll throw out the plans and live with no burden’ echoing Neal Peart’s libertarianism (thankfully without the Ayn Rand philosophising).
But rarely do those similarities overshadow the album, even when those oft-mentioned Zep-isms are evident once again. Built By Nations is punctuated by an archetypally Page-style shuffle riff and a crunching, Bonham-esque rhythm. But, as with much of this album, the gutsiness of the playing and the top-line vocal melodies are just as likely to grab you – and those are qualities that can’t be begged, stolen or borrowed.
Are there weaknesses? Not many musically. But, as with the band’s debut, while intriguing titles suggesting epic, Tolkien-esque tales of adventure and mystical wisdom, The Battle At Garden’s Gate is full of lyrics that are invariably so difficult to decipher that keeping track of any narrative is a fool’s errand.
‘We need some healing… you have been cheated,’ Josh howls on Age Of Machine, one of relatively few full lines we can make out without a lyric sheet. So it’s very loud, and you can’t hear the words. But since when has that been a reason not to dive into a rock album?
Make all the comparisons you like, but Greta Van Fleet are rapidly coming into their own.