A mixed return from the rock quartet...

Whither goest thou, Greta Van Fleet, into the inky night? The Michigan band are often the subject of derision, yet for all the negative reviews, slightly cruel memes, and the endless, endless Hobbit comparisons still they survive, and still they thrive. Album No. 2 is bigger, broader, and heavier than before, the work of a group of musicians who long ago swore to an idea, and certainly don’t see any sense in backing down now that the stadiums are set to re-open.

Said idea – and it’s admittedly preposterous – is that twin-bedfellows punk and synth pop never happened, and the clock remains firmly fixed at the year 1974. Often compared to Led Zeppelin for their flowing robes, outlandish guitar solos, wailing vocals, and epic gong use – yes, we said gong – the palette draws on early to mid 70s arena rock, and as a result there’s a fair chunk of The Who in there, too.

So: ‘The Battle At Garden’s Gate’. The title sounds half-way between Tolkein and a lairy Thursday evening at a Central London pub, but make no mistake: this is very much an irony-free zone. Indeed, that’s perhaps Greta Van Fleet’s masterstroke – this is brain-off, ears-open music, a move that snubs the gatekeepers and embraces the mass. A more stream-lined, even more humourless Mars Volta if you will.

‘The Heat Above’ eases you in, before ‘My Way, Soon’ sees vocalist Josh Kiskza (one of three brothers in the band) begins unleashing his vocal pirouettes. ‘Built By Nations’ is an overtly epic guitar cruncher, while ‘Stardust Chords’ is deliciously affected.

Indeed, there’s actually a lot here to entertain. ‘Tears Of Rain’ dips into some bizarre word play, while ‘Light My Love’ grapples endlessly with cliché. ‘Trip The Light Fantastic’ is higher than the sun, leading to the bloated, 10 minute closer ‘The Weight Of Dreams’.

Slavishly devoted to an era, I actually have no qualms with Greta Van Fleet’s choice of aesthetic. Indeed, many post-punk bands are equally retro, it’s just that the Communist Bloc in 1981 exists in a slightly more credible cultural frame than, say, the Mid-West circa 74. What grates, however, is the endless looking over the shoulder – Greta Van Fleet make music that desires to surge into wide open spaces, yet it continually refuses to be truly free. Hemmed in by their own ambitions, ‘The Battle At Heaven’s Gate’ is an oddly contradictory experience, one that finds Greta Van Fleet truckin’ on up a one way street.

5/10

Words: Robin Murray

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