Review: ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’

TRAVIS SHINN | Photo Courtesy
L-R: Danny Wagner, Jake Kiszka, Sam Kiszka, Josh Kiszka

Retro rock ‘n’ roll favorites Greta Van Fleet released their long-awaited full-length studio debut “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” Friday, Oct. 19.

Few bands have grown at such breakneck speed as young Michigan-based outfit Greta Van Fleet. The band of brothers (three blood, one close friend) burst onto the scene with their first explosive EP “Black Smoke Rising,” with the single “Highway Tune” earning them their first rock radio plays.

The band teased their growing fan base with the release of double EP “From the Fires,” which included all the tunes from their previous release along with a few reimagined covers and two new original tracks.

The Kiszka brothers, Josh, Jake, and Sam, along with drummer Danny Wagner continued to sell out venues internationally as their attention grew. It was in the lead up to the release of the debut that we began to see the creation of the GVF “brand,” with the use of the imagery of the white rose across all promotional fields, including the band members tossing them into the crowd before each live performance.

The white rose was further embedded in the band’s brand by the inclusion of the movement “White Rose March.” This furthered the association of the band with nature and conservation, as in order to listen to an unreleased track, a fan had to be in a park at the time.

The “White Rose March” as well the message of many of the tracks from “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” solidifies the idea of a movement behind the band and their music. “The Peaceful Army” seems to harken back to the intellectual ideas of the 1970s of nature’s importance and the need for peace (with hopefully less drug use).

‘Lover, Leaver’ vs. ‘Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)’ 

When I first experienced Greta Van Fleet live, I was immediately enthralled by a heavy rocking jam then titled “Lover, Leaver, Taker, Believer.” Each time an EP was announced, I begged for it to be included. As luck would have it, my favorite track would be held off until “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” and would be included as both an abridged and extended edition.

Strangely, it took me a while to warm up to the professionally recorded version. Something seemed off in post-production from what I experienced live, and the only explanation I can come up with is a difference in the volume dynamic between vocals and instrumental. Nonetheless, I found my disappointment eased by the album’s extended jam “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer).” The guitar solo backed by a cryptic voiceover came closer to the experience I was missing from “Lover, Leaver.”

Needless to say, I would still prefer the live version. However, the ending track of the album still scores high on my list. “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)” contains all the GVF staples: expertly placed bass runs, dark mystic storytelling, dynamic guitar and a well-timed spacey breakdown.

‘Brave New World’

A song that could easily be sung in a hippie commune, “Brave New World” is one of the songs that put the band’s transcendentalist leanings on full display. Their devotion to nature and protection of the planet comes through in a song with a message reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.” Josh takes on the character of the fluffy orange advocate for nature as he sings: “Turn back the clock within your glass of sand/ To a time of love within this blackened land/ A silent child climbs a mound of char/ Where he plants a seed that grows beyond the stars.” Remind you of the Lorax’s world post-Thneed? It should.

“Brave New World” serves as a call to action for the band’s fans (The Peaceful Army). Josh’s vocals soar high above the muted gain of Jake’s guitar work, echoing as if his thoughts are the listener’s conscience.

What Greta Van Fleet try to drive home with multiple songs on their debut is the importance of taking care of the earth.

‘Mountain Of The Sun’

Careening in the dark waters of electric blues and rolling on waves of Louisiana Red’s signature twang, “Mountain Of The Sun” wears its influence like a badge of honor. The Kiszka brothers have often mentioned the “vinyl playground” they grew up in that included countless blues greats, and they put this education to work with the eighth track of “Anthem of the Peaceful Army.”

Josh’s soaring vocals, rich with symbolism, shine rays of light on Jake’s workhorse riffs, brightening the song’s overall tone. A love song not as blatant as the sing-song acoustic “You’re the One,” Josh speaks of devotion like the sun: “The sun shines brighter from above/ And you’re the woman that I love/ We climb the mountain even higher/ Kiss the sun, fight the fire.”

A song where every aspect deepens the story, “Mountain of the Sun” is one of the band’s most complex and strongest of their debut.

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