My first exposure to Greta Van Fleet was through the last 30 seconds of “Highway Tune”. I’ve listened to Led Zeppelin since the early 1990s, but I couldn’t place the song. My initial thought was that it’s a lost track I missed off the recently expanded remasters. When the song finished and the DJ said it was Greta Van Fleet, I wondered who they are. They are three brothers and a friend from Frankenmuth, Michigan. Joshua Kiszka supplies lead vocals, Jacob Kiszka provides lead guitar, Samuel Kiszka plays bass and keyboard, and Daniel Wagner pounds the drums. The first two are 21 and the other two are 18.
Bands that are reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, who helped design the hard rock blueprint, are nothing new. We’ve seen a number of them: Bonham (featuring Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s son Jason Bonham drums), Black Country Communion (again with Jason Bonham), Great White, Whitesnake (their “Still of the Night” has been called the greatest song that Led Zeppelin never wrote), Kingdom Come, the criminally unknown the Tea Party, and Coverdale/Page (with Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page). But a band that sounds this good, this unimaginably close to Zeppelin is something unique. If you are going to draw positive comparisons between bands, you can’t do much better than Zeppelin. As Josh says of the comparisons, “they are the best rock band of all time, so we’ll take it”.
Nothing with Greta Van Fleet is coincidence. These guys have studied their Zeppelin both closely and well. Josh delivers many of his vocals with Robert Plant’s signature wail, phrasing, and articulation, but the production also heightens the similarities as demonstrated in the opening yell of “Safari Song”, which sounds like the voice of someone falling from Saturn to Earth. At times, the top end of his voice may be deliberately distorted, matching the limitations of 1960s recording technology. The vintage guitars and drumming patterns follow similar classic rock lines. However, there’s nothing to explain, nothing to forgive, and no apology necessary.
There are also no duds with the six originals and two covers in the form of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Meet on the Ledge” by Fairport Convention. But the best has been saved for last. “Black Smoke Rising” is the best rock song I have heard all year (that chorus!). It is the flagship leading an armada of songs. While some bands use the last track to bring closure to an album or lower the energy a notch as the album slows to a halt, Greta Van Fleet increases the power. “Black Smoke Rising” draws together all of the best elements of From the Fires but also sounds like it could be the opening track from their next album. At about the 2:30 mark the song takes a different direction for about a minute before the main song kicks back in. That sort of stretching out is what will take them to the next level. I want to hear them extend the tracks, really jam, experiment, and get out there. They are breathing new life into a classic sound, but they have the potential to make a new sound. Led Zeppelin is not just the sound of world travelers but also world builders.
At some point, Greta Van Fleet will have to not just faithfully cover Zeppelin’s routes; they will have to chart new paths and find fresh lands as they integrate and build upon their influences. The future is in worlds not yet discovered, not yet made, stars whose light we have not yet seen, suns we have not yet felt upon our faces. The essence of Zeppelin is not just encapsulation but enlargement and expansion—going beyond and staying in motion. Greta Van Fleet haven’t written their “Tangerine” (heartbreak), “No Quarter” (ice), “Stairway to Heaven” (complexity), “Kashmir” (groove), “Achilles Last Stand” (gallop), or “All of My Love” (tenderness) yet, but it’s on the way.
We’ll need to see how the catalog develops, but this could be the second coming of Led Zeppelin. For now they are the heir presumptive to the throne. Theirs is the hand that dare seize the flame. These will be the New Gods.
The future for the past has never looked so good as it does now…