After two and a half years, Greta Van Fleet is back with their second full-length album. Released on April 16, “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” expands upon the band’s first record, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army,” through its themes of humanity, nature and the state of the world around us.
According to the band, the album’s opener, “Heat Above,” dates back to their days playing in small venues in Michigan and is the oldest song on the record. Having been revamped, the new version of the song is ethereal. Relying heavily on the organ and acoustic guitar, this song is lighter than most of the other tracks and has an almost heavenly sound. With lyrics about love and peace, the song provides some much-needed optimism to the album’s narrative.
On a different note, “My Way, Soon” is an ode to the band’s past three years on the road. Gifted to the fans as the first single off the album back in October 2020, this upbeat anthem is a fun song that encourages people to take their lives into their own hands and experience the world with the lyrics, “I choose the road.”
The third song, “Broken Bells,” begins the journey into some of the darker motifs the album’s lyrical content has to offer. The instrumentation and lyrics of this track go together seamlessly as the verses, backed by the mystery-shrouded guitar sound, touch on a broken world, and the chorus, backed by a brighter-sounding chord progression, sings about hope.
Since the first three tracks off the record were released as singles prior to the album drop, “Built By Nations” was the first track listeners heard for the first time on release day. Starting off with a wail and a cool riff, this song is one of my favorites. Its background vocals aid in establishing the big, cinematic sound that Greta Van Fleet set off to make with this record, while its instrumentation helps it retain the classic rock sound that brought the band success in the first place.
“Age of Machine,” released as a single in December 2020, details a dystopian world. Touching on the negatives of a world so reliant on technology, this song is very timely. While I do enjoy this track, it is a little long and repetitive in my opinion.
“Tears of Rain'' is one of the most unique songs on the album. Much like “Broken Bells,” the song’s lyrics pair perfectly with its instrumentation. Josh Kiszka’s strong vocals combined with Jake Kiszka’s clean guitar tones and Sam Kiszka’s delicate piano playing make for a pretty ballad that emulates the first rainstorm after a drought. Plus, the rumbling thunder in between the last chorus and the final piano notes makes for a beautiful ending to the song.
In contrast, “Stardust Chords” leans more towards the sound of “Built By Nations” with its distinct guitar riff and backing vocals. This song’s enormous chorus invites fans to sing along which leads me to believe it could be the highlight of live shows to come.
“Light My Love” is another ballad which allows Josh Kiszka’s vocal range to shine. The band has stated that this is the first song they recorded with the album’s producer, Greg Kurstin, and that the experience ultimately led them to choose him for the project.
The band cites “Caravel” and “The Barbarians” as the two newest additions to the album. By the time the COVID-19 pandemic had shut everything down, “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” was nearly completed. In light of the lockdown, the band went away to start writing for a third album and came back with these two songs which they felt fit in with the narrative of album two. Having the extra time after canceled touring, the band was able to record these two tracks and have them appear on this album. I would agree that these two songs certainly belong on “The Battle at Garden’s Gate”; the record wouldn’t be the same without them.
“Trip the Light Fantastic” is probably my least favorite song of the album. While it is certainly not a bad song, its overall sound is not my favorite that Greta Van Fleet has produced.
Lastly, for anyone who has attended a Greta Van Fleet show in the past, the closing track, “The Weight of Dreams,” probably sounds familiar. What started as a transition piece to play during concerts has been rebirthed with a new melody and now serves as the album’s finale. Finishing at around nine minutes, almost half the song is a vibrant guitar solo that eloquently showcases the band’s musical ability. Eventually dwindling off to finish the album with a cliffhanger, this song leaves fans ready for album three.
This unique album is very artistic in that it is much more than just music — it gives listeners something to study, interpret and turn around in their heads. That being said, it is not possible to appreciate this collection of music after just one listen. However, diving into this body of work is definitely worth the effort. This record should certainly not be dismissed.
I give “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” 5/5 stars.