How Greta Van Fleet uses cosmic sounds to transform rock music

Maddy Reda | @maddyreda1, Contributing Writer

Greta Van Fleet broke the rules once again with their third full-length studio album, “The Battle At Garden’s Gate.”

Imagine a guitar solo reminiscent of Jimmy Page, Richie Sambora and Jimi Hendrix all at once. Then, mix that with the high, grating vocals of Led Zeppelin’s lead singer Robert Plant.

In a 2018 interview, Plant offered kind and lighthearted words, especially about lead singer Josh Kiszka, and acknowledged the resemblance of Kiszka’s voice to his own. 

“He borrowed it from somebody I know very well,” Plant said.

Simply put, Greta Van Fleet is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, all while sounding like some of the most celebrated icons in rock history: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. 

Like many rock bands of the past, Greta Van Fleet started out as a simple garage band with three bored brothers — lead vocalist Josh Kiszka, lead guitarist Jake Kiszka and bassist Sam Kiszka — and their friend, drummer Danny Wagner.

Since their 2012 formation in Frankenmuth, Mich., Greta Van Fleet has been both celebrated and criticized for the lack of studio bells and whistles on their records. Regardless of the criticism, Greta Van Fleet has remained consistent in the release and reception of their music.

In fact, everything the band has released to date has topped the charts of the U.S. Billboards in the Active Rock and Mainstream Rock categories. 

Greta Van Fleet’s career in the public eye kicked off with a strong start after their debut studio album, “From The Fires,” won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2019. Their overwhelming post-Grammy success skyrocketed the band to greatness. For the first time, Greta Van Fleet became a household name among rock icons and the public alike.

Yet, as their stardom began to rise, Greta Van Fleet’s tour plans for 2019 and 2020 were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unable to tour or perform at live venues, Greta Van Fleet decided to make music videos for newer singles with their own at-home video footage. 

Despite occasional social media updates and handcrafted music videos, Greta Van Fleet remained relatively dormant throughout 2020. The band broke their year-long silence with the release of their third EP “Broken Bells” in March. The EP’s lead single, “My Way, Soon” topped Billboard’s Active Rock Chart once again.

As a whole, the four-song spread defined a new era for the band. The band later announced that their third studio album, “The Battle At Garden’s Gate,” would be released on April 16. The band said “The Battle At Garden’s Gate” would be a huge departure from their typical progressive rock sound.

“We wanted to do something on the scale of a film score,” Josh Kiszka said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “We wanted to do that for a long time, but we didn’t think people would be ready.”

Kiszka described the new album as cosmic, otherworldly and unlike anything Greta Van Fleet fans have seen before.

“There are definitely Biblical references. Not just in the title, but throughout the entire album,” Kiszka said. “This is a world with ancient civilizations in it, just like our own parallel universe.”

Kiszka said the album is a magnification of different cultures and civilizations inside a world, all searching for some kind of salvation or enlightenment. While the album is streaked with Biblical and surrealist undertones, the arrangement of every track was intentional and strategic. 

The lead singles — “Heat Above,” “My Way, Soon” and “Broken Bells” — which appeared on the EP released in March, are the most laid-back on the album. All three can be described as tame road trip songs about exploring the wide open world around you. 

As the tracks ascend, so do the three-minute long guitar solos, hard rock hooks and Kiszka’s signature ad lib wailing. 

The Weight of Dreams” is the final track of the album. At nearly nine minutes long, it tests the listener’s ear. How many iconic guitar techniques of the past can they identify? Some listeners claim they hear Hendrix’s signature MXR Octavio Fuzz, while others are convinced that the folky drone chords and palm-muted riffs are an obvious tribute to Jimmy Page.

With minimal lyrics, the song gives the rest of the band a chance to shine on their respective instruments rather than fading into the background. 

The band leaves their listeners with a well-deserved Mötley Crüe-esque guitar solo at the end, which fuses with orchestral string instruments and a brilliant drum solo to create a surrealist masterpiece. 

Many publications have applauded Greta Van Fleet for uniting rock lovers old and new. The band’s decision to fuse psychedelic riffs with the trademark ‘70s shrieking vocals on tracks like “Age of Machine” and “Built By Nations” can get anyone out of their seats.

“The Michigan four-piece continue to channel classic 70s rock without restraint,” The Guardian said. “They are at their best on their more epic material, particularly ‘Broken Bells’ and an eight-minute closer which moves up through the gears from an acoustic intro into a brilliantly overblown Jake Kiszka guitar solo.”

If listening to rock music that transcends space and time seems like something you’d enjoy, be sure to stream Greta Van Fleet’s new album, “The Battle At Garden’s Gate.”