A blast from the past: That’s Greta Van Fleet. Last year, this group of three brothers and a drummer from Frankenmuth, Michigan, took the rock world by storm with their back-to-back EPs Black Smoke Rising and From the Fires. Now they’ve returned with their official debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, which landed near the top of the charts.
To say that this quartet takes classic rock fans back in time is an epic understatment. Twenty-two-year-old frontman Josh Kiszka and his bandmates practically channel Led Zeppelin—so much so, in fact, that their sound has produced a cottage industry evaluating whether their imitation of Robert Plant and Co. is actually a good thing. (Critics proclaimed them the saviors of rock ‘n’ roll last year; but their exacting Zeppelin schtick is already wearing thin for some.)
Similar to their efforts last year, the band’s latest focuses primarily on the intersection of love and humanity, pondering universal themes about the meaning of it all throughout Peaceful Army’s 11 tracks.
“Age of Man” contemplates humanity’s voyage from confusion to clarity: “In an age of darkness, light appears/And it wards away the ancient fears/March to the anthem of the heart/To a brand new day, a brand new start.” The song also recongizes our need for guidance and the sobering reality of death. “Who is the wiser, to help us steer/And will we know when the end is near?”
“The New Day” chronicles a man’s journey toward personal renewal (“Shake the old way, nights too dark to see/Free tomorrow, it’s bright with something new”), as well as pondering the tension between love and pain (“Love isn’t greed, it’s a need that goes unspoken/Love doesn’t leave when you fade away/Pain isn’t vain if it means your hearts been broken/Pain is the same as a means to heal”).
“Watching Over” nods at God’s existence (“To be with the one that’s never seen/The one that stands and watches over”) while pleading with humanity to save the earth: “I wonder when we’ll realize/This is what we got left/And it’s our demise/With the water rising/And the air so thin/Still the children smiling/And we see no sin.”
“Brave New World” borrows its title from Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel of the same name, admonishing listeners, “Kill fear, the power of lies/For we will not be hypnotized.” “Anthem” similarly suggests that music has the power to unify us: “Where is the music?/A tune to free the soul/A simple lyric, to unite us all, you know.”
“Mountain of the Sun” tells the story of a man determined to be with the woman he loves. He sings, “The sun shines brighter from above/And you’re the woman that I love/… I’ll make you mine/You’re my sunshine.” And in “You’re the One,” a guy would be elated if his love interest took him back.
A man pines for a devilish paramour in “Lover, Leaver.” He equates this woman to the biblical “witch of Endor” who “sets my soul on fire” with “flames of love and sweet perfume.” To him, she is “an angel straight from Hell/Draws me to the deep/In the darkness, way below.” Similarly, in “You’re the One,” a woman is referred to as “evil.”
And in “The New Day” we hear a creepy, cringey nod to a young woman’s sexual development “You’re a child in the garden/You’re growing up, I’ll watch you bloom/And your dreams are not forgotten/You’ll be a woman soon.” (Somewhere, Neil Diamond is groaning.)
“The Cold Wind” narrates a cruel pilgrimage in which some make it and others don’t: “Oh sweet mama, lay me down in my grave/Leave me baby, I’m too far gone to save/ … Keep the children snug as the wagon rolls on/When the cold wind blows most of them will be gone.”
“Anthem” hints at a godless origin for humanity: “And from the void, the place in which we came/… And every glow in the twilight knows/That the world is only what the world is made of.”
For many today, rock is dead. But you’d be tempted to think otherwise listening to Greta Van Fleet. These four young men want to stave off that fate perhaps one generation longer, using a formula from a generation ago to make good on that mission.
Anthem of the Peaceful Army isn’t exactly a chaste affair, most notably when it comes to a couple of nods toward wickedly seductive women. That said, the lyrics here otherwise steer clear of profanity, alcohol and recklessness, choosing instead to focus (albeit sometimes confusingly so) on deeper philosophical questions.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).