Greta Van Fleet — a quartet often called the “saviors of rock,” hailing from Frankenmuth, Mich. — recently released their sophomore album, The Battle at Garden’s Gate. The album aims to capture the essence of the human condition and experience through musings on society and the duality of man.
The album’s opening track, “Heat Above,” is, like its succeeding songs, streaked in blood, gold and stardust. It opens the expansive, panoramic set of tracks with a running drumbeat and challenges its audience with the first of many philosophical perplexities presented in the album:
“Can you feel my love
Rising with the heat above
Life’s the story of
Ascending to the stars as one.”
Throughout the album, age-old themes are explored. From the equanimous reflections of “My Way, Soon” to the dystopian cautions of “Age of Machine” to the euphoric energy of “Light My Love,” the songs hold up a mirror to each individual listener and society at large.
Expanding on their EP From the Fires and freshman album Anthem of the Peaceful Army, The Battle at Garden’s Gate offers a more cinematic experience, not only in its endless sonic layers but also its visual presentation. Created with Matthew Daniel Siskin, music videos currently accompany three of the tracks released prior to April 16. “My Way, Soon” collages Super 8 film of the band members’ antics and travels on the road in sunlight and color, while “Heat Above” marries silver and gold in a white haze. The video for “Age of Machine” flashes from the destruction of a Grecian statue, to horizon shots of oil fields.
Fortifying the visual elements of the album are metaphysical symbols, websites and Instagram accounts to accompany many of the songs. The accounts for the three pre-released tracks contain what seems to be additional artwork and outtakes from music video production, and the content of the remaining accounts remains unreleased.
This album is arguably more musically dynamic and visually developed than any of Greta Van Fleet’s previous work and has been described as the band’s “coming of age.” However, I would argue that, so far, Greta Van Fleet has always been about coming of age: The Anthem of the Peaceful Army has “Age of Man” and The Battle at Garden’s Gate has “Age of Machine.” The ideas of “Anthem,” the title track of the band’s debut album, are reiterated in “Trip the Light Fantastic.” The Battle at Garden’s Gate is both a continuation and expansion of the central concepts that have empowered the band: reflections on humanity, evolution and timelessness.
“The Barbarians” shudders with the bold notes of ancient battles and wails with the matter-of-factness of war as a constant in humankind’s history. Between repeatedly begging the question, “Are we prisoners or renegades?” the epic song crescendos by demanding, “Mother of barbarians / Were your young so spry when they left to die?” Ringing with generations of grief, candor and despair, the song contrasts the known and the unknown by illustrating the reality of war and asking why we fight them.
Just as well, life’s brevity and moral responsibility are pondered in “My Way, Soon,” an upbeat track designed for the road that concludes with the lyric, “I’ve sacked the rules so I don’t have to heed them … I’ll throw out the plans and live with no burden.” The album captures the inevitable contradiction to such a conclusion in “Stardust Chords,” reflecting, “It has been said / By the likes of the living and the dead / Make your bed / Even sinners go to drink the wine, break the bread.”
The album still manages to channel hope and solace in the brighter, uplifting tracks of “Heat Above,” “My Way, Soon” and “Light My Love.” The album’s two closing tracks stand in great contrast, leaving listeners to balance the two. “Trip the Light Fantastic” muses on the human experience, whereas “The Weight of Dreams” tells of “Gold mines melting men in the sunshine / Spoiled wine tastes so sweet we have gone blind” to close the album.
In contemplating the best way to articulate the experience of listening to this album, I concede that any description of it is inferior to the experience of listening to it. In all my subjectivity, I can tell you it’s a profound statement on the human condition just as well as you can tell me it’s another bottled, bitchin’ rock album — you have to go listen for yourself.
The Battle at Garden’s Gate is perhaps, in some ways, an age-old metaphor. There has always been a battle at the garden’s gate — it is just a matter of enough people uniting to bust the damn thing open. The album captures this complexity in a double vinyl that challenges audiences.
With today’s industry idealizing consumption, superficial success and social superiority, the album shines with admirable depth and substance — but our standards for music ought not to be corrupted by the market. Some propose that Greta Van Fleet is the saviors of rock, while others dismiss their music as a product calculated to profit from music streaming algorithms. I have to disagree. The album honors a relatively abandoned era of music, while also being an incomparable feat of musicality. It thrives on its own merits.
To be sure, this is not the first album to ponder grand themes pertaining to human nature — but is that a shortcoming? As emphasized by the past year, these same conversations continue to occur because some crises have never ended and are an inextricable part of being human. Art that meaningfully contributes to these conversations and explains the need for them them ought to be appreciated. Regarding the album, comparisons have and will continue to be made (most commonly to Led Zeppelin), and originality will be questioned. But I question whether anything is original — this timelessness and interconnectedness of humankind and its art is captured by the album.
The Battle at Garden’s Gate contemplates the coexistence of fire and rain, burdens and freedoms, love and war, hope and hopelessness, ashes and stardust, the known and the unknown. The Battle at Garden’s Gate is full of youth and weary wisdom, feelings of despair, love and hope. While compelling us to face the fires, The Battle at Garden’s Gate is a deus ex machina, lifting us so that we can be “wholly free amongst the stars.”
Daily Arts Contributor Leah Leszczynski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.