Greta Van Fleet is arguably one of the most interesting rock acts to have come out of the past few years. Since the late 2010s, the band has cultivated somewhat of a cult following, receiving praises on one end and immense disdain on the other for reasons I will get into shortly. Nonetheless, the boys continue to push on with their release of Starcatcher, their third studio album.
Now, if you are familiar with GVF, then you already know why they have been divisive and critically panned throughout the music world. When most people put on a song or an album of theirs, they already know what they’re getting into. As a critic, I try to be as objective as possible when listening to an album, but I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention the obvious.
Yes, they still sound very much like Led Zeppelin.
Within the first ten seconds of the first song, hearing Josh Kiszka’s impersonation of Robert Plant, I took off my headphones and wondered if I should bother finishing the job. Of course, I felt myself to be hyper-pessimistic, so I scraped any biases out of my head and moved on.
Of course, not every song sounded exactly like Led Zeppelin. The first song, “Fate of the Faithful”, wasn’t actually that bad and sounded fresh, with some nicely textured keyboards that make up the backbone. However, there was the ascending chord progression that felt overused and was mismatched with Josh’s vocals. Unfortunately, the album never picked up from here.
“Sacred the Thread” was the only other song I found to be interesting, which included some good vocal melodies and a build-up of a nice atmosphere towards the end. However, I cannot get over how the drum groove at the start of the song is the same one as Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”, just with worse production. “The Falling Sky” had a similar issue, with a guitar tone that is strikingly similar to Jimmy Page’s, and even a harmonica section that sounds like something off a Zeppelin record. Josh’s vocals even went through the motions just as Robert Plant would.
Speaking of Kiszka’s vocals, other than the obvious comparisons I’ve already laid out, they were absolutely unbearable throughout most of this album. The high pitch yells and shrill screeching was like nails scratching on a chalkboard, with the poor mixing not doing any favors. We get the worst of this on “The Archer”, the most unredeemable track on the entire project, with Josh exaggerating his vocals over a very soulless instrumental.
Josh’s twin brother also didn’t do the record any favors with his guitar work. While James had a decent solo on “Runaway Blues”, a song that’s full of energy yet simultaneously dull, it’s the only one worth looking at. “Meeting the Master”, the lead single off the record, features one of the most boring guitar solos I’ve heard in a while; that’s besides the fact that the song takes two minutes to build up to an extremely flaccid climax.
Yet, even while taking all of this into account, I haven’t mentioned the most laughable part of this entire project. Earlier, I did mention that not every song sounded like Led Zeppelin. While there are songs that I have mentioned that at least sound fresh in our modern era, Greta Van Fleet managed to rip off another band – Yes.
“The Indigo Streak” – with an organ preset that sounds like the one Rick Wakeman used, a guitar tone that sounds very similar to Steve Howe’s, and vocal harmonies that are reminiscent of Jon Anderson and Chris Squire – is nothing short of a formulaic Yes song without any of the good musicianship. More specifically, this sounds like a lost throwaway track that could’ve been featured on a record like Close to the Edge or Tales from Topographic Oceans. “Frozen Light” is similar, with James’s guitar tone sounding very similar to what prog guitarists used. I guess this is what GVF meant when they said they were trying to lean towards a more “progressive” sound, which is ironic, considering how the same “verse – pre-chorus – chorus” formula is rinsed and repeated throughout most of these songs, along with the lack of any good lyrics that tell a story.
At this point, I truly wonder if the band has any shame in what they’re doing, especially with how they gaslight their audience whenever someone points out their obvious tropes. It’s a little hard to blame them though, especially when they’re being thrown money and are lauded by rock fans who refuse to take off their nostalgia glasses.
Here are my ratings for each song on a scale of 0-4:
- Fate of the Faithful – 3
- Waited All Your Life – 1
- The Falling Sky – 0
- Sacred the Thread – 3
- Runaway Blues – 1
- The Indigo Streak – 1
- Frozen Light – 1
- The Archer – 0
- Meeting the Master – 1
- Farewell for Now – 1
SCORE/Poor: I don’t like quoting Anthony Fantano, but there is something he said in his review of GVF’s debut album, on how the band “spits in the face of artistic evolution.” Even after three full-length albums and six years of mild relevancy, those words still ring true.
[We rank albums on a scale of Poor, Mediocre, Good, Excellent, and Outstanding]