The New Kings of Rock?
In the closing months of 2018, up-and-coming rock ’n’ roll band Greta van Fleet released their debut studio album: Anthem of the Peaceful Army. The album was highly anticipated after their From the Fires EP impressed fans of a bygone age in rock music. Specifically, the band was praised for how they invoked the sounds of the seventies, mixing elements of blues, folk, and psychedelic music generally unencumbered by flamboyant orchestrations. Songs like “Black Smoke Rising” and “Safari Song” promised the advent of a new Led Zeppelin and a renaissance of classic rock.
Anthem of the Peaceful Army, however, fails to live up to the hype.
The ten tracks are organized in such a way that divides the album in half, giving it the classic feel of A and B side records. Both halves start softly, driven by acoustic guitar and softer percussion. The ensuing tracks then gradually build, anticipating a great rock anthem crescendo. The first half more or less succeeds, closing with a vision of hellfire burning in the hearts of the greedy and lustful in “Lover, Leaver.” The second half, however, trips at the finish line.
With Icarian flair, the band tries to make a profound philosophical statement in the closing track, “Anthem.” The audience, who has waited patiently through the first nine tracks for a turn-it-up-to-eleven rock epic, is instead met with a quiet, acoustic sing-along song whose take-home message is a relativistic, materialist hippie flop for the ages: “You and me can agree to disagree/ that the world is only what the world is made of.”
This pathetic moralizing cadence pulls the rug out from under the nine preceding tracks. Despite being both musically and lyrically repetitive, the album still manages to produce some solid pieces in tracks like “Age of Man,” “When the Curtain Falls,” and “The New Day.” They are all quickly forgotten by the closing title track, however, as their message is reduced to nothing more than an opinion to which you are free to “agree to disagree.”
The album ultimately lacks the moral and philosophical maturity to which it aspires. This is hardly surprising given that the band’s four members all fall between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two. The ambitious child-princes of rock ’n’ roll—groomed and educated musicians—lack the street-smart and worldly ways of their musical predecessors who got their starts playing dive bars, professing the hellish tragedies of the Vietnam War, and experimenting on a new musical frontier.
Rock ’n’ roll has always been about standing up for ideas that challenge norms, inherently making it a counter-cultural and rebellious genre. Hippie moralism, however, is no longer counter-cultural, and it hardly fulfills the rock potential previously glimpsed in Greta van Fleet. If the band is more interested in lyrical moralizing, then they are going to need to reinvent themselves or fade into glorified indie music obscurity.
Whether Greta van Fleet wants to escape the confines of the “new Led Zeppelin” moniker or ascend the throne of a rock renaissance, they need to commit to an identity and abandon their wishy-washy relativism—quickly. Anthem of the Peaceful Army promised to be a home run for the young upstarts, but mighty Casey has struck out.
Final rating: 6 out of 10.