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Is Greta Van Fleet too much like Led Zeppelin? Does it matter?

| Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Ruby Le | The Observer

Do me a favor. Whether or not you’ve heard of Greta Van Fleet, a bluesy rock band comprised of four Michigan kids who look and sound like they’ve been brought here from the ‘70s in a time machine, humor me in completing a simple exercise. Look them up online. Search “Greta Van Fleet,” and, when you do, click on a few articles. What you’ll see is some praise, a little skepticism (mostly in comments sections) and, more than anything, comparisons to Led Zeppelin. In fact, almost every single piece written on these hard-rocking up-and-comers contains at least one reference to Zep. Sometimes, these nods appear as comparisons of the band’s frontman, Josh Kiszka, to the legendary Robert Plant. In other articles, reviewers and journalists simply recognize the undeniable similarities between the bands’ sounds.

Indeed, critics have not seemed to dispute the influence Zeppelin has had over Kiszka and co., with articles from Rolling Stone, Uproxx and the Wall Street Journal, among others, noting this apparent fact (even the iTunes Review of the band’s EP, “From the Fires,” mentions Zeppelin). Such comparisons are certainly merited. “Highway Tune,” the first single off of “From the Fires,” sounds almost as if it could be a cover of a Zeppelin hit. Kiszka’s howling of the words “oh, Mama” sounds reminiscent — if not derivative — of Plant’s signature wail. Jake Kiszka’s nimble, rhythmic guitar work reminds one of a young Jimmy Page. Daniel Wagner’s drums crash with a power like Bonham’s. These similarities are not limited to “Highway Tune,” either. In fact, almost every song on the band’s EP seems to openly emulate Zeppelin’s bluesy stylings. Powerful drums are a constant, as is deft, shredding guitar, and Josh Kiszka’s voice never ceases to conjure up images of Plant. Greta Van Fleet, it seems, has crossed the line from casual emulation to outright derivation. But that’s not necessarily a problem.  

When “From the Fires” was released, GVF can — and should — be considered little more than a glorified cover band. Their sound was not merely influenced by Page and Plant; it was taken, largely unadapted. Even so, that doesn’t mean the Michigan boys should be boycotted and forgotten. Instead, listeners should be patient with these young musicians. Their sound, too, is young; given time, they probably will — and already have, judging from the stylistic evolution evident in the singles released off their new EP, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” — develop more of a unique voice. After all, even the great Led Zeppelin took songs and sounds from other artists (“Traveling Riverside Blues,” for instance). Music, especially rock, has always been about mutual influence and the sharing of ideas, which is what GVF seems to be attempting. Moreover, the very fact that a 21st-century band composed of millennials has taken such inspiration from older artists is cause for celebration. Great musicianship necessitates both respect for tradition and creative risk-taking, and GVF stands to follow this pattern and build on their influences, if only they continue to push themselves artistically.

But even if Greta Van Fleet never does develop a sound of their own, and even if the more subdued verses of “Watching Over,” a single off “Anthem of the Peaceful Army,” are nothing more than a fluke, fans of rock can still listen to Greta Van Fleet without betraying Led Zeppelin. This consumption of GVF’s brand simply comes with a catch. Knowledgeable listeners should not forget the source of GVF’s sound, instead recognizing the group as a derivation of a band that was both original and groundbreaking. Here’s the bottom line: For every Greta Van Fleet song you hear, you should listen to two Zeppelin tunes, at least until the two no longer sound quite so similar.

Greta Van Fleet’s new EP, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army,” has an expected release date of Oct. 19, 2018.

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