Review: Greta Van Fleet can't escape the shadow of their influences on debut EP 'Black Smoke Rising'

The skilled young rock band stays too close to the sound of one of rock and roll's greatest bands

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From the first notes of the first song on Greta Van Fleet's debut EP Black Smoke Rising, the band sounds familiar. Eerily so.

As soon as Josh Kiszka's vocals burst into the opening song, "Highway Tune," the connection is unavoidable: it's Zeppelin, through and through. The similarity is uncanny and impossible to stop hearing. Greta Van Fleet are a young quartet from Michigan, but on their debut EP, they could easily be mistaken for Robert Plant's latest side project.

Three Kiszka brothers—Josh on vocals, Jake on guitar and Sam on bass—and their drummer friend, Danny Wagner, make up Greta Van Fleet. Their name comes from a town elder in their Michigan community and their sound comes from one of the elders of rock and roll, Led Zeppelin.

Unfortunately, this isn't entirely a compliment. Until the last song on the EP, the title track, the band just can't escape the shadow of their influences. So it's funny that, on their Facebook page, the band doesn't even mention Zeppelin as an influence. They name-drop Robert Johnson, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and others but no Plant, Page, Jones or Bonham.

The resemblance isn't based only on Josh Kiszka's vocals. The sound of the bass drums, the structure of the songs, the rhythm of the guitar—it all adds up to the Zeppelin sound in songs like "Ramble On," "The Lemon Song" and "Gallows Pole."

In the beginning of Greta Van Fleet's "Safari Song," underneath the Robert Plant scream, the band sounds more like the stadium rock that the Struts, with whom the band toured, revived last year on their album, Everybody Wants. These are not bad songs but the distraction is impossible to overcome. Josh's Plant impression is fantastic until it just doesn't hold up to the notes.

"Flower Power" slows the EP down with peaceful acoustic guitar and opening lines pulled straight from a crossbreed of "Going to California" and "Ramble On." The melody is dreamy and light, suited well to Josh's softer voice. Wagner's drumming is restrained and carries the mood with his understated work on the snare drum. That organ at the end sounds familiar, though, doesn't it?

"Black Smoke Rising," the last song on the EP, finally departs from the distracting likeness. Josh sings differently, more into his own voice, and the lyrics suddenly feel urgent: "It's the new age crisis / And we will stand up in the cold." The song works patiently through its sections and the band feels confident in its sound.

There's a desperate need for old fashioned rock and roll and we'll take all we can get in the face of electronic alternative and whispery indie (neither of which are bad, but one needs refreshment once in awhile). Greta Van Fleet know what they want to sound like and they've achieved that in their first four songs. They're certainly aware of their influences, but maybe the band needs to be more concerned with stepping out of the shadows of those who did it first. Hopefully, a full length album will show off more of their ambition to build on the greats of rock and roll.

Listen to Black Smoke Rising on Apple Music and Spotify.

Follow Greta Van Fleet on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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