Artist: Greta Van Fleet
Album: Black Smoke Rising EP
Review by Claire Komar
Greta Van Fleet are a Michigan based four-piece band originally forming in 2012. They officially released their first E.P titled Black Smoke Rising with Lava Records on April 21st 2017.
The first track on the EP is titled ‘Highway Tune’, a rather casual and track title especially when it is the first track you encounter. However when you experience the first 10 seconds of this track, it becomes apparent why it has been given that name. A fairly chilled yet interesting guitar riff introduces the track boasting influences of classic blues rock. Just when you feel like you are settling into the idea of a blues rock feel, the song explodes into rip roaring guitar licks followed by ridiculously impressive vocal screams. You can instantly imagine yourself driving on a long road on a summer afternoon blasting this song with the windows down. On a first listen, you may find yourself experiencing immense déjà vu and think that you are listening to Robert Plant in his early 20’s all over again on a mystery unreleased Led Zeppelin track, but don’t let that fool you. These guys are no Zeppelin tribute act. Yes they scream 70’s hard rock influence but they have embraced their influences, mixed them around and churned out their own unique sound that is modern and fresh.
‘Highway Tune’ moves forward from its gut busting intro into a strong verse followed by a catchy bridge that features strong intricate melodies from the guitar as well as a strong punch from the vocals. This then leads back to the opening guitar riff as well as that fantastic opening scream from the vocals. The track moves on to what can only be described as a face melting guitar solo. The guitarist screams into his solo making the instrument sing, sparking vintage influences from Hendrix to Angus Young but again, keeping to an original style. The band then bring the song down for a moment, carefully gathering their energy before exploding back into that gut busting opening riff and we are met again by that incredible vocal scream before sliding into a tasteful and quirky end.
‘Highway Tune’ is an opening track with attitude and intent. Now that Greta Van Fleet have your attention, the next track is titled ‘Safari Song’. The opening riff to ‘Safari Song’ has a more relaxed approach than the opening riff to ‘Highway Tune’ but still carries just as much grit and attitude. Just when you thought the vocals could not get as powerful as they were in ‘Highway Tune’ think again. The opening scream to ‘Highway Tune’ is a mere tremor compared to the earthquake that cracks when the vocals drop in ‘Safari Song’. The rest of the band then burst in creating an almost country rock vibe, refreshingly different in comparison to the hard rock vibe that we see in ‘Highway Tune’. The vocalist takes an opportunity to show off his incredible vocal range by jumping between octaves throughout that track. He sings in a much lower key during the verses before screaming up an octave for the chorus’s, a neat reminder that he is no Plant copycat. The main melodies on this track have a soulful and funky approach with interesting layers as well as the occasional stop and start to keep you interested. The drummer does a great job of keeping it simple, supporting the interesting intricate melodies from the guitar, however chucking in some tight, tasty snare rolls where necessary to remind you that he is there and he means business.
The next song on the EP is a gorgeous track called ‘Flower Power’. Much like the title, the track has a much more relaxed feel opening with a gentle mandolin melody merged with acoustic guitar as opposed to the rip roaring electric guitar we have been used to. The vocals lead the majority of the main melody on this track using emotively expressive lyrics in a blues story telling fashion, with the rest of the instruments in support beautifully surrounding and lifting the elegant vocal melodies. The track is fortunately not completely absent from some classic electric guitar. Just when you thought the track was predictable and repetitive, it escalates into a brilliant electric guitar solo alongside some more impressive vocals. The track then slides into a delicately glamorous finish with help from an elegant organ adding a very vintage touch.
The last track is the EP title ‘Black Smoke Rising’. The track has the same bluesy rock influences kicking off with an excellent guitar riff similar to the other tracks, except the lyrics in this one seem political as opposed to the other tracks that appear to be about love. There seems to be a serious message behind 'Black Smoke Rising', talking about standing together as one, which is a refreshing finish to the E.P. The chorus has a very strong catchy soulful melody again with the vocalist showing his immense skill flowing up and down octaves with ease. Similar to ‘Flower Power’, the track could easily become repetitive and predictable. However moving into the last chorus, there is a beautiful relaxed interlude which almost has a psychedelic feel to it. The vocalist seems to have free range at this point where he goes between gentle expressions and loud impressive belts, while the guitar and bass add some relaxed melodic chords in an almost relaxed jazz funk fashion. The band show in this section how tight and well rehearsed they are before exploding into the last chorus with roaring guitars, crashing cymbals, a very impressive bass line and that all important vocal belt. The unique thing about this track in particular is instead of a guitar solo completely on its own, it has been merged along with the vocals in with the last chorus creating beautiful melodic layers to the music. The song ends on the last word on the last chorus with the vocalist hitting an unusual note that leaves the listener yearning for more.
Black Smoke Rising is powerful, strong and sends a message. Greta Van Fleet have arrived and are taking no prisoners. They are bringing back our beloved vintage rock anthems in their own way by creating music that captures audiences of all ages. Black Smoke Rising is nothing short of a miniature masterpiece and I am certain that there is a very bright future for Greta Van Fleet.
10 out of 10.