There’s no way around it, so just let’s say it: On album number three, Greta Van Fleet still want to get the Led out. Despite being praised or damned for its fealty to the hammering of certain gods, the Michigan band is still not remotely backing down from its mission. The vaguely Celtic acoustic intro to “Meeting the Master,” the misty-mountain hopping in “Wasted All Your Life,” the Bonham big-bottom wallop that kicks off “Sacred the Thread,” the howling Plantesque vault in singer Josh Kiszka’s delivery: It’s simply impossible to listen to Starcatcher and, as with all their previous work, not think you’ve stumbled upon a vault of outtakes from Led Zeppelin and some of their peers.
Starcatcher does add a few new wrinkles to those satin pants. With Nashville producer Dave Cobb behind the boards, Greta sound even more unleashed and unrepentant. Shorn of ballads or interludes, the record doesn’t let it up in its quest to scale the Mount Everest peaks of classic rock, often pretty impressively. Since their first EP, Kiszka’s voice has deepened a bit, reducing his comparison to Plant. But it’s still one formidable instrument; just listen to his wail in “The Falling Sky.” His vocal shrieks are featured so often that they’re almost like guitar solos; by comparison, his brother Jacob Kiszka’s guitar work pales next to his brother’s lungs. Greta also display a smidgen of humor in “Runway Blues,” a greasy goof that, alas, ends after a minute or so.
Starting with its title, which is straight outta 1975, Starcatcher sports the band’s proggiest lyrics to date. The opening verse–“Hail, the God song!/All trill to the tune devout reprise!/Hail, the eon!/We knelt on this slab the blessed people!”–should have Jon Anderson of Yes frothing with envy. Greta’s oceans only grow more topographic with each song, where it’s either “the day to meet the master” or they are traversing “a land of promise cradled in the infinity of a sunset” To get to places like those, they go old-school–“my home is on the horse I ride.” By record’s end, they have “fought battles far from the homeland/Made love, even drank from the wine.” Each song is such a trek into the villages of the semi-damned that Starcatcher should include a coupon for a free Druid robe.
But sometimes context is everything, and that applies to Greta Van Fleet. When the band roared out of the box in 2017, they sounded like a classic-rock tribute band that wrote its own material—kids who loved the power and mystery of bands like Zeppelin and wanted to make their own version of it. Just over a half decade later, the rock landscape is mighty grim: Not a week goes by without one FM-radio-heyday legend or another retiring, announcing a farewell tour or, well, dying. So are Greta Van Fleet shameless imitators? Yep. Are they also carrying on a musical tradition that’s now endangered, like the young blues players still adhering to the basics of that genre long after we’ve lost Muddy and B.B.? Yes, that too. For defenders, you best show up with a pretty good broadsword.