Greta Van Fleet can’t seem to catch a break. The young foursome from the faux-Bavarian town of Frankenmuth, Michigan, has sustained criticism for copping its sound from 1970s rock giants Led Zeppelin. The group’s debut track, “Highway Tune” is characterized by Josh Kiszka’s Robert Plant doppelganger wail and Jacob Kiszka’s Jimmy Page-style guitar licks; the track sounds like a Led Zeppelin IV outtake.
If that weren’t enough, when pressed on the issue during an interview with Dutch music journalists FaceCulture, lead guitarist Jake Kiszka went so far as assert that “Led Zeppelin wasn’t an overwhelming influence of ours.”
In that June 2018 YouTube interview, Jake claimed with a straight face that until online chatter began, the band “didn’t realize the similarities and commonalities that we share with … that group.”
There’s a deep irony here: Not to take away from Led Zeppelin’s greatness, but Robert Plant and Jimmy Page themselves earned a reputation—backed up in court cases won against them—for lifting music from others without giving credit. Rightly or not, at its core, rock & roll has always been about borrowing ideas.
The fact remains that when taking Greta Van Fleet’s music and act on their own merits—something that those intimately familiar with Led Zeppelin’s catalog may find difficult to do—one can readily admit that it’s pretty good. There’s an energy within the songs on the group’s pair of EPs that evokes the best of arena rock from the 1970s and ’80s.
The three Kiszka brothers (Josh, Jake and Sam) and drummer Danny Wagner were all born some two decades or more after Led Zeppelin’s swansong, In Through the Out Door, was released. And it’s likely that a stack of Zep albums figured prominently in the the collection of the Kiszkas’ parents. To some extent, all artists are the product of their influences. And it’s reasonable to allow young musicians—albeit ones growing up in public—to develop their own style as they mature.
Still, “When the Curtain Falls,” the first single from Anthem of the Peaceful Army sounds a whole lot like Led Zeppelin II’s “Heartbreaker.” Changing it up just a little, Josh’s vocals on the advance track “Watching Over” sound more like Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Axl Rose. And the instrumentation has faint echoes of ’70 Southern rock.
The trick to making a lasting impression, and to becoming more than the musical flavor of the month, is to assimilate influences and recast them in a way that adds something new. It remains to be seen if the band will reach that goal. But regardless, and in the meantime, Greta Van Fleet is sure to entertain a legion of fans who never had the opportunity to see or hear Led Zeppelin live on stage.