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The Battle of Starcatcher: GVF Releases Fourth Album, Does it Match Up Against its Predecessor?



July 21st, 2023, Greta Van Fleet fans around the world rejoiced in finally getting a new album from the band. Their last release, The Battle at Gardens Gate, was met with high praise and acclaim for the growth of sound achieved by the band, but also the story and themes sprinkled throughout the tracks, feeling as though we were truly in a different time and place. Now that Starcatcher has been released to the world, does it compare to its predecessor? Let’s find out.



Before we jump in to the Battle of Starcatcher, let’s go over the new album.


Starcatcher is a 10 track record, coming in at approx. 43 minutes. From the very first song, it packs a serious punch and a heavy heartbeat. It is an album of battle cries and triumphant victory. Throughout the tracks, fans flow through a journey of majesty and richness, with familiarity and similarity playing a key role in over half of the album. Starcatcher blesses fans with backup vocals from bassist and key master Sam Kiszka and drummer Danny Wagner, along with the tried and true guitar solos from Jake Kiszka, who is arguably one of the best guitarist of this generation of rock and roll. Much like The Battle at Gardens Gate, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, and From the Fires, Starcatcher provides fan with an emotionally charged and deeply passionate performance of rock and roll from the mysterious yet heavy Princes of Peace.


This album has two distinct categories of songs, with six of the Starcatcher songs being heavily related and following the same riff scale and patterns at times, and the remaining four songs being wildly different, offering a side of Greta Van Fleet that I wish we saw and heard more of. The singles released, Meeting the Master, Sacred the Thread, Farewell for Now, and The Falling Sky, joined along with two new tracks Fate of the Faithful, and Waited All Your Life, all share a very strong similarity that is instantly recognizable. But is that familiarity a beauty or a curse? We will get into that soon.


The remaining four songs, Runway Blues, The Indigo Streak, Frozen Light, and The Archer, are some of the most unique, yet precise work we've heard from Greta Van Fleet yet. Each song existing in their own strong spotlight on just how capable this band is to move in between the genre lines that the music industry and it's listeners often put rock bands between. With elements of their family background in blues and folk music, these four tracks are meaningful and special, and it is felt as soon as you hit play. Think of The Black Keys, if The Black Keys loved doing psychedelics... if traditional Irish folk music was infused with the badass energy of Led Zeppelin, these scenarios are brought to life within these four tracks.


WHAT I QUESTIONED?


Because I love Greta Van Fleet (I have the tattoo to prove it), I feel the need to be extra critical of what I hear from them, because I know they are capable of reaching the stars. In some of these songs, one in particular, I think they did reach the stars and beyond, but there are other factors of this album that leave me wondering why.


The album came out only a few hours ago from when I am writing this review, so I am open and ready to let it grow and allow myself to find new things I love, or to even answer my own questioning about some of the decisions, but for now, there are a few things that stuck out to me right away. One of the major ones being the vocal effect on certain songs, mostly noted in Sacred the Thread. Even though this song is lyrically one of their most beautiful, I can't get over how the effect stifles Josh's voice. I know Josh Kiszka, vocalist of GVF, has worked extensively on his vocals and it sure as hell is shown in this album, but I wish it was his clear, strong voice instead of a muffled effect choking back his power on some of these songs.


I also question just how familiar the six songs I listed above, and if that helps or hinders the album. I have to be honest with all of The Peaceful Army, but my biggest let down on this album was the last track, Farewell for Now. As an album finale, the similarity definitely has a purpose, but throughout the album it takes me out a bit, pulls my focus. This may be because I learned the bass lines of the singles when they were released, and they all exist together in the same world. My favourite thing about new album releases is we get a range of new material, but at times I do find myself wishing there was more of a range, especially in the first half of Starcatcher.


While I believe that Farewell for Now shows the end of a beautiful celebration, intended for the end of their concerts, I don't believe that it stands up to the behemoth that is The Weight of Dreams. However, I do sense more positive and triumphant emotions on display in Starcatcher, where The Battle at Gardens Gate is more rough and there is more conflict at play.


WHAT MADE ME JOYOUS!


Listening through this album first thing this morning, I was waiting for something to jump out at me. After four songs out of ten are released, you really hold on for something special and different out of the new songs yet to be heard. While I liked the opening tracks, and I really loved The Falling Sky (my favourite of the singles), it's when I heard the four songs that come just before the ending, the four songs that are listed above as the different vibe songs, that I was overjoyed.


It all happened in order; first up was Runway Blues, which I was so disappointed was only a minute long. A part of me wants to believe that maybe there is an extended version somewhere that could be released. Greta Van Fleet doing Blues and Folk inspired Rock is where the gold is for me, personally. After that track was The Indigo Streak, a gorgeous and almost funky tune that adds a lot of colour to the album. Then came Frozen Light, where the first 20 seconds sound right out The Black Keys playbook, but then transforms into an obvious Greta infused spiritual journey. This track reminded me a lot of Caravel, my favourite from The Battle at Gardens Gate. Then came the magnum opus... the crowned jewel... The Archer.


I'm from Newfoundland, Canada, and our province is highly influenced by Ireland and Irish culture. I grew up surrounded by traditional Irish and Newfoundland folk music, and when I heard the opening to this song, my jaw dropped. And it stayed dropped when I realized the folk element of this strong rock song was threaded throughout the five minute excellence. From the intro, to the use of Sara in the lyrics, a name used so frequently in traditional Newfoundland and Irish music, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.


The Archer is a song that could be played on a Newfoundland Folk radio station without a blink of an eye, yet it has every element of rock you could want. The drums are steady, pushing the story being told forward, the bass holding up the solid chug of the pace and rhythm, while the guitar seems to float above it all, creating such a beautiful melody. I will say, The Archer could fit into the familiar six songs listed above, with many elements similar to these songs, but this song is so distinct in its genre and tone that it isn't as noticed until you really focus on the riffs and overlays brought in by the guitar. It stands alone, and shows what I believe the ideal is for a flowing of theme or sound throughout an album. Not to much, not too little. Just right. Easily my new favourite of the entire Greta Van Fleet discography.



When I first heard The Battle at Gardens Gate, I was a changed woman. I could not believe how fresh, precise, and moving it way as a collection. Not as fluid as the sound of Starcatcher, but I believed it to be one of the best albums I've heard. I still think that. So, I wondered, how would the tracks on Starcatcher stand up in a battle against the tracks on The Battle at Gardens Gate?


* The Battle at Gardens Gate has two more songs than Starcatcher, so I will be omitting The Weight of Dreams and Tears of Rain, because I believe those two to be the best and untouchable, obliterating anyone and anything in their path.


Fate of the Faithful vs. Heat Above


I know that the majority of fans would chose Heat Above in this scenario, but I have to say I am swayed to chose Fate of the Faithful, as my personal preference of music is hard and jarring, makes a statement. It also is the opening of the album, and in terms of what each album brings, I think Fate of the Faithful really sets up Starcatcher more than Heat Above sets up TBaGG. There is no denying though that Heat Above is an enormous track and loved across the fanbase. However, my pick is...


WINNER: Fate of the Faithful



Waited All Your Life Vs. My Way, Soon


If you think it's easy to choose here, you'd be wrong. Waited All Your Life has an essence of You're The One from AotPA, which I really enjoy. I think that this one can go either way, but for now, I will have to give it to My Way, Soon for it's high energy and its very catchy riff. Bonus points as it is the only Greta Van Fleet in a dropped tuning.


WINNER: My Way, Soon



The Falling Sky vs. Broken Bells


Okay, so maybe this will be harder than I thought it would be....


The Falling Sky is easily one of my favourite songs off of Starcatcher, and it is also my favourite of the released singles. To me, it combines the best of TBaGG and AotPA. It's like if When the Curtain Falls and Built by Nations had a baby. Yet, Broken Bells has one of the most beautiful melodies and guitar solos on TBaGG.


The only acceptable thing for me to do is realize that depending on my mood I will choose one or the other. So I am allowing myself one tie... for this category.


WINNER: TIE



Sacred the Thread vs. Built by Nations


This one is a bit easier for me, because Built by Nations is one of my favourite tracks off of TBaGG, and I believe it is stronger display of everything the band has to offer. Built by Nations, to me, is more memorable musically, but lyrically Sacred the Thread triumphs. But for me, due to the vocal effects I spoke on above, the winner has to be...


WINNER: Built By Nations



Runway Blues vs. Age of Machine


This would be a difficult choice for me if Runway Blues was a full length song, at least 2 minutes. But due to it's only a minute long length, I feel like I can't connect with it the way I want to.


WINNER: Age of Machine



Stardust Chords vs. The Indigo Streak


For this category, I want to say I am making this choice because I really do love the new and shininess of The Indigo Streak, but Stardust Chords is a really spiritual experience, adding more heart behind it. What pushes me away from Stardust Chords as my winner is the drumming in The Indigo Streak and the heaviness behind it while not making it a "heavy" song. Danny Wagner does a really great job of applying the necessary power behind each song. The back up vocals and the gorgeous blues inspired tone of Jake's guitar is what makes the choice for me.


WINNER: The Indigo Streak



Frozen Light vs. Light My Love


This response will definitely have me catching hands in the comment section, but I am going to make probably a very crazy choice here. Light My Love, while being one of, it not there most beautiful song, does not do a lot for me. Whereas Frozen Light offers more harshness and ragged edges to rub against. For my personal preferences, I think this has been the easiest choice so far.


WINNER: Frozen Light



The Archer vs. Caravel


If you could see my face right now, you would know I had that I have decided to do this...


Caravel is my go to, no skipping when it comes on shuffle-learned it on bass-continues to get stuck in my head Greta Van Fleet song. It is so unique, and in terms of TBaGG and where this is in the album, it creates a breakthrough and power towards the sky. The Archer, on the other hand, is something that I have been hoping the band would lean into and explore. I think the folk aspects of this song and the power behind the lyrics and melody is too close to home for me to overlook. It creates so much of a connection for me and where I am from, I have to make the grueling decision...


WINNER: The Archer



Meeting the Master vs. The Barbarians


I've been skipping over Meeting the Master in my few run throughs of Starcatcher this morning, mostly because I have listened to it so much since it's release, and I learned it on bass (thank you Sammy for the excellent bass lines, as usual). However, while listening to it to make this decision, I think that it just offers so much emotion and story that it really is a masterpiece. I think it was an excellent decision for a first single release, and I think it really does encompass the Starcatcher album as a whole. The Barbarians, while being a song I love, just seems to fall a bit flat compared to the journey.


WINNER: Meeting the Master



Farewell for Now vs. Trip the Light Fantastic


I know above I have said that my love for Farewell for Now was hard to find, and I still think it will be one of my least go to songs by Greta Van Fleet, but my other least go to song is... Trip the Light Fantastic. Before you come for me, it is not because I don't like Trip the Light Fantastic, but rather I think it was a disservice to put it so low on the album, and I think I would have appreciated it more around the middle mark, or somewhere closer to a song like Tears of Rain. If I could rearrange it, I would swap Built by Nations, or even Tears of Rain (even though I don't think anyone is ready to listen to Tears of Rain into The Weight of Dreams... that's crazy stuff). I do want to appreciate Farewell for Now for being a beautiful community song that can be sung at the end of performances, enhancing the community experience of listening to Greta Van Fleet live. However, up against Farewell for Now, I think there is a clear winner for me.


WINNER: Trip the Light Fantastic




In all, Starcatcher is a great gift to Greta Van Fleet fans who yearned to hear something new and exciting, but also to fans who want that classic Greta Van Fleet spiritual rock and roll fusion. It stands up to is predecessors by offering a new outlook on the battle before us, leaving the essence of love at the door for celebration and journey. Even as I continue to listen to it throughout writing this article, I keep liking it more and more. Hearing new things, understanding new stories, Starcatcher has a lot of uniqueness but still that same storytelling gift that Greta Van Fleet is so good at delivering.


For all of you members of the Peaceful Army out there, enjoy the new content from our favourite Michigan boys, and let me know who is winning your Battle of Starcatcher.


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