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10 modern hard rock bands that are better than Greta Van Fleet

Greta Van Fleet SNL

Most people who read this website probably already hate Greta Van Fleet. They’ve been a laughing stock amongst music fans who look beyond the Top 40 since their 2017 breakthrough, even more so since they released their 2018 debut album (which was now-famously trashed by Pitchfork), and even more so since performing on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. (They’re now not just a punchline for shamelessly imitating Led Zeppelin, but also for looking like Frodo!)

If you already hate Greta Van Fleet, you probably don’t need a list like this. You already know that Frodo’s (sorry, Josh Kiszka’s) imitation of Robert Plant is less subtle than Pabst Blue Robot. You already know that they lack the self-awareness and the sense of humor of a classic rock revival band like The Darkness, or the ability to put a modern spin on their ’70s stadium rock riffs like Arctic Monkeys or Jack White. You’re probably dumbfounded by their popularity and you wonder who could possibly like this? People who have never heard Led Zeppelin? People who love Led Zeppelin so much that more music like that is all they want, no matter how lifeless?

The one thing I see over and over, is the sentiment that at least they “play their own instruments,” and that they’re at least “actually a rock band,” one of the only ones still doing it today. Even without getting into the obvious ignorant, insensitive, “disco sucks”-style undertones of these comments (and the shades of racism, sexism, and/or homophobia that accompany them), it’s simply not true. There are plenty of modern-day artists offering up the flashy riffage and howling vocals of classic hard rock, and doing it in a way that’s more inventive, more unique, and more soulful than Greta Van Fleet. All you have to do is look a little harder to find them. For just a small sample, here’s a list of 10 modern hard rock bands that are better than Greta Van Fleet.

Elder
photo by Tinnitus Photography

ELDER

Elder hail from the Boston area and they’ve been putting out albums for a little over a decade, and they keep progressing with each new album. Their latest is 2017’s Reflections of a Floating World, and they’re gearing up to release a new one in 2019. Led Zeppelin is a comparison that gets brought up a lot, but it doesn’t stop there. They also sound like Deep Purple, UFO, Armageddon, Budgie, and a handful of other hard rock and prog rock bands from that era. Earlier albums were slightly heavier, but Reflections of a Floating World dug deeper into Elder’s prog side, with atmospheric passages that Pink Floyd fans might dig and an arsenal of riffs that tapped expertly into the fast fretwork of the guys you see at the top of Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Guitarists list. If it’s guitar solos you crave, Elder come with a surplus.

Heron Oblivion
photo by Janina A. Larenas

HERON OBLIVION

Heron Oblivion are a supergroup of sorts, fronted by Meg Baird (also of Espers, a solo artist, and more), and featuring members of Comets On Fire, Assemble Head in Suburst Sound, and Howlin’ Rain. Their debut (and so far only) self-titled studio album came out in 2016 on Sub Pop, and just like all your favorite classic rock bands, they have a live album too. (They continue to play shows and have some coming up soon.) Meg Baird is a true howler, the kind of singer who’s not just inspired by hippie-era rock but rivals the greats of that era. She’s got a soaring voice that recalls Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane or Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention (the latter of whom — if you’re curious — Greta Van Fleet has covered, probably thanks to Zeppelin’s duet with Sandy Denny), but she never sounds exactly like either of those iconic singers. She’s got a huge personality and makes these songs entirely her own. And her bandmates rip wah-heavy riffs and solos that feel transported in directly from the original Woodstock, with the same level of sincerity (and conduciveness to hallucinogens and liquid light shows) as their forebears.

There's No Leaving New York at Forest Hills Stadium - Saturday
Jason Isbell at Forest Hills Stadium in 2018 (more by Amanda Hatfield)

JASON ISBELL AND THE 400 UNIT

Okay, not all of Jason Isbell’s songs qualify as “hard rock,” but neither do all of Led Zeppelin’s, and Isbell’s got enough in common with the guitar-heavy sounds of Classic Rock Radio to be on this list, especially on his latest album with The 400 Unit, 2017’s The Nashville Sound. That’s clearest on “Anxiety,” which comes with a heavy riff that sounds like a modern update of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” but it’s also clear on “Cumberland Gap,” a driving rocker that fans of the late Tom Petty need in their lives. Isbell’s got a little country in him, just like Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, CCR, and plenty of other bands who dabbled in or defined hard rock. And Isbell’s another guy where the live albums are crucial. Listen to the solo on “Decoration Day” from Live From Alabama if you don’t think there are enough guitar heroes around today.

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Fuzz
photo by Denee Petracek

FUZZ

Ty Segall is one of the most prolific rock musicians around, and he dabbles in all kinds of rock subgenres, but if you wanna hear him in a howling and shredding band look no further than Fuzz. They’ve got two albums (2013’s Fuzz and 2015’s Fuzz II) and they’re cut from the cloth of bands like Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Hendrix, Cream, and other, uh fuzz-drenched bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s. And if Fuzz ever sounds like Zeppelin, like when the opening of “Rat Race” sounds like “The Ocean” for a few seconds, they quickly go into other territory. Ty’s got an evil, sneering delivery that’ll make you think of the leather jackets and lengthy hairdos of the original hard rock era, and Fuzz’s guitar work is relentless. They’re a little noisier than the more popular hard rock bands, but no guitar nerd can deny how fiery their solos are. Like the one that comes in around 3:30 here:

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Windhand
photo by Joey Wharton

WINDHAND

Richmond’s Windhand have four albums, all of which are worth hearing, but if you’re unfamiliar you might wanna start with the newest one, 2018’s great Eternal Return. The riffs recall Zeppelin’s rivals and collaborators Black Sabbath, though — especially on the newer stuff — Dorthia Cottrell’s choruses sooner echo Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, and those bands land on the same best-of hard rock lists as the classics at this point anyway. Plus, there aren’t many bands bringing heavy ’70s riffs and ’90s grunge together quite the same way Windhand do it. They’ve also got a strong dose of psychedelia, and a knack for folk songs that can sound like anything from Jethro Tull ballads to Nirvana Unplugged.

Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats at Music Hall of Williamsburg
Uncle Acid at Music Hall of Williamsburg in 2016 (more by Greg Cristman)

UNCLE ACID & THE DEADBEATS

The elevator pitch for Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats when they emerged at the beginning of this decade was “John Lennon singing for Black Sabbath.” Five albums in (the latest being 2018’s Wasteland), that’s still the case and it still gives you a good idea of whether or not you’ll like this band. Plenty of bands channel Sabbath and plenty channel the Beatles, but you rarely hear them combined like this. Picture Oasis or Tame Impala but 20x heavier, without ever getting so heavy that it’d only appeal to metalheads. Like the above-mentioned Fuzz, they’ve got a garage rock side, but nothing a White Stripes fan couldn’t handle. If you’re looking for an easy entry point, try the super catchy “Bedouin.”

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Blood Ceremony
photo by Ester Segarra

BLOOD CEREMONY

Okay Jethro Tull fans, this one’s for you. Toronto’s Blood Ceremony have been kicking for about a decade, and yes, they’ve got a flute player, so the Tull comparisons are inevitable. But Blood Ceremony’s sound doesn’t start and end with Tull. Frontwoman/flutist/organist Alia O’Brien has a serious howl, and she’s more Shirley Manson than Ian Anderson. Similar to the above-mentioned Elder, Blood Ceremony started off heavier and doomier (they are called “Blood Ceremony” after all), but their latest album — 2016’s Lord of Misrule — goes far beyond that. “Lorely” and “Flower Phantoms” have an almost British Invasion-style stomp, “Half Moon Street” is a twangy blues rocker, and “Things Present, Things Past” is the token acoustic rock ballad, while “Old Fires” has the kind of headbanging guitar work that those looking to get the Led out can rock out to.

Hexvessel

HEXVESSEL

Finland’s Hexvessel have been blending psychedelic rock, progressive rock, folk rock, and more since the beginning of the current decade, and they’re set to release their fourth album All Tree on February 15 via Prophecy/Century Media. The singles released from the new one so far are more on the folk rock side, but they’ve proved that they’ve got a knack for the harder stuff in the past too. 2016’s When We Are Death opens with the charging “Transparent Eyeball,” a rocker with a larger-than-life chorus that begs to be played on the radio stations that still play rock. “When I’m Dead” from that same album is full of all the distorted guitar heroics you could ask for. And if you’re a sucker for classic rock mysticism and hippie culture, you’ll be happy to learn that Hexvessel have songs called “Teeth of the Mountain,” “Drugged Up On The Universe,” and “Mushroom Spirit Doors.” Take that, “Mountain of the Sun”!

Screaming Females at House of Vans
Screaming Females at House of Vans in 2016 (more by Gretchen Robinette)

SCREAMING FEMALES

A true classic hard rock band needs a guitar hero to worship, and if there’s a modern guitarist worth getting on your knees and yelling “we’re not worthy!” for, it’s Marissa Paternoster. Her guitar solos for her band Screaming Females have been as flashy and heroic and facemelting as can be for their entire career, and the band sounds tighter and more muscular with each release (their latest is 2018’s All At Once). Screaming Females are more of a punk band than the others on this list, but they stretch their wings way beyond punk too. Marissa’s solos are as classic rock as it gets, some of her riffs are truly devil-horn-worthy (like “Agnes Martin” on the new album), and her bellowing vocal is big enough to fill stadiums. This is how you make classic rock sound entirely fresh.

Black Mountain
photo by Magdalena Wosinska

BLACK MOUNTAIN

Black Mountain got the stamp of approval from Pitchfork nearly 14 years before Greta Van Fleet were trashed, so maybe it’s a little too obvious to include this band, but 1) they still haven’t fully gotten the popularity they deserve, and 2) they just keep getting better. Their latest album, 2016’s IV, is one of their best, and they appear to be teasing a new album so 2019 just may be the perfect year to get Black Mountain on SNL and show ’em how it’s done. They don’t shy away from showing off their Zeppelin influence (they’re called Black Mountain, their latest album is called IV, and the first song on that album sorta-rhymes “foolin'” with “school”), but if any band knows how to get the Led out in a modern way, it’s this band. They’ve got towering Page-worthy riffs, belted vocal harmonies, folk rock journeys, space rock excursions, and more ’70s signifiers, but they do it in a way that still sounds firmly grounded in the 21st century. They’ve got the chops, the passion, and the super catchy choruses. They’re proof that you can bring the 1970s into the 2010s without seeming like a gimmick.

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