Review Summary: Self-styled 'happy hardcore' upstarts aim for the jugular but wind up choking themselves.
The pop punk scene’s worst kept secret for well over a year now, Four Year Strong's retrofit take on the now mega-successful and mega-formulaic Decaydance Records sound probably won’t be compared too often with “extreme” power metallers DragonForce- and why would it? on the surface the bands are nothing alike- but the pair’s working ethos are very similar: they take the generic genre blueprint, in this case roughly encompassed by Fall Out Boy, and take it to the extreme. If the aforementioned bands represent modern hardcore tailored to fit the Blink/New Found Glory pop punk model, then Four Year Strong have wrung the hardcore/thrash influence for all its worth, punctuating their songs with metalcore breakdowns, dynamic interplay between clean and screamed vocals, and (relatively unique to the genre) a drummer whose penchant for double-kick extravagance could actually earn him a gig with DragonForce: in short, Four Year Strong are extreme popcore.
The band have their own, slightly more sympathetic, name for it. Describing their sound as “happy hardcore,” Four Year Strong’s message is clear: they’re here to take over the world, but most of all they’re here to have fun. Similar in sentiment to Fall Out Boy’s own “we’ve arrived” statement, ‘Thriller,’ ‘The Takeover’ kicks the album off with the confidence of kings, fading in with church bells and air raid sirens before gang vocals announce, “start the takeover/this is your last warning/our time has come and we’re going straight on ‘til morning.”
Musically, it’s more reminiscent of AFI’s intro piece ‘Miseria Cantare’; but from there such lightweight influences are generally eliminated, emerging only sparingly, for the sunny Sherwood-like melodies of should-be single ‘Catastrophe’ and the synth-led pop intros (a la Motion City Soundtrack) of ‘Prepare To Be Digitally Manipulated’ and ‘Abandon Ship Or Abandon All Hope.’
Sound-wise, Four Year Strong are just as extravagant. Like the majority of their genre companions, their production style is unashamedly slick and polished, but also brutally overbearing. Layers and layers of sound are slapped on like a clown would apply face paint; even highlights like ‘Prepare To Be Digitally Manipulated’ are kitchen sink affairs, with multiple harmonised guitar tracks winding between synths, drums and two interlocking vocal tracks, each tuned and multi-tracked beyond all reason. The singers both sound impressive, but it’s difficult to conclude that the heavy-handed approach to the vocal tracking is anything but a crutch to compensate for poor technique, and like a lot of other aspects of the band’s sound, the effect wears off far too quickly. Once again, the lesson is clear: other bands did it first, and other bands do it better.
The constant namedropping is unfortunate but unavoidable: Four Year Strong’s influences are obvious and easy to pick out, perhaps even intentionally so, as little effort seems to have been made to distinguish many features from their parent company: Dan O’Connor’s vocals frequently recall Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and Panic! At The Disco’s Brendan Urie- mainly the latter, since he doesn’t quite possess Stump’s range and technique- and the winding, conversational chorus lines of ‘Bada Bing Wit’ A Pipe’ and ‘Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die’ are particularly reminiscent of Urie’s style. The tracks mentioned thus far are the clear highlights of the album. The quality of the album’s eleven songs doesn’t vary dramatically, but neither does the content: those mentioned just happen to be more well-written and, perhaps just as crucially, are mostly packed to the front. The album as a whole doesn’t flow well; the tracks are so similar that the smart listener would simply disregard the second half and play the first half twice for a much better experience.