Review Summary: Four Years Stronger indeed.
Four Year Strong's new self-titled
album is awesome; just straight-up, no holds barred, face-melting awesome. It doesn't waste your time, as it's designed for the sole purpose of jumping, singing along and head banging in any given order, preferably leading up to a small-scale living room mosh. The beardiest punk rockers from Massachusetts have hit yet another home-run, expanding upon the blueprint laid down by their superb EP Go Down In History
from last year while expanding their repertoire of songwriting chops. Cavernous hooks, blazing guitar riffs and clobbering breakdowns rain galore, led by the guitar-toting front men Alan Day and Dan O' Connor who channel their most aggressive vocal performances yet. Think of 'poppy hardcore' distilled in its rawest, most abrasive form, and with the help of Converge guitarist/producer Kurt Ballou the band brings out the best of their arsenal.
After the elongated intro, opener "I Hold Myself in Contempt" announces S/T
with its grimy guitar riffs and deafening drum beats. The track – like so many others on the album – calls out for flailing fists and loud sing-alongs, but it's the unrelenting rhythm section and Alan and Dan's remarkably more hard-edged vocals that make a lasting impression. This frenzied energy carries over into the lead single "We All Float Down Here", whose breakneck pace and furious bridge provides a rush of adrenaline. The following track "Eating My Words" is the only song here that provides some semblance of respite, featuring a more easy-going and mellow refrain that vividly recalls "Find My Way Back" and "One Step at a Time" off of 2010's Enemy of The World
On the other hand, "Wipe Yourself off, Man. You Dead" (Chris Tucker would be proud) ranks among the heaviest songs the band has ever penned, packing a completely out-of-left-field breakdown and metallic riffs that will leave your neck sore. Yet even amidst the non-stop vocal-tradeoffs and guitar work that one-ups itself time and time again, the band never fails to deliver a catchy chorus that intrudes your senses, showcased beautifully in the rip-roaring "Gravity", whose hook is irresistible and instantly gratifying. Things can definitely sound exhausting at times as the smolder of gang-chants, dueling vocals, punishing drum beats and riffage that refuses to take a back-seat can sometimes be overbearing, but the trade-off is that every track here caters excellently to live performances.
The album doesn't forego the more mature leanings found on In Some Way, Shape or Form
(their previous, disappointing full-length album from 2011) either, as the tracks "Stolen Credit Card!" and "Here's To Swimming with Bow-Legged Women" ditches the band's poppier aesthetic in favor of a grittier one – in turn seguing nicely into the single "I'm A Big, Bright, Shining Star" which is hands-down the most fun and riff-centric tune on the album. One slight disappointment however is that the album is concluded with the track "Go Down In History" from last year's eponymous EP but hasn't seen an upgrade production wise, and it doesn't take a trained ear to tell that the mixing sounds slightly different in comparison to the ten tracks that precedes it. It's a nice bonus for anyone who's yet unfamiliar with the EP, but to not re-record the song from scratch and make it fit better with the rest of the album is simply lazy.
Still, even amidst these grievances Four Year Strong have rightfully reclaimed the title as the paragons of hardcore-fueled pop punk, as S/T
relentlessly pummels the listener with one aggressive, pit-provoking song after another that will have you singing along and succumbing to copious amounts of desk-moshing. It's the rawest, most aggressive release in the band's discography and sees the band blurring the lines between all of their past outings to create a sound distinct enough to call their own. You won't find any lyrical ambiguity, sugar-sweet choruses or production values sporting a digital sheen – you'll find loud-as-hell, summer ready punk-rock anthems that are a complete shot in the arm, and you won't hesitate to re-visit its finer moments.
It definitely doesn't suck to be Four Year Strong right now.
I Hold Myself In Contempt
Eating My Words
Wipe Yourself off, Man. You Dead
I'm A Big, Bright, Shining Star