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Review: Four Year Strong return with grittiest album yet

The Massachusetts quartet turn up the punx on their fifth album

Living up to their name by leaving a four-year gap between their last release and their fifth studio album are Four Year Strong, who are back with their grittiest, most punk-inspired record so far.

Living up to their name by leaving a four-year gap between their last release and their fifth studio album are Four Year Strong, who are back with their grittiest, most punk-inspired record so far.

For the self-titled release, they’ve enlisted the deft fingers of Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou on production, and his influence is clear. Gone is the polished easycore heard on their previous records, and in its place are razor-edged riffs, syncopation and plenty of nods towards the darker side of the hardcore genre. The cover art features an illustration of a hairy, breasted man, and the lyrics – right from the opening track I Hold Myself In Contempt, play on themes like death and revenge, rather than the three ‘L’s – love, lust and loss – beloved of pop-punk.

It was frontman Dan O’Connor’s intention to make a record with more guts; he describes it in the official release literature as “one of the most raw records we’ve ever made. No fancy computer shit. [It’s] made for singing along and head banging.”

Computer shit is indeed gone – former synth player Josh Lyford left the band in 2011, when it was decided to shed the softer elements of their sound. If they were aiming to tread the path of gnarly punk from then on, they’ve achieved it, while still keeping their signature bouncy riffs. Whether or not that’s a positive thing is really down to how far you, as a listener, want their dalliance with hardcore to go.

The record begins similarly to 2011’s In Some Way, Shape Or Form, with a fuzz of distortion before it crashes into the first track, but that’s where the similarities end. Slapdash song structures and discordant guitar lines draw inspiration from the likes of Set Your Goals and At The Drive In, although the sing-along factor is still there.

We All Float Down Here juxtaposes a tale of bitter resentment – “I’ll watch the world go up in flames / I’ll strike the match to help you do the same / The time is now, tick tock, it’s ticking away / So now I’m here to rain on your parade” – with a seemingly upbeat melody and attitude-laden riffs, while Wipe Yourself Off Man, You Dead is built on a Rancid-esque marching rhythm, just so you’re not left in any doubt that this is, indeed, a punk record. It’s a good track, but it feels a little gimmicky.

Gravity is another tick-box track. The lack of melody makes it one of the least memorable, but thankfully there are also songs like Stolen Credit Card and I’m A Big, Bright, Shining Star, which are two of the best on the record. Call-and-response vocals are set to a frenzied, distorted wall of noise and short through with strident guitar stabs and a tempo that doesn’t stay the same for more than a few bars.

Gang vocals are another big thing, cropping up to great effect on tracks like Who Cares and the excellently named Here’s To Swimming With Bow-Legged Women, which conjure images of a bouncing crowd, bellowing every word back at the band.

Four Year Strong has always had a noisy punk streak, but this time, they’ve really set it free. They’ve given their previous, tamer albums a colossal kick up the arse with a steel toe-capped boot, and come back with a bunch of tracks that demand to be performed in a grimy basement with fuzzy amps and arms flailing everywhere.