Rating – 4/5
Four Year Strong take a dive into the human psyche with ‘Brain Pain’, the group’s seventh studio offering, and explore themes relating to anxiety, self-worth, and mental health. It’s been a considerable wait since the group’s last original release in 2015 (excluding the compilation album), but Four Year Strong have managed to keep the sound that defines them whilst also exploring new ideas and themes in their songwriting.
Thematically this album seems a far cry from their earlier releases; the heavier subject matter is in stark contrast to the group’s anthemic, shout-along, feel-good party songs. Instead, the lyrics are ultimately self-reflective; with track titles such as ‘Brain Pain’, ‘Crazy Pills’, and ‘Get Out Of My Head’, the band’s agenda on this record is clear.
The group continues to toe the line just around their mainstream ‘pop-punk’ designation, the usual ingredients that go into a Four Year Strong album are eternally present; crunchy low guitars, frenetic drumming, and raspy vocals; delivered somehow in a fist-pumping, head-banging, high energy package.
Songs like ‘Get Out of My Head’ and ‘Usefully Useless’ sound like juggernauts piloted by early 2000s Zakk Wylde; low, chugging guitar riffs; harmonics and a driving rhythm section. This blend of metalcore and pop-punk is prevalent throughout.
There are departures from the classic Four Year sound; ‘Be Good When I’m Gone’ is a soft rock ballad with overtones of Yellowcard production; soft acoustic melodies and soaring strings set the mood for perhaps the most introspective piece on the album.
Perhaps most interesting is the final track ‘Young at Heart’, a soundscape of distorted guitars and bellowing synths that wouldn’t sound out of place if it were played at a Trent Reznor show as the lights fade down. The ambient fuzz gives way to a reverb and chorus laden dreamscape of guitars with a soft vocal melody teased over the top. Lyrically the album finishes with a glimmer of hope: “Maybe turning on the light / Is the perfect place to start”, leaving us with the message that simply acknowledging and exploring these feelings of isolation and self-loathing is the first step to overcoming them.
Fans of Four Year Strong will be relieved to find the band’s easycore style is alive and executed as well as ever with some really nice new ideas that work cohesively in the album as a whole. It’s clear the band hasn’t rested on their laurels trying to recreate the same album again; rather they’ve taken their already defined sound and updated it for a darker, more modern era of songwriting.
Review by Theo Wildgoose