By Charlie Carroll
ArtsPost staff writer
Over the last decade the genre of emo has blown up on MTV and into the hearts and minds of 14-year-old boys upset about their recent breakups and the ups-and-downs of being overly dramatic and depressed. Emo has been split up into an over-abundance of subgenres, but bands such as Set Your Goals, A Day to Remember and Four Year Strong are fighting to revitalize the popcore genre, a mix between pop punk and hardcore, and usher it into a new era. Four Year Strong’s sophomore release “Enemy of the World” is a power-packed album of ear-pounding breakdowns and melodic, harmonized vocals that make the five-piece contenders for kings of the genre.
Four Year Strong first hit the scene in 2001 when Dan O’Connor (vocals/guitar), Alan Day (vocals/guitar) and Jake Massucco (drums) met each other through mutual friends at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Ma. After cycling through a few different members, typical of your classic high-school startup band, the group released their debut album “It’s Our Time” in 2005. The group owes their quick rise in pop-punk popularity in 2007 to the release of their second album, “Rise or Die Trying,” and were signed to the Decaydence label the following year. After touring extensively the band decided to record “Explains It All,” a cover album of 1990s pop hits, including an impressively aggressive hardcore version of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” The band is currently touring in support of “Enemy of the World” and will be playing all dates of the Vans Warped Tour this summer.
In comparing “Enemy of the World” to “Rise or Die Trying,” the new album contains a level of vocal depth not present in their previous albums. Upon first hearing of Four Year Strong, the first thought that came to mind was that it sounded like Fall Out Boy’s “Take This to Your Grave” with a lot more double bass, head-banging potential and the occasional guttural scream. The vocals have definitely matured a bit, moving away from the sing-songy melodies of their clean, high-pitched vocals to a rougher sound that more aptly fits the voluminous beards and sleeve tattoos of its members.
The album is full of anthemic songs of perseverance and survival through trials and tribulations, such as the opening “It Must Really Suck to be Four Year Strong Right Now” and “On a Saturday.” There are a lot of chants in every song, but this premise has worked to the band’s advantage throughout their career. One of the most uniting aspects of live performances in the music scene is the sense of community created by the fans and Four Year Strong has found a working formula in mobilizing that community in a way that brings the fan into the process.
“What the Hell is A Gigawatt” is a short fast-paced punk song about finding oneself and learning how to take responsibility for, and be conscientious of, the self-destructive mistakes one can make. The song is slowed down for a moshpit-inducing breakdown that is sure to have fists flying and feet kicking. “One Step at a Time” is an emotionally rich song about coping with the death of a loved one and moving on to a brighter future. The album’s weakest track is “This Body Pays the Bill$,” another song that fits into the overly-clichéd theme of “the girl that breaks your heart.”
The strongest song of the album is “Wasting Time (Eternal Summer),” with a perfect sing-along chorus and an “ooh-ooh-ooooh” whistling harmony that actually works. The quick up-and-down strokes keep the song moving at a manageable pace, breaking right before the chorus for an effective dramatic pause that slams the chorus right into the listener’s ear. Overall, it seems that the members of Four Year Strong have found their niche and helped pave a way for sweaty punk fans to make the most out of their concert-going experience.