Four Year Strong – ‘Brain Pain’

By Gem Rogers

When it comes to discographies, there are few with such a consistent reputation for excellence as Four Year Strong. From the moment they exploded with ‘Rise Or Die Trying’ in 2007, the masters of riff have filled our ears with majestic anthems and breakdown fests – even a slight dip in form on 2011’s ‘In Some Way, Shape Or Form’ was quickly banished from memory with the phenomenal self-titled album that followed four years later. The only downside to this glittering career is how long we’ve sometimes had to wait between studio releases, and it’s now been five long years of deprivation as fans quietly (or sometimes, not so quietly) awaited the next gift from the Massachusetts four. And now, the big question – is ‘Brain Pain’ worth the wait?

If it’s an answer you’re after, then quite simply, it’s yes (please don’t stop reading though). Easing into opening track ‘It’s Cool’, there is a quiver of excitement that builds in swelling riffs, dripping in a sense of understated grandeur that feels familiar, yet still different to what we’re used to – like ‘The Takeover’, but all grown up. It’s the perfect set up to an album that takes Four Year Strong’s well established sound and washes it in new and brighter colours; it would be so easy for such a distinctive style to become stale, but then, not every band is Four Year Strong.

The singalong choruses that mark part of that distinctive style come swiftly bounding in alongside meaty chugs aplenty on ‘Get Out Of My Head’, and from here on out it’s energy, sunshine, and perfect breakdowns in endless supply. The upbeat vibe is, at times, a stark contrast to the lyrical content, with no shying away from the difficulties of adulthood, anxiety, and an ever-changing world. There’s something comforting about the juxtaposition – the knowledge of not being alone in hard times, yet still finding the brightness in the melodies of life.

Title track ‘Brain Pain’ finds itself nestled in the centre of the album with the most old-school FYS sound, and one that’s sure to please fans of their earlier work. It’s just enough of a nod to their history without dwelling on it, before charging headfirst into the frantic chaos of ‘Mouth Full Of Dirt’, evoking the rapid thoughts of a cluttered and anxious mind – “I don’t need to self-medicate / I’m already numb”, the chorus calls atop dancing riffs, before slowing things down (slightly) for a soaring dose of nostalgia on ‘Seventeen’.

It’s all delicately balanced, flowing seamlessly along with the kind of confidence that only experience can bring, though acoustic number ‘Be Good When I’m Gone’ lacks some of the heartfelt lyrical punch of older, similarly emotive tracks like ‘One Step At A Time’ as it rolls in towards the back end of the album. It’s a gentle number with delicate strings and a soothing atmosphere, but ultimately fades into the background in comparison to the strength of the album surrounding it – as is made clear when ‘The Worst Part About Me’ picks up the pace again with screaming, cathartic rage and ‘Usefully Useless’ bops along with irrepressible energy.

‘Brain Pain’ feels like the work of a band who know now, more than ever, who they are, and it’s made clear in the bold optimism of album closer ‘Young At Heart’ as it fills the senses, like the freshness of a cornflower blue sky after rain. Four Year Strong remain the masters of compressing summer into soundwaves, and ‘Brain Pain’ is exactly the kind of album that will swiftly find itself in ‘all-time favourites’ lists; engaging, full of heart, and brimming with life, it’s a wild and glorious ride where the breakdowns are more than welcome. Worth the wait? Always.

GEM ROGERS

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