Throwback: Four Year Strong – ‘Rise Or Die Trying’

Our good pal and regular gig snapper, Owen Jones (AKA Digital Beard) shares his deep love for ‘Rise Or Die Trying’, the much-loved 2007 melodic-hardcore/pop-punk cross over record from Four Year Strong. A fan-fave release that said band will also be performing around Australia come next January in celebration of its now decade-long milestone. Anyway, as you were saying, Owen?  

The year was 2007. I was 12 years old, graduating primary school and listening to a lot of rock, punk and metal, which defaulted me to the position of the “weird kid” in grade 6 at Keon Park Primary School.

Yet such a title was bearable, as 2007 was a massive year for alternative and heavy music, with pretty much every band ever releasing a landmark album. Parkway Drive put out ‘Horizons‘ and the rest was history. August Burns Red released ‘Messengers‘, a record that jump-started them to where they are. Atreyu unleashed ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor‘, one of their most successful records to date. And Fall Out Boy gave us what is easily their last great album worth an ounce of a damn, ‘Infinity On High‘.

But it was the practically unheard of group, Four Year Strong, who brought out a great album that’s stood the test of time over the past decade and defined a genre that was, truthfully, big for only a small amount of time. That genre being “easycore”, and as for that incredible album? It was, of course, ‘Rise Or Die Trying‘.

Still one of the most ridiculous album covers I've ever seen.

This cover is still one of the most silly album artworks I’ve ever seen.

Now I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually discover Four Year Strong until late 2009 after hearing their flawless covers album, ‘Explains It All‘. Yet that covers release made me want to hear as much as possible from this band; a band that had blown me away without me even hearing any of their originals! So off to good ol’ Limewire I went (hey, it was 2009, after all) and I searched for and ingested as much Four Year Strong as humanly possible. Funnily enough, all such material came right from ‘Rise Or Die Trying‘.

The very first original song from the then heavily bearded five-piece I heard was coincidentally the opening song from ‘RODT‘ – ‘The Takeover‘. The ringing clock tower bell samples, the pounding drums pounding, those slowly ringing out guitars marking the introduction of this damn fine record, then the lung-surging call of “START THE TAKEOVER” hits and it felt like I had received a Shawn Michaels Superkick square to the jaw. In my musical naivety, I couldn’t believe my ears. This music sounded so incredibly happy in its tonality, but the hardcore-meets-pop-punk riffs and breakdowns were so heavy for the time. I hadn’t heard anything like it in my life. Sure, I’d dipped my figurative toe into various albums from New Found Glory, but Four Year Strong? They really were something else back then.

After this ball buster of an intro track, there is simply no stopping the record. What with the second track, ‘Prepare To Be Digitally Manipulated‘, giving listeners the first real look at this album’s sound, as well as damned good the vocal pairing of Dan O’Connor and Alan Day really is. Yes, punk music had seen dual vocals used before (Blink-182The Lawrence Arms, among others) but Four Year Strong’s vocal unison was something else; something that’s become a popular staple of their sound on every album since. Back then, you seldom heard punk bands ripping out dual, catchy vocal performances like this, and least of all, not ones this bloody solid. In fact, the vocal harmonies displayed throughout this whole album are undoubtedly some of my all-time favourites.

As ‘Rise…‘ steamrolls forward, the rest of the musical mastery of this now-scene-throwback album is put on full display, with riffs and breakdowns aplenty and hooky AF melodies and choruses to match in every direction you aim your ears. ‘Abandon Ship Or Abandon All Hope‘ and the near-seminal ‘Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die‘ (the latter’s name of which will define this band) both showcase this perfectly, all showing off the great drumming from Jackson Massucco;  his pummelling double kick blasts being a prominent feature throughout this album. Speaking of, they’re just a thing of beauty in these two particular songs, driving each track forward and acting as a great accompaniment to the huge riffs and pinch harmonics from the DayO’Connor partnership that rule above said bass drum patterns. This album also feeds off the back and forth, the call and response between the vocal and guitar parts of the two frontmen, which is what made not only this album but also Four Year Strong as a band stand out so much from the rest of their peers.

The cheery and unforgettable ‘Wrecked ‘Em? Damn Near Killed ‘Em‘ is one of the more “mainstream” songs held by ‘Rise Or Die Trying‘, with the vocals cutting beautifully above the great musical backing of this tune; creating the kind of quality hooks the band have struggled to rival ever since. Plus, those angsty relationship lyrics energise any and all former lovesick emo and pop-punk kids. Similarly, ‘Catastrophe‘ comes up next, with that HUGE sing-along chorus, that stellar bridge, all with equally as impressive harmonies (but let’s be fair, what Four Year Strong track DOESN’T have incredible harmonies and vocal parts?). ‘Catastrophe‘ marks the end of the LP’s first half, but what an amazing group of songs is still to come!

Between ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Hell‘ and ‘Bada Bing Wit’ A Pipe‘ (two of FYS’s most well-known songs, easily), the band’s near-trademark massive sound is present everywhere and is full of life too, not to mention carefree character. The tight and furious ‘Beatdown in the Key of Happy‘ – a title that sums up the song and FYS’s music so well – is proof that a great record doesn’t need to be over-varied or different for each and every song. The chug-happy and deeper hardcore nature of ‘If He’s Here, Who’s Runnin’ Hell?‘ develops stunningly into one of the biggest sing-alongs the band have ever written (“All you have, has been falling down around you/and I found a way, a way to get along without you“). Much like ‘Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die‘ six songs before, ‘If He’s Here, Who’s Runnin’ Hell?‘ is a great example of how well this band wonderfully merges the heavy and the happy.

That’s also not to mention how well all of this is aided by a great mix; a mix that is still one of my favourite of all time, with each element getting their respective moments in the bright, upbeat sun. For instance, Josh Lyford’s catchy synth lines sitting up high in the mix, but not enough to be obnoxious (I’m looking at you, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!). On the lower end of the mix, Joe Weiss‘ bass tone is spot on and sitting exactly where it should be for punk music, with the pumping kick drums peaking out but never being overbearingly loud or distracting. It was very well well-balanced stuff a decade ago and it still is today.

Rounding out an album that I have honestly never skipped a single song on is the circle-pit fest of ‘Maniac (R.O.D.)‘ No, seriously, they played this at Soundwave (R.I.P.) in 2012 and it was the biggest circle pit I’ve seen on any indoor stages [I can attest to this statement having been there myself, that shit was nuts -Alex.] This song is an absolute ball buster of a track, with its frantic drums and down-picked riffs being a great contrast to the call and response melodies from the earlier songs. And then we get to the breakdown. Oh, that sweet, sweet breakdown! My brother often says that it’s “Lamb Of God but in major tonality“, and he’s not at all wrong. This crusher of a finish is exactly how you should finish off an album in order to leave a lasting impression: ensuring people are satisfied with what they’ve heard, yet still dying to hear more.(Let’s face it, the follow-up album ‘Enemy Of The World‘ was well worth that wait, but we will get to that in three years time when that turns ten).

If you somehow haven’t noticed, I love and adore Four Year Strong. A lot. Enough for me to start the now-defunct Facebook page, “The Four Year Strong Beard Appreciation Society” (look, I was able to grow a sick beard when I was 15, let me have this one). ‘Rise Or Die Trying‘ will always be a special record to me, no matter what time of day, month or year it is; it will always take me back to me kicking through high school and even skipping school just to see them at Soundwave. (Thanks, Mum).

This is an easy 95/100 for me. FYS for fuckin’ ever, man.

In January 2018, Four Year Strong will return to this 2007 classic as they play across Australia with Knocked Loose. Tickets here, dates below. Four Year Strong’s acoustic rendition album, ‘Some Of You Will Like This//Some Of You Won’t‘ is out now. 


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