It can be strange to see just how overwhelmingly unanimous the love for Four Stroke Baron has been up to this point, especially considering their one album up to now was an incredibly underground release, and the band didn’t even have the social media channels to give it a beneficial boon. Even so, it was the originality of the band that made them stand out, combining prog with new wave and pop sensibilities in a way that really captured the imagination and stood firm as something original. And now, with a label backing behind their sophomore release, Planet Silver Screen looks to be Four Stroke Baron’s attempt to break out; it still mightn’t be their singular moment in the sun, but at least there’s an existing audience this time to provide some initial leverage.
And indeed, it’s easy to see why people would like this album, especially the subset of metal fans that gravitate towards those bands with bigger, almost cartoonish personalities; it’s hardly a coincidence that Four Stroke Baron focus on adapting such a mainstream slant into their music and wind up with similarities to both Ghost and Type O Negative. And yet at the same time, this still feels like an album made by a band who still aren’t quite sure of where exactly they want to go yet, and it can be a bit of a mess because of that. It’s a compelling mess most of the time, but that level of compulsion stops when it becomes clear how regimented the individual pieces of prog and new wave can be. It’s the most blatant in the juxtaposition between the vocals and the instrumentation, with the latter being a basic but effective concoction of prog riffing with a bit more of a metal edge, and yet when Kirk Witt’s droning vocals are almost constantly submerged in reverb to the point where they can be almost incoherent in tracks like Neon Person, there’s no sort of immersion that can possibly come from that. The only instance where it really works is on Duplex, and that’s really only because of a more atmosphere instrumental canvas that’s a more complementary fit. It’s not as if they don’t try to achieve a similar effect more often, like when Shining’s Jorgen Munkeby lends a saxophone solo to Video Maniacs, but at this time, Four Stroke Baron are focusing almost exclusively on assembling the pieces rather than closing the seams, and that can be incredibly jarring at times.
It’s not as though these individual pieces don’t work on their own though, and if there’s one place where Planet Silver Screen excels, it’s in how Four Stroke Baron carry themselves as a metal outfit. It’s an undoubtedly poppy take on the genre, but given to the likes of the title track and Machine And Joy, there’s a quality of hooks and melodies that’s undeniably strong. What’s more, they know how to work longer songs to good effect too; 7th Of July and Video Maniacs both have extended runtimes, but never feel too long or as if Four Stroke Baron don’t know how to make use of the time. Topped off with a production style that can feel a bit all-in at times but gives these tracks a good amount of power and chunky presence, the metal side of this album is where the band shine most, and where the greatest rewards come in.
And at the end of the day, for what is still a newer band, that can be good enough. Four Stroke Baron are moving forward by tweaking and perfecting one aspect of their sound at a time, and while it mightn’t be the most efficient way to progress, it’s a safe one that ensures that everything will turn out just right in the end. And that’s a sensible prediction for Four Stroke Baron; here, it’s most definitely not perfect, but they’re taking the necessary steps with that goal in mind, and while this can seem a bit far from reaching it, the fact it’s there at all shows a band worth keeping an eye on. Even if Planet Silver Screen isn’t the sophomore breakout many were hoping it to be, it’s an encouraging step forward all the same.
For fans of: Ghost, Type O Negative, Deftones
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Planet Silver Screen’ by Four Stroke Baron is released on 9th November on Prosthetic Records.