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Album Review: FOUR STROKE BARON Classics

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Four Stroke Baron are an impossible band to place on the vast spectrum of heavy-music subgenres. The Reno, NV-based duo of Kirk Witt and Matt Vallarino drifts between the eccentric prog (enhanced by the brilliant mixing of Devin Townsend), the groovy and danceable nature of nu-metal and 80s new wave, and synth pop. Honestly, any attempt to classify them would either result in the longest subgenre name ever created, or would just be reductive. That being said, Classics is an ambitious title, but one that is well earned with this next-level, thrilling, inventive, feel-good blend of poppy progressive metal and progressively gothy pop.

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The album opens with unnerving, yet bright and hopeful electronic notes “Radium”. The song sets the tone for Classics as it devolves into a dark balance of noise and melancholy melody, before diving into “Rolling Gloom 1999”, whose runtime is laden with groove and electronic elements that can only be described as “vintage-futuristic”.

Classics wastes no time, with hardly a breath between the poppy and downright danceable “Khera” and “Prostitute Part II: Pretty Woman (Makes Money)”. The sudden shift works in a way that the duo of songs do blend together, but with a violent shift in mood from light to dark. Especially with shrill, chaotic moments that underscore the darkness of the topic underlying the track. “13 Steps to Stockton” gives the feeling of the floor falling out from under you, with the dropping fuzzy bass notes and the floaty verses juxtaposed with the savagery of the chorus and bridge. 

“G.O!” softens slightly in its savagery, but remains both haunted and hooky. This track leans more heavily into the prog elements of Four Stroke Baron and is the least melody driven of the tracks on the album. 

“Friday Knight" was the debut single from the album and was a hell of a way to lead things off. The song dangles angular keyboards, light falsettos, and haunting distortion over chugging riffs. Witt's smokey, new-wavey croon, which soars gracefully as it delivers the ultimate earworm that is only missing a dancefloor. “Coast of Barbary” is a nice slow down for the album, a break before the highlight track, “Sundowner”. Possibly the catchiest song of the album, “Sundowner” is an absolute hook in and of itself. The entire song is one, big earworm of danceable, soaring, electronically layered fun. 

Wrapping up the album is “Russian Thought Experiment (ft. NXOV)” – which opens with somber piano notes, and lays the groundwork of the swansong of the album. The gloomy notes of the piano become progressively more melancholy, with the addition of horror movie soundtrack-esque synths. The final vocals capture a level of pain that is a highly emotional sendoff for the album and starkly contrasts with the opening hopeful notes of “Radium”. 

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Ultimately, Classics succeeds: not because it is a simple mix of good and odd ideas, but because the quirks that make them so hard to describe also make them a commanding presence in the genre. Four Stroke Baron’s particular oddities are appealing to a swath of fans across the prog, metal, space rock, synth, and new wave genres. 

While the elements of prog are strong throughout the album, Classics is still heavily melody driven and doesn’t fall into the trap of “let’s be technical and weird for the sake of being technical and weird.” There is a method to the madness and that is clear. Distinct storytelling, electrifying sound, and Devin Townsend’s signature flair in the mixing for the record gave each layer the shine needed to catapult Classics into the elite of… well… classics.

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