The sixty seconds of instrumental synth-pop and dance-floor rhythms that begin FOUR STROKE BARON's newest record, "Planet Silver Screen", serves as both a fake-out and an indication that the following songs will be a fun musical exploration. One minute into the intro track—appropriately titled "Cut"—the beats go away, and a barrage of short, sharp riffs and drums bombard the listener's ear, while an ethereal voice, which sounds like a goth-night robot, starts shouting frantically, in almost a tribal manner.
Prosthetic's signing of the Reno, Nevada-based trio wasn't exactly a headline-grabbing announcement. The group has been a quiet favorite within the super-niche Bandcamp-musician circles that birthed acts such as CLOUDKICKER, but for metallic-minded enthusiasts who are fans of acts like DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT and TORCHE, bands that sprinkle catchy pop songwriting on top of their heavy riffs, "Planet Silver Screen" is an ambitious spectacle overloaded with both.
Once the album properly begins with the title track, FOUR STROKE BARON presents an eclectic, eccentric beast. The shouts of vocalist/guitarist Kirk Witt are very definitely not in the traditional metal spectrum, as they are delivered with a robotic goth-rock cry. It is almost off-putting initially, but once the album's first sing-along chorus kicks in, the choice to have that be the voice layered above drummer Matt Vallarino's crashing drums and cymbals, Keegan Ferrari's rumbling bass riffs, and Witt, 's own ethereal guitar work comes off as a compelling and complementary direction.
There is a slight prog-metal feel to everything that follows, but the moments of angularity are used as brief bursts of bombast that accentuate otherwise catchy head-boppers meant to fill a large arena. "Machine and Joy" may be the ultimate expression of the band's ambitions on this record. The track starts out with a hypnotic melodic-prog opening similar to modern-era CYNIC, before Witt shouts at the sun and the band launches into another mix of crunchy riffs and choruses that inspire singing along even on the initial listen, before ending with a piano-driven outro reminiscent of FAITH NO MORE's "Epic".
Much like Witt's vocals, the production of the record has a mechanized spark to it. The occasional blast beats generated by Vallarino would be at home on a FEAR FACTORY record, but it's yet another testament to FOUR STROKE BARON's ability to craft hooks to keep the music from having a cold, overproduced feel. The band does take a slight musical departure as the album winds down, with "Duplex" veering as a moody psych-rock respite, before the nine-minute album closer, "Video Maniacs", wraps the party with a sprawling opus that is punctuated by a guest saxophone solo from metallic limit-tester Jørgen Munkeby of Norway's SHINING, which will surely please fans of that band who were disappointed by the lack of it on that band's latest release, "Animal".
The emergence of FOUR STROKE BARON's "Planet Silver Screen" came quietly amid a flood of higher-profile releases during the final weeks of 2018. The band has crafted a record that is the perfect mix of heaviness and catchiness, ensuring that its next release will come with a louder buzz for those that take a test drive.