Whether you have become acquainted with St. Albans quartet Enter Shikari recently, or been a long-time fan since their eccentric debut a decade ago, you will know one thing: never get comfortable. This is a forward thinking band who has scrapped the rule book from the start, continuously pushing genre boundaries from hardcore punk, to many facets of EDM and pop. Their unique blend of influences paired with their energetic live shows, outspoken political awareness and connectivity with their fans have gained them consistent momentum and the potential to be one of Britain’s biggest and most important bands. Whilst ‘Common Dreads’ (2009) and ‘A Flash Flood Of Colour’ (2011) saw the band expand on their cult following through its frenetic innovation; it was the back end of the touring cycle for the all-encompassing ‘The Mindsweep’ (2015) which saw the band embark on arena status with a phenomenal live show that entailed surround sound, a stunning visual backdrop and a lightshow which set a new standard for the live setting of this ilk. Whilst expanding their hardcore following globally on the road, they have also perfected the modern trend of releasing separate singles to tie the fans over between each full length record; no one can accuse this band of standing still. Singles such as the arena ready ‘Redshift’ was both topically and sonically stratospheric however; the later standalone ‘Hoodwinker’ and ‘Supercharge’ were just as ferocious and experimental as any Shikari fan could hope. Despite the unpredictable nature of the bands artistic direction, it is no surprise that fifth studio record ‘The Spark’ feels like the band directly answering the call of becoming an arena band without losing an ounce of dignity or experimentation in the process.
‘The Spark’ was explained by Rou as being a new beginning; “It can be short and insignificant, but it can create something so significant. The spark is that light at the end of the tunnel – when everything seems to be falling apart, but you’re able to see some sort of path out of the dark.” The most noticeable change in direction of this record is the newfound sense of simplicity in song structure and its brighter, poppier sensibilities; perhaps the recent ten year anniversary tour of ‘Take To The Skies’ has rejuvenated the playful nature of short slices of music. Rou reflects this in a recent interview with Upset Magazine: “we’re trying to concentrate on the song, the melody and making it one entity which has been really fun”. The album was produced by David Kosten (known for pop records such as Bat For Lashes and Marina & The Diamonds) and entails some of the bands slickest production yet, allowing prolific elements of subtle instrumentation to shine.
Being bookended by the short intro and outro ‘The Spark’ and ‘The Embers’ – two magnetically simple and optimistic synthesised instrumentals, these nine tracks pack a punch despite the absence of the ferocious riffs and breakdowns usually offered by guitarist Rory Clewlow. ‘The Sights’ is an incredibly bouncy track driven by its sharp synthesisers and catchy ‘woah-oh-oh’ vocal refrains before exploding into the chorus of Rou pondering his fascination of space exploration: “I’m searching far and wide to find a planet to orbit” it further invokes a sense of excitement and ambition that the band so brilliant exude. ‘Live Outside’ was the first single for the record and easily their most mainstream entry to date. The song makes astute commentary on escapism and societies burden for people to maintain a perfect emotional state. Whilst the structure of the song is repetitive; as with all things Shikari it is packed with subtle details and vocal harmonies that truly shine through thanks to this new production.
Being the politically charged band that Enter Shikari are; it is no surprise that ‘Take My Country Back’ is a clamour to the rise of the right wing politics both in the UK with the Brexit result and Donald Trump becoming the president of the United States. Previously they have tackled their views both ferociously and with humour with tracks such as ‘Ghandi Mate, Ghandi’ and ‘Fanfare For The Concious Man’. This song is no exception as they boldly tackle the subject head on whilst detailing the issues of sharing your views with likeminded folk solely – “fists of fury against one’s neighbour, reeling around in the echo chamber”. Fittingly this is one of the albums most punk inspired cuts filled with blistering drums from Rob Rolfe and distorted bass lines from Chris Batten; yet still with a fresh coat of paint as it is palatable for the radio through is lofty chorus that will sure to be a live standout. Although most fans would presume that this record would heavily focus on politics due to current tumultuous events, it seems Reynolds has explored his vulnerability and his most personal side in his career to date due to recently struggling with anxiety, a loss of a relationship and the mounting pressure of the “rock star” spotlight that has been cast upon him. ‘Airfield’ is a beautifully delicate piano ballad with a chord progression so haunting; it instantly gets under your skin. Here Reynolds manages to balance his falsetto and baritone vocal so seamlessly before repeating a phrase so powerful and uplifting “yeah you’re down on your luck, your down, but that don’t mean you’re out” to build as the band join him for an epic crescendo. We’ve seen this method used before by the band in much broader terms (‘Constellations’ and ‘Dear Future Historians’) but never with this level of emotional weight and relatability.
‘Rabble Rouser’ is one of the records darkest cuts, inspired by grime and nineties dance that keeps delivering on repeat listens and is sure to become a wild moment live through its dirty vibe. ‘Shinrin-yoku’ and ‘Undercover Agents’ are two wonderfully creative and euphoric tracks that work seamlessly back to back; the former would not sound out of place on a The 1975 record through its light aesthetic and visual inducing sense of space that would be fitting for a meditation session. Whilst the latter continues the uplifting theme of letting go and discovering the self: “I am currently under construction, thank you for your patience”, it is far more immediate through its energetic chorus and use of huge gang vocals. ‘The Revolt Of The Atoms’ seems to break the continuity of sensitivity throughout this record; far more playful in nature through use of spoken word and dancing synthesisers straight out of the eighties playbook yet with a menacing spiralling ending.
‘An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces (In Two Movements)’ sits on the back end of the record and is a real tearjerker. It encompasses luscious reverb ridden guitar cleans and moving basslines underneath another stunning and vulnerable performance from Rou. Riddled with a plateau of instrumentation: moog synths, trumpets and strings, it truly takes the listener through a visceral journey of loss. Whilst there are ingenious honest metaphors in its opening moments – “I miss them like the majority of modern mainstream music misses an original metaphor for missing someone”, the simple lines of “this is tough man, I’ve lost more pieces of my jigsaw” are delivered with a struggling vocal tremble that sends shivers down the spine. Its closing moments are of a huge, slow post rock nature full of passionate screams and one final breath of release.
Enter Shikari’s fifth record may lack the immediate aggression of their prior releases, but they continue to innovate and explore new sounds with complete ease whilst remaining fantastic song writers. Their rise to success may be a complete anomaly to some; due to their boundless independence and unique sound. Whilst there is no one quite like this band, long may they continue to break conventions and rise to the festival headline slots they deserve. This is another great effort in their fascinating career.
The fifth LP marks a new direction for the Hertfordshire quartet, and is executed flawlessly.