[note: this review was originally published by indulge-sound.com here.]
As a band, Enter Shikari seem to never stop. It’s hard to believe that their last full length outing – The Mindsweep – is only two years old. Within that time frame, fans have had a plethora of non-album singles, multiple tours, and even the Live At Alexandra Palace album. With this year marking a decade since the 4-piece’s debut, fans couldn’t begrudge the band a bit of R&R after the Take To The Skies 10th Anniversary tour. But if you expected Enter Shikari to sit on their hands, you’d be wrong. Their feet hadn’t even touched the ground and they were back in the studio, working on a mysterious project. After the release of the Big Narstie collab, Supercharge, there was a social media blackout. A faint blue gradient with typed messages were all there as to see on Instagram, Twitter, and their own website. Then suddenly, with a classified memo, and the anointment of “Agent A. Mac”, the build-up began with the release of lead single Live Outside. The track debuted on Radio 1 along with the announcement of the 5th studio album, to be released on September 22nd. Close to two months later, it’s finally time for The Spark.
Beginning with the title track – The Spark is an instrumental full of euphoric pads and synths that perfectly act as an opener to the album. For the most part, the synths of The Sightsdominate the instrumentation of the track, with Rou’s vocals backed up by falsettos. Singing “now I boldly go in to the great unknown”, this marks a change for the St. Albans band. The album features a distinct lack of heavy guitar riffs or breakdowns on many of its tracks. Enter Shikari have always been known for destroying genre’s boundaries, and with The Spark, they have set out to do the same to their own boundaries. Using the instruments at their disposal to add depth, instead of just “heaviness”, to the tracks, is a brave move. But as proved by Live Outside, the brave move has more than paid off.
That isn’t to say the band have completely abandoned their hardcore roots. Take My Country Back is full to the brim of palm muted guitars, gang vocals, and bleeping synths reminiscent of The Paddington Frisk. A heated call out of post-Brexit Britain and the regression of the country’s ideologies and politics. Enter Shikari may have changed styles, but as ever the message stays the same. But believe me, Enter Shikari can get aggressive when needed. This is definitely the case during the chaotic ending of the lairy The Revolt Of The Atoms and the breakdown of piano ballad Airfield.
This is most apparent on Rabble Rouser. Perfectly placed after the quiet ending of Airfield, The Spark’s second single shoves dark guitar and dirty synths down the listeners ears as Rou takes aim at generic commercial music. Calling back to Reading 2014 with the line “I’m on stage with a face like a sack of screwdrivers”, the band are showing they are here to make alternative music with depth and meaning. The grimey synth of the track goes decidedly more house as one of the heaviest sections in the album comes along – a breakdown that could give Arguing With Thermometers a run for its money.
After an audial assault, Shinrin-yoku takes the listener on a short visit to the forest. Named after the Japanese practice of “forest bathing”, the bass and synths featured could be used in meditation underneath some of the most relaxing lyrics ever put to record. At little over the halfway mark, Enter Shikari have done everything they can to prove how versatile they can be.
The promotion for the album starts makes sense as Undercover Agents starts to play. With vocal hooks that wouldn’t be out of place in the UK Top 40, Enter Shikari have a point to prove with the shift in sound on this album. Pop and EDM influences shine through, showcased by how far the band’s electronic production has come, yet the band show that music like this doesn’t have to be generic or shallow.
Showing how expertly they can craft an album, the penultimate track is An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces (In Two Movements). Starting slowly and quietly, the 6 minute epic is full of strings, horns and Rou’s vocals emoting as hard as ever.
The Spark finishes with The Embers. A track that serves as a reprise and outro, but with the synths and bleeps switched for soft strings. With the album on repeat, it brings everything full circle perfectly.
Enter Shikari’s 5th studio album marks a departure for the band. With a sound that is definitely more polished, professional and thought out than ever before. Every part of The Spark feels meticulously planned out, and yet can still feel utterly chaotic when it needs to. Trading some of the breakdowns of previous albums for pop hooks, was a bold move. But one that was definitely not done lightly. The 4 piece have simultaneously managed to make what may be their most chart friendly record while taking shots at the generic music that fills those same charts. Lyrics that take shots at the more commericial side of the music industry are peppered throughout, sharing the same space as the ideologies and politics of the band. As the band have evolved from album to album, The Spark is no different. Enter Shikari have managed to evolve in to a completely different, yet familiar beast all at the same time. A beast that will definitely leave you with a face “like a sack of screwdrivers.”