Enter Shikari – The Mindsweep (Album Review)

Enter Shikari are one of very few bands around today who can produce an endless array of music which can satisfy the ears of so many different people. Their eclectic mix of genre-boundary abusing electronic post-hardcore is as much in-your-face as it is soothing. For their upcoming fourth album, The Mindsweep, this hasn’t really changed. The only thing that’s changed is that the Rou Reynolds-fronted quartet now has a much wider palette of styles and ideas to choose from than ever before, something which is very much evident on their latest offering.

Album opener The Appeal & The Mindsweep I kicks off with a mix of muted synths and Vocoder vocals as Reynolds’ spoken-word styled vocals appeal for mankind. He does so convincingly with his voice, building up tension alongside jangly guitars and tribal drums. “Now grab life, seize time; this fight is for humankind” he professes before everything gets heavy and epic. As Reynolds’ vocals turn from spoken-word into full-on screams and off-the-wall chants, we’re led into an anthemic mid-section which sees Reynolds, guitarist Rory Clewlow and bassist Christ Batten sing together in glorious unison. As album openers go, this one is quite a memorable musical journey. It segues into The One True Colour, which comes out at you in full force as Batten’s smooth backing vocals contrast with Reynolds’ fierce howls. “To whom it may concern, It feels as though I’m about to crash and burn” Reynolds’ claims in the chorus before more screamed vocals are underpinned by Rob Rolfe’s powerful drums and some subtle electronics. Electronics are a very important part of Enter Shikari, and you couldn’t picture a song without it. As a subdued mid-section comes to an end, Reynolds’ throws himself at you with a rally cry as his band accompany him with the mesmerising refrain “Oh, how rich the soul; how wondrous the upheaval”. New single Anaesthetist follows in what is three minutes of pure anger and resentment at the healthcare system. Rob Rolfe’s simple, slick drum beat accompanies wobbly synths as Reynolds and Clewlow occasionally interchange vocal duties throughout. Its dark, concluding breakdown is preceded by a fiercely shouted “step the fuck back!”, before comeback single The Last Garrison lifts spirits with a rave-ready Drum and Bass section. Cries for morphine and opium are drowned out by massive synths and a sped-up, super danceable outro which will absolutely blow up live. Never Let Go of the Microscope proceeds to slow the pace down by way of a haunting piano melody, as Reynolds namechecks Greek philosophers (Greek mythology is a running theme on The Mindsweep) in order to discuss the application and defence of scientific methods. It eventually morphs into an epic gang chant by its close, with one stark warning standing out in and amongst the mass of gang vocals and industrial noises – “We’ll harness the heat of the sun, and burn you out of fucking existence”.

Album mid-point Myopia opens with ambient, Radiohead-esque broken beats as a tap drips in the background. This is eventually washed down the drain (pun intended) as the pace picks up sharply with Reynolds’ manic vocals mentioning Ostriches and calling us all vertebrates. “They’re living in denial of science” shout the St Albans foursome as an orgasmic riff enters the frame, once again demonstrating how great a guitarist Rory Clewlow is. Myopia is one of the best songs on the album, constantly changing pace and going from one style to another. It comes to an abrupt end, making way for Torn Apart, The Mindsweep’s most radio-friendly song. An opening riff is eventually dwarfed by a two-stepping drop which absolutely guarantees carnage in a live setting, before a massive chorus makes Torn Apart a definite contender for Shikari’s first big radio hit. It’s got all the qualities that make Shikari songs great, with a stadium-sized mid-section and grandiose brass outro adding some extra oomph (this brass outro is built on for another minute during Interlude). The Bank of England’s flickering, Thom Yorke-esque intro is countered by a distorted guitar groove as Reynolds recounts a story of banks blowing up and “the paper burning for days”. “No room for ethics now greed is in charge” sings Reynolds in a calmer, more relaxed vocal style. It bears resemblance to A Flash Flood of Colour (2012) track Warm Smiles Do Not Make You Welcome Here, particularly when it all breaks down and is replaced by a fast-paced, pit-ready riff. The sound of burning paper proceeds to make way for the heaviest, most brutal song on the album, There’s a Price On Your Head. It’s by no means a normal song, with a mixture of cowbell, super distorted guitars and a repeated verse concerning the class system making way for a sleazy breakdown. It all comes to an end by way of a very eastern influenced string outro which sounds very little like the two preceding minutes, yet still fits in perfectly. “We must have structure, Mr Reynolds” speaks a pre-recorded voice under the strings, which are accompanied by an eclectic mixture of percussion sounds as well.

Penultimate track Dear Future Historians… slows the pace down completely as we all stop, reflect and listen to Reynolds. For the most part, this track is solely Rou and a piano, as we hear about the things that Reynolds never experienced. “I’ll never experience the world you inhabit” he sings, before making it the only Enter Shikari song to ever mention swimming with dolphins. It all comes across quite demure, almost to the point where it makes you shed a tear at its sheer beauty. Reynolds’ voice gradually becomes more powerful as the piano becomes more persistent, before the line “just put your weight on my shoulders” makes way for the most beautiful and emotional two minutes of music you’re going to hear in a long time. It’s the absolute highlight of the album, and nothing can quite match it in terms of sheer emotional intensity and beauty. Pizzicato-esque strings and swirling woodwind bring it to an end, leading straight into album closer The Appeal & The Mindsweep II. For the most part, this one is a re-hash of the album opener before it all gets absurd when Reynolds grabs hold of the megaphone. First, a brass section enters the frame as Rou introduces “the cavalry”, to which a brief brass ditty plays. This is followed by Reynolds’ quoting an old Shikari track word-for-word, something which on one hand feels epic and on the other hand feels absurd. It feels absurd because it’s almost as if Enter Shikari are going full-circle, with this reference to an old classic slightly justifying it. It’s the most absurd way of closing an album that you could think of, but it’s exactly what we’d expect from Shikari.

The Mindsweep just goes to show that Enter Shikari are still one of the most consistent and impressive bands of our day and age. It may only be January, but this album is an early contender for album of the year. 2015 is the year of the Shikari, whether you like it or not.