Near the end of the opening track from Enter Shikari’s new record The Mindsweep, vocalist Rou Reynolds breaks from the yelping that had preceded in the previous 20 seconds to croon the line: “Who was the author? And who was the observer?” While the line uses a simple rhetoric device, it seems to comment a great deal on the role that an audience can play on a piece of art. This line therefore shapes the opening track as a direct message to the listener of the record- to not just sit back and observe, but to interact and shape the narrative of the record.
The rhetoric and style with which Enter Shikari elucidates their points on the sociopolitical makeup of “this floating planet we call Earth” should be viewed not solely as their own, but as the rhetoric of all of their listeners. As a result, the record becomes something of a unifying force. However, despite my attempts to discuss the postmodern narrative implications of the album’s “The Appeal and The Mindsweep”suite, the device is useless if the record from which it stems isn’t any good.
Luckily, in the almost exactly three years since Enter Shikari’s last record, A Flash Flood Of Colour, the band has discovered even more what makes them one of the most unique on the planet. This is so distinctly and undeniably a record by this band that I found myself saying multiple times through my initial listen, “they would do that,” out loud. However, despite the implicit familiarity the record implies, there is still something so captivating about watching the band execute their style so effortlessly. Having been a big fan of the A Flash Flood of Colour track “Search Party,” I should have expected something like the last forty seconds of “The Bank of England,” where drummer Rob Rolfe pulverizes his drum set over a Fall Of Troy-esque riff and swirling, distorted synths.
Even when the band plays it safe, the result is still an accomplishment of songwriting prowess. Even as lead single “The Last Garrison” keeps its cards close to the vest, it still manages to surprise the listener by opening up with a screamed “Can you hear the war cry?” and a demolishing synth line, before transmuting into a dance-hall worthy banger. Similarly, the trance beat of “Never Let Go of the Microscope” will be familiar to fans of the band’s earlier work on Common Dreads, but Reynolds’ vocal rhythm and delivery sounds like nothing the band has ever put out before, sounding almost hip-hop influenced.
Perhaps most importantly, Enter Shikari is still the same charismatic band that balances their political viewpoints with an ability to be droll and even irreverently funny at times. Take the “second verse of “The Anaesthetist”- a song about the predatory nature of many health insurance companies in the United States and the still small but growing private-sector health care in the United Kingdom- in which Reynolds emphasizes that to support his claims, he would “endanger (his) health.” Seemingly responded to how he believed Reynolds to have jumped the shark in his argument, guitarist Rory Clewlow responds with a quick “SHUT IT!,” to which Reynolds replies, “Oi!” and then continues on with his diatribe. It’s a blink-and-you-misses-it moment of humor, but it just shows how much camaraderie and panache this band has. Clewlow’s input in this way has been instrumental in the past (think his “I don’t fucking believe it” deadpan in “Destabilise” or Clewlow and the rest of the band chiming in on the memorable “Gandhi, Mate, Gandhi”) but something about this line is just so quintessential to what Enter Shikari is that I figured it was worth pointing out.
There are still a few too many metalcore fan-pandering moments which make for some easy eye-rolling, such as the laughably awful “Step the fuck back!” mosh call that closes “Anesthetist”- something that even A Day to Remember would agree is a little too much. And perhaps the album’s weakpoint returns to the scene of A Flash Flood of Colour‘s biggest weakpoint, “Arguing with Thermometers,”- an environmental protest song. The clumsy lyrics of “Myopia” give voices to the many animals affected by climate change, but it’s the laughably terrible gang-vocal chants in the chorus that stick out like a sore thumb on the record.
Even with those missteps, there is still so much that Enter Shikari does right here. The attention to detail is just astounding, aiding the way many of the tracks flow effortlessly into one another. One key example is the outro to “Never Let Go of the Microscope” in which as the song’s closing synth line fades down a wind-up crank can be heard, and then a music box of that same synth line begins to play. When the music box finishes it’s song and ceases playing, it is wound back up and the next song “Myopia” immediately begins to play. Then there is the beautiful “Dear Future Historians,”- this album’s “Constellations,”- a six-minute epic composition in which Reynolds allows his voice to stretch all the way to the top of his register over a gorgeously piano composition. “Just put your weight on my shoulders,” he sings somberly, as a crescendo of synthesizer harmonies begins to envelop the track, before cutting out entirely. And then it happens- the payoff comes in the form of a two-minute cathartic release. It’s among the best songs of the band’s career.
Then, of course, there is the enigma that is “There’s a Price on Your Head.” The song sounds like- and I know this is a ludicrous thought- what it would be like if System of a Down tried to write an Enter Shikari-song. The poly-rhythmic, chaotic song rails on the idea of social mobility and the rigidly defined social strata which only serve to put “a price on your head.” But it does so in one of the most entertainingly eccentric way the band could have thought of; and just when you think the track couldn’t get any weirder, a sample kicks in that states, “We must have structure,” before a heavily-electronic breakdown (and accompanying dance-floor air horn) start. The band then seamlessly transitions into a trap and synth beat, at which the synth line is then replaced with a string quartet which somehow syncs perfectly with the beat. I can’t even adequately describe how weird this track is, it’s just something you’ll have to experience for yourself. Trap beats and string quartets together- pure chaos.
The album closes where it begins, with part two of the “The Appeal and Mindsweep” suite. The track despite being a bit messy- the vocals are deliberately buried in the mix- does an excellent job of bringing the album full circle. A covert reference to the band’s history is also buried beneath the track’s overpowering instrumentation. Reynolds begins singing the chorus of the band’s breakout single “Sorry, You’re Not a Winner” before bouncing back into the song’s original lyrics. It’s a bit of an unnecessary accessory in the song, but it is certainly a thrill for long time fans to pick up on that. As the orotund horn section fades down to close out the record, Reynolds again enters a near speaking voice as he utters the album’s final line. It comes in the form of a Latin phrase, “Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur.” The phrase is loosely translated as follows: “With the name changed, the story is about you.”
And with that, Reynolds and company refer back to “The Appeal and the Mindsweeper I”’s thesis, about the role of the observer. I think in part what the band is trying to impart with this closing wisdom is that once an album is released it is out of the hands of the creator. It is the primary responsibility of the audience of that piece of art to mold and continue the discussion. This is, I believe, where I should recommend that you become a part of this molding of the discussion, check out this record, experience it like I have, and tell me if you like it as much as I have.