With aggressive, hardcore-tinged rock and cutting-edge electronic dance music now sitting as natural bedfellows, it’s easy to forget how exciting and unique 2007’s Take to the Skies must have sounded to an unsuspecting world.
Ever since that now innocent-sounding debut Enter Shikari have carved out a career of battling expectations alongside the grand issues of the day, from environmentalism to divisive political debates. Where other bands have been content replicating both Shikari and then themselves time and again, the pioneers of the movement have refused to sit still, and in future decades will likely be seen as being among Britain’s, if not the world’s most important artists. Revered as they are by a devoted fanbase, in their homeland in particular, Enter Shikari have never been a truly mainstream proposition. Latest, much-heralded offering The Mindsweep in truth seems unlikely to change that, but such an evaluation isn’t damning in the slightest.
Musically this is, as ever with this band, a thrill ride of painlessly obliterated genre boundaries and warm, stirring melodies. It’s as easy to define the bassy swagger of “Anaesthetist” and call-to-arms anthem “The Last Garrison” as EDM as it is rock, both electrifying the spine of the listener thanks to utterly venomous vocal delivery and skull-rattling synths respectively. One notable stride the band has made is in formulating atmosphere, the first minute and a half of ‘Myopia’ in particular building an icy blanket that’s subsequently shattered to thrilling effect. Diverse though it is this does feel like a more coherent affair than predecessor A Flash Flood of Colour, with less reckless excursions into uncharted territory.
In a sense this reining in of the band’s eccentricities might be seen as a disappointment, and at times The Mindsweep does feel like a retreading of (admittedly still fertile) old ground. A dynamic-rich and positivist “The One True Colour” could have slotted into Common Dreads with minimal fuss, while “Dear Future Historians” feels like the logical next step from previous album closer “Constellations”. On the other hand this makes the fresher-feeling songs all the more tantalising. The album’s highlights are thus the ultra-spacious alternative hip-hop slowburner “Never Let Go of the Microscope”, gorgeously restrained mid-album anchor “Torn Apart”, and most pleasingly for the listener with heavier taste, a full-on jump into a System of a Down-esque frenzy on the pummelling “There’s a Price on Your Head”.
When a band put as much effort into their lyrics as Enter Shikari clearly do it’s only fair to assess them in some depth, and promisingly they’re if anything more developed and concise in their analysis of the human race than ever. A frequent narrowing of the scope means their target is hit more often, in comparison to the occasionally jumbled borderline rants of previous material. Particularly effective are the condemning of privatised healthcare in “Anaesthetist” (“illness is not an indulgence which you should pay for… for this conviction I would endanger my health”) and the barbed satire that runs through “The Bank of England”, as few would argue that “the invisible hand no longer guides, it chokes”. All these words are delivered with the utmost conviction by ever-improving lead singer Rou Reynolds and a pleasingly frequently used Chris Batten.
This may not be the most groundbreaking, or indeed the best Enter Shikari record, but it might just be the most ambitious. Everything is summed up in the two parts of “The Appeal and the Mindsweep” – the monumental first may be the quintessential introduction to the group, while the second is wonderfully lackadaisical in its nods to both Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights and something else long-time fans will appreciate that we won’t spoil here. It’s this balance of the grand and important and the simply fun that Enter Shikari have always got fundamentally right and so have time and again risen above their contemporaries. The Mindsweep has once again done just that.