Album Review: Enter Shikari – The Spark

Next Friday, Enter Shikari’s fifth record The Spark will hit the shelves. After celebrating the tenth year anniversary of their debut record Take To The Skies with a special club tour earlier this year, the band is ready to look forward again. The timing couldn’t be any better: with The Spark the lads have entered a new chapter in their career. Of course, we are used to Enter Shikari hitting the contemporary nerve with their social-political lyrics, but this time they’ve created something much, much bigger than that.

In a world where every single piece of information has to be thoroughly scrutinized, where human rights are at stake, where fascism has become a viable option for a great part of society and where the individual feels more disenfranchised and lost than ever, The Spark confronts the listener with this overwhelming fear, hopelessness and longing for structure – both socially and mentally – in such a heartbreaking way that listening to the record is almost an ordeal at times. Take “Live Outside” for example. The melodic track sounds like a happy pop tune at first, but its desperate call for an escape couldn’t be more haunting.
“Take My Country Back”, on the other hand, is text-book Enter Shikari. The track is a desperate outcry of anger about the political decisions made during the past year. “Look what we’ve done to ourselves/we’ve really gone and fucked it this time,” -the track couldn’t be more clear. Its mellow bridge is a nice switch up which carries the song from the well-known impulsive Enter Shikari sound to The Spark‘s new play of melodies.

While Enter Shikari’s musical and lyrical figurative punch in the face isn’t new, The Spark is also a well-aimed punch to the heart. It is the band’s most personal album by far – and that even seems like an understatement after listening to the record. These past two years, Rou Reynolds, singer and song-writer of Enter Shikari, has gone through his own personal hell consisting of panic attacks, insomnia, self-medication, the deaths of his two remaining grandparents and the disintegration of his long-term relationship: “I had that classic thing of feeling like you had some sort of structure that all started to crumble.”, says Rou.

The social-political issues from Brexit to terrorism to Trump only added to the trauma. All of this worked its way into the lyrics of The Spark – a challenge that even the experienced writer had to struggle with: “It’s been shock after shock the last few years, which I’ve found really difficult to get to grips with and compute in terms of how I’m going to turn that into art,” he says. But one beauty of The Spark is that the album title holds what it promises: it’s a rebirth after the breakdown, a glimpse of hope in the turmoil of current affairs.

Photo: Jennifer McCord

As depressive as some of the lyrics sound, they always lead to a new beginning. In “Airfield”, for example, Reynolds sings: “When the wind’s against you, remember this insight: that’s the optimal condition for birds to take flight.” Rising like a phoenix from the ashes – a positive image that couldn’t be more important during a time in which mental health diseases and suicide seem to be on the rise (a topic Rou has always been very outspoken about). “Shinrin-yoku”- the term describes the Japanese “Forest Therapy” – is the perfect example of a therapeutic track celebrating a new awakening and awareness. Also, the fact that the cheerful and uplifting dance tune “The Sights” opens the album is a statement all by itself. It’s this recurrent optimism in a seemingly desperate world which makes The Spark such an outstanding record lyrically.

Reynold’s vocals carry the songs with subtlety and grace. There isn’t much screaming, instead we get more emotional and tender moments especially in the two ballads “Airfield” and “An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces”. Both of them will cause many teary eyed fans at Enter Shikari shows in the future. The band already has some extremely heartbreaking songs with “Adieu”, “Constellations” and “Dear Future Historians”, but “Airfield” and “Ode” take the pain to a whole new level. In one of the most vulnerable moments on the record, Reynolds sings: “In my chest there’s a thundering pain” concluding with the repetition of the line “We all cope somehow”. This might give the song a somewhat positive ending, but it also seems to pick up the theme of the senselessness of a never-ending cycle of pain and coping, which is already mentioned in “Airfield”: “It’s common for people to believe/ everything happens for a reason/ I’m sorry that’s false and it’s poison”.

The upbeat songs on The Spark captivate with strong, super catchy sing-along gang vocals in the bridges and hooks. Musically, Enter Shikari are shedding their usual sound of perfect chaos to embrace their melodic side instead. Still, they manage to stick to their excitingly unique style. The songs are cleverly instrumented dance tunes with vintage synths that form one sonic force with the vocals. Heavy guitar riffs are rare on The Spark, but the sounds are so versatile that you don’t even miss them. “Rabble Rouser” was received so well that it already broke the internet when it was released as a single, and “Undercover Agent” has such a ridiculously upbeat sound that it’s impossible to stop smiling when listening to the tune.

The record shows a true evolution in Enter Shikari’s music: to focus on one sound. “I get so easily over-enthusiastic that I wake up one morning and I wanna write a symphony, then some obscure electronica; a choral piece, hardcore punk,” Rou says. With The Spark, the band managed to end the capriciousness of his creativity. “Not dampening the variety, but trying to write the best songs instead of trying to be the heaviest, the most technical, the most emotional.” Still, the famous Enter Shikari-drops can still be found on The Spark. Their sound is just more mature and in tune with the rest of the tracks.

In conclusion, Enter Shikari have created a true masterpiece with The Spark. Yes, we tend to rate Enter Shikari records highly, because they are an awesome band, but this album is on a whole new level! No matter how The Spark will be received by critics and by fans, it will always be the album that has heralded a new age in the band’s history. What could possibly come after this? We are almost afraid of the answer.

The Spark will be released on September 22nd via PIAS. Pre-order HERE.

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Melissa Wilke

Editor-in-chief | After two years in PR, I now work as an Account Manager in an advertising agency in the beautiful city of Duesseldorf. I’ve been blogging for 7 years on several websites and started working as a freelance writer for music magazines in 2013. I believe in the social value of music and its power to change the world for the better. My favourite bands/artists are Green Day, Enter Shikari, Linkin Park, Marmozets, SWMRS, Lana del Rey, Paramore, Foo Fighters, Nirvana and too many more to list them all.

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