Trance-rock mentalists’ debut is a triumph for the people, by the people
From the superfans who shut their eyes at a My Chemical Romance show and dream about loves lost during ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’, to the shit-kicking communion of a proper hardcore show: hardcore and its stunted cousin emo, done correctly, are all about hair-prickling euphoria. After all, who needs mood-enhancing drugs when you’ve got warm tears streaming down your face? That’s real emotion for you there, bucko. But it was only a matter of time before someone upped the ante. Introducing then, the next logical step: Enter Shikari.
Fuck Lily Allen, St Albans’ Enter Shikari are the first true MySpace success story. Whatever you might think of the music, it’s unheard of for an unsigned-by-choice band to have built the kind of e-following (86,500 MySpace mates and counting) that allows them to sell out the London Astoria, refuse a flurry of huge record label cheques and bag the John Peel Award For Innovation at this month’s NME Awards.
And while ‘Take To The Skies’ might not be the future of music per se, it certainly offers a glimpse into the music industry’s exciting destiny, where the internet allows bands to undercut major labels entirely. Enter Shikari are the kind of band Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye was predicting a decade ago: a completely for the people, by the people product. Still, some questions need answering. Namely, can ‘Take To The Skies’ capture, or even build on the astonishing hi-NRG live performances that got everyone so excited in the first place? Can Enter Shikari find a niche in a playground already swollen with American screamo imports? The answer: absolutely.
Formed in 2003, Shikari have already become to hardcore what Klaxons are to indie. Though given hardcore’s resistance to change or diversification, the difference isn’t as pronounced as say, a comparison between ‘Atlantis To Interzone’ and ‘Mr Brightside’. Nor do Enter Shikari share the Klaxons’ mind-bending mission statement – think less Pynchon and Burroughs, more Wayne and Garth (there’s even a chorus of “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” at one point). Roughly, ‘Take To The Skies’ is about doing girls, playing shows, doing girls after playing shows, and the very theory hardcore was built upon: that if you scream it loud and for long enough, any made-up maxim can take on an almost mystical, life-realigning significance.
It could so easily have been otherwise, but nothing about Enter Shikari smacks of novelty. In fact, others have been here before. US acts such as Underoath and Chiodos have been mixing synths and freakish dance beats into their hardcore stew for years, and anyone who thinks Enter Shikari are the first to do off-kilter song construction haven’t heard Fear Before The March Of Flames and The Blood Brothers. And then there’s Refused’s oft-cited and overrated ‘New Noise’, which laid down the groundwork for Enter Shikari’s marriage of trance and hardcore in the first place. But as marriages go, Enter Shikari’s is a pretty one-sided affair; despite their fascination with the trappings of trance, ‘Take To The Skies’ is, at its foundation, a highly accomplished hardcore record.
‘Enter Shikari’ provides your initial encounter with Rou Reynolds’ voice. In a scene swamped by Americanisms he, rather remarkably, has remained true to his English accent, which he imparts faithfully through his screaming. The boy has range to boot. Not only does he do his clean (ie, unscreamed) vocals beautifully, but on the face-melting ‘Return To Energizer’ he sounds like a disgruntled metalcore yak, before the track morphs into the intro to a Faithless concert – all in two minutes.
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But on most of these songs, fusion isn’t the word, it’s incorporation; ‘Take To The Skies’ simply employs the trance synths in the same way other albums might do rhythm guitar. That’s not to undermine how exhilarating and unapologetically fun they sound, but Enter Shikari are hardly about to initiate any town centre love-ins between the emo and chav camps either. Introductory salvo ‘Stand Your Ground; This Is Ancient Land’ aside, they rarely let their trance trickery take the reins fully. Which is a shame – had they flipped their dynamic for at least one song, we could have been witness to something wonderful.
The closest they come is during highlight ‘Anything Can Happen In The Next Half Hour’, with its repeated guitar solo angling about like Satan having a go at Tetris. It simply has to be heard to be believed. ‘Mothership’, meanwhile, manages to take your breath away and throw in some haunting woodblock work for good measure. And that’s the very thing that makes Enter Shikari so inexplicably great – just when you think you’ve started to understand them, they deliver something entirely unexpected, like the bewildering Snoop Dogg impression at the end of ‘Sorry You’re Not A Winner’.
But Enter Shikari are no gimmick. Not only are they overhauling the band start-up process, but they’re also paving the way for that long-awaited British hardcore revolution. Trance. Hardcore. Strange bedfellows yes, but if you think they could never mix, you’ve yet to hear Enter Shikari.