As genre-crossing goes, it’s hard to come up with a wilder combination than rave and hardcore. Which is why it’s just as well we’ve got young and energetic acts like Enter Shikari to bust down the barriers of modern music and pump their glitch-punk-on-ecstasy out of our stereos. A present day model of the Generation X effect if ever there was one, Take to the Skies is the type of out-and-out assault on the senses which exists to grab its target audience by the ear and baffle older listeners.
The band’s steady ascension to that dubious mantle in their native England was spurred even more impressively by word of mouth. In 2007, ‘word of mouth’ largely means ‘with the aid of MySpace’, but the buzz Enter Shikari racked up in under a year led them to sell out two thousand capacity venues across the country before they’d even put a note of their synthesized whirlwind onto compact disc. Only one other group has ever been able to wear such a badge. That group is The Darkness, now toiling in obscurity once more (under a new moniker, no less) without Justin Hawkins’ spandex and falsetto.
Enter Shikari’s success in their homeland is not exactly a mystery. Hitting the road to kickstart your garage ensemble always wins diehard admiration pretty quickly. Their nihilistic shrieking, that’s then chewed up by a machine, is finally filtered through as adrenalized, instantly danceable techno. If you can imagine how invigorating it would be to have that sound pounding out live at full volume, building a fanbase to support Take to the Skies for its March release is no longer a major concern.
Come that month, they even took it to the masses without a record contract, predating Radiohead’s gesture for artistic freedom by several months. A group who ride a wave of emo and trance can’t afford to be tied down by a corporate major label. And while they are not the first to stick a synthesizer into punk (Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come did it while they were still in diapers, and even Anberlin’s latest album toys frequently with the buttons), they are the first to embrace it so openly and, for that matter, gain commercial recognition. For that, they are innovators.
It seems rather more unlikely that the US will pick them up quite as easily. The fourpiece’s fusion was apparently established on a diet of Faithless and 36 Crazyfists until the lines blurred. These are two bands that enjoy relative popularity in the UK while never really managing to crack the American market. Besides, originality has hardly ever mattered to the elusive mainstream of the US, which has broken many an English band’s repeated attempts to go global.
When it comes down to it, are rave and hardcore even that incompatible? Both are respectable sub-genres within their own scenes, but are not exactly known for diversity (in fact, the reason they may have maintained their cult following is for the lack of it). Joint at the hip, they’re just as one-dimensional; every human element to Enter Shikari is buried below thin, buzzing synth lines. It’s also an album that has no personality. This is not necessarily a flaw. Take to the Skies requires precious little commitment to get the most out of, and every yelped pin-up is strapped to a throbbing beat and ready to go.
It is hard to deny that the processed electronic enhancements that run through “Stand Your Ground, This Is Ancient Land” are highly arresting, or that “Mothership” unfolds as a towering rampage of what this band is capable of when they get themselves going, jittering at cyberspeed all over glam, emo and pulsating club rave (the cut’s music video says it all). Take to the Skies has an ethereal, uplifting feel to its bold infusion.
Second to his plaything, vocalist Rou Reynolds is not a great singer. His first word on the disc is “Shit!” and it’s for no reason other than a gratuitous rush. Enter Shikari are not great songwriters. But what is more important is that they remember to wink at us once in a while for sticking with the experiment. They have a faux-solemn opening ceremony, a closing loop, two interludes, two reprises, a song called “Sorry You’re Not A Winner” (what that’s about is anyone’s guess), even thirty seconds dedicated to familiarizing us with the character in the next song (“Jonny Sniper Introduction” becomes “Jonny Sniper”).
Every number sublimely melts into the next so that the track count of seventeen whisks by. Their poor penmanship can even be quite hilarious. On the last breakdown to “No Sssweat”, the surging beats and rhythms vaporize into a lone cymbal and Reynolds shouts, “Do this one more time and I’ll bite your fucking fingers off!”
Depending on your stance, Enter Shikari’s debut either takes the best of both genres and puts it conveniently together, or is a, to borrow a catchphrase from them, bloody shambles. I’m willing to bet that it will be their only high point together; that wherever they go from here they will fizzle out trying to recapture their spark. For now, however, the crowds are lapping it up, the album itself is an independent triumph, and the ride is more important than the result. Take to the Skies has to be heard to be believed.
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// Notes from the Road
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