OK, so chances are, your mind was either made up about Enter Shikari a couple of years ago, or you never really cared in the first place. Do your best to leave any prejudices behind, though, as Enter Shikari have become a different band.
Ever since they first appeared out of nowhere, Enter Shikari have shown promise with their blistering live shows and half-decent attempts at mimicking HORSE the Band, but unfortunately, the band’s first album, Take to the Skies failed to live up to it. More of an ignorable novelty than anything actually worthwhile, it was a huge disappointment to those who knew the band were capable of better. Fortunately, though, Common Dreads refines the sound of their first record with only the occasional misstep.
Supposedly a political album, you can make up your own mind as to whether the message behind it is naïve, undeveloped and unfocused or a decent insight into what’s going on in the world right now. What’s really important, though, is that with something to rage against, with lyrical themes of us all being doomed to work with, the band has a focus and an aggression that they previously lacked, and it’s given them a power that they could never seem to tap in to on their debut, no matter how hard they tried to get there through breakdowns and gang vocals.
One of the biggest changes is in the vocals: Lead singer Rou now has a noticeably deeper voice, with less of a forced American accent and throughout the record he proves he is better at singing, shouting and even ‘rapping’ than he is at screaming, something that appears much less this time round. Another issue with Take to the Skies were the synth parts -- they sounded limp, clichéd, and as though they were tacked on as an afterthought, to give their band a gimmick, whereas here they are far better incorporated in to the songs. Like the vocals, they are heavier and more powerful than before.
Despite a general step up in quality, the album has its fair share of awful, misguided moments: "Zzzonked" is as stupid as its name and, annoyingly repetitive, it only serves to break up the momentum built on the first few tracks. "The Jester" is a complete mess, attempting to sound like Jamie T before falling into the same pattern and pitfalls as "Zzzonked." On occasion, the band also sound like they’ve been listening to too much Pendulum, and I suppose your take on this depends on how much you like Pendulum. As with Take to the Skies, the few interlude tracks are pointless, throwaway pieces that only serve to make the album drag on a little, as is the opening track, a collage of voice clips that mean the album starts out slow instead of bursting out of the gate.
However, there are moments that truly shine and show Enter Shikari to be capable of writing some fantastic songs. Current single (in the UK, at least), "No Sleep Tonight" is a highlight: punchy and catchy, with a perfect sing-along and a horn section that provides a fanfare for the ending of the song. Although it’ll take you completely by surprise, the trumpet and trombone (both played by Rou) sound far more natural and much less forced than the synthesizers on Take to the Skies. "Hectic" is how I wish Enter Shikari have always sounded, finally living up to the ‘HARDCORE MEETS DANCE!!’ tag that the press often labelled them with, pairing a tight thrashy sound with a club-ready beat that combines to push the song along at a, well, hectic pace. Although many of the album’s good tracks follow its pattern, this is the strongest showing of their typical formula.
"Gap in the Fence" is a curiosity, opening with just an acoustic guitar and vocals that suggests Rou could have a half-decent acoustic side project if he wanted before bursting into one of the better synth lines on the album and a huge, crunchy finish. Closing track "Fanfare for the Conscious Man" serves as the album’s last hurrah and the biggest, most epic song that the band have ever written. The synths swirl over chugging guitars and one final spitting rant that duels with gang vocals before the song fades away.
Although Enter Shikari still have a little way to go before they can say they’ve made a record that is nothing but great from beginning to end, this is a massive progression towards something that is less of a novelty and more of a band that can be taken seriously -- a band with power, a band truly worthy of a second chance.