By Richard Liddle
Enter Shikari are a band who tend to defy genre – while they sit somewhere in a vague niche of alt-rock, hardcore or post-rock (depending on who you ask) they’ve never been shy about taking cues from other areas, liberally sprinkling past albums with elements of electronica, punk, drum and bass, dubstep and metalcore. With this in mind, Nothing is True & Everything is Possible is perhaps the most Shikari album the band have ever made, blending together all manner of styles and sounds into their most unique record yet.
Coming off the back of 2017’s The Spark – which took a more introspective, pop-influenced direction to the band’s previous four albums – frontman Rou Reynolds has said that Nothing is True… is an attempt at creating the “definitive” Shikari album, taking inspiration from each of their past records. This homage to the past shows throughout – the pop-ish, upbeat “Crossing The Rubicon” references early hit “Labyrinth” both in its lyrics and its use of the song’s iconic synth riff; “T.I.N.A” wouldn’t sound out of place on 2015’s The Mindsweep, with its jangling synths and heavy guitar tones; and the pairing of “modern living….” and its extended, madcap breakdown in the form of “apøcaholics anonymøus (main theme in B minor)” is reminiscent of the two “Havok” tracks from sophomore release Common Dreads.
It would be misleading to think of Nothing is True as simply a “greatest hits” of some kind, however. This is the first time Reynolds has taken the reins as producer, giving him even more creative control than ever; and at the same time as paying homage to the band’s past, he’s managed to steer Shikari in altogether new and unprecedented directions. “Waltzing Off the Face of the Earth (I. Crescendo)” is an early indicator, coupling a waltz rhythm with circus-like horns as the lyrics lambast the ridiculous nature of various social issues – such as fake news, climate change denialism and US gun culture – before building to a cacophonous mix of synth and brass.
The experimentation with classical instruments doesn’t stop there; “Marionettes (I. The Discovery of Strings)” opens with a conspiratorial, almost Bond-movie-like instrumental complete with horn solo, and “Waltzing Off the Face of the Earth (II. Piangevole)” closes out the album with a more serene, downbeat reworking of “Waltzing I.”.
The most striking example, though, comes in “Elegy for Extinction”, a full 4-minute orchestral arrangement designed to chart the entire story of life on Earth – industrious, hopeful violins and woodwind are joined by triumphant brass as life emerges, but ominous discordance creeps in to represent humanity mucking things up, leading to a dramatic, crashing crescendo implying the looming disasters of climate change. It’s the album’s biggest surprise – it’s not often a rock album lobs the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra at you halfway through – but it works, propelling the album dramatically into its latter half.
The two-part “Marionettes” is another high point. It’s one of Shikari’s most narrative efforts, almost operatic in nature as Reynolds’ lyrics (eloquent and inventive as ever) chart the growing consciousness of the enslaved marionettes and their eventual revolution of thought – one of the starkest calls-to-arms the band has ever made.
“Marionettes” acts as the both the political and dramatic peak of the album, but is followed by its most emotionally resonant track, “satellites* *”. It’s a love song dedicated to the LGBT+ community, using beautiful spacebound imagery to depict the urge to love freely and openly without prejudice. The elating pop-rock chorus is catchy as hell, and the whole song practically begs you to dance to it.
All told, Nothing is True & Everything is Possible is an eclectic and ambitious musical journey full of surprises. Longtime fans may be divided over the continuing divergence from the band’s heavier origins, but in a way the innovation on display cements it as the quintessential Shikari album – at the band’s core is a desire to continuously innovate and defy expectations, which Nothing is True… manages in bucketloads. To pull off such a diverse array of styles and genres whilst still remaining cohesive and identifiably Shikari is a magnificent feat, and demonstrates that the second half of the title holds 100% true: with Enter Shikari, everything is possible.