Enter Shikari’s back-catalogue has always been a great dividing force in post-hardcore circles. On one hand, you have four guys who are immensely talented at producing scorching and technically pleasing hooks whilst retaining the groove and melody of modern electronic music, and on the other you have some truly shocking vocal tracks and a penchant for middle-class political cliché. The band’s first release Take to the Skies was the culmination of countless hours spent playing in a massing Hertfordshire hardcore scene, which regularly played host to the likes of Gallows, Don Broco and Your Demise. The album rocketed Enter Shikari into the spotlight with tracks such as ‘Sorry You’re Not a Winner’ and ‘Johnny Sniper’ and, due to some extremely wise business moves and the creation of an independent label Ambush Reality, the band managed to turn their new found success into countless tours, increasingly large festival slots and a very healthy turnover of apparel and vinyl.

Just one year later, Common Dreads was released, silencing those who speculated that as with many of their ilk, Shikari would suffer greatly from the mounting pressure to produce a release that lived up to their first – a challenge which the band took on with seemingly no effort whatsoever. Common Dreads picked up almost exactly where Take to the Skies left off, whilst juggling the band’s mounting political agenda and a noticeable shift away from more hardcore-rooted influences; a pattern which sadly translated poorly onto the band’s third album – A Flash Flood of Colour. Whilst tracks such as ‘Quelle Surpise’, ‘Sssnakepit’ and ‘Ghandi Mate, Ghandi’ were well received, it felt like the once powerful flame that ignited Shikari’s earlier releases was flickering. As with album number two, Flash Flood veered toward the world of synth-heavy tunes, whilst building on the band’s apparent outrage at the current political climate. The pattern continued on the band’s fourth album, 2014’s The Mindsweep, that, for the most part, it is virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor and as such offers very little to in terms of fresh ideas.

Finally, we arrive at The Spark. In under a minute of playtime, it's obvious that the band have entered into the writing process hoping to further their success with an array of radio-friendly four-minute wonders by hiding the once-brutally heavy riffs behind a wall of overly-compressed keys and some genuinely-cringe worthy vocals. It’s interesting that in a time where Britain is staring down the barrel of a Brexit-conservative-Trump-shaped shotgun, now is the time that Rou Reynolds and co have decided to dial down the exacerbated aggression at the modern system. Third track ‘Live Outside’ is a poor attempt at a retort to the band’s previous conviction with the chorus “I want to live outside/ live outside of all of this,” which simultaneously manages to equate to a “Down with this sort of thing” message, whilst also kind of insinuating that Shikari now want nothing to do with the tension building in their native land. This is followed by the more aggressively titled ‘Take My Country Back’ – don’t let the name fool you. Along with the completely forgettable synthy jingle that attempts to propel the song forwards, the band once again manage to muddle sentiment in with crude lyricism and a message about as sharp as a wooden spoon. “Look what we’ve done to ourselves,” sing the layered gang vocals, “we’ve really gone and fucked it this time!” Are you kidding? Really? No. Fifth track ‘Airfield’ actually poses a refreshing change to the muddy monotony of the previous tracks, with a raw vocals-and-keyboard led ballad that mounts into an epic sing-along. It’s a decent song that would feel at home on any of Shikari’s previous releases.

The single worst song on The Spark, ‘Rabble Rouser’, immediately shatters 'Airfield'’s breath of fresh air. The track is a bewildering grime-rock faux-banger which honestly sounds like something jokingly recorded at a party, only to be discovered in the cold harsh light of day come morning and swiftly deleted before the implications of how hard life would become if those in the outside world were to get their hands on a copy sinks in. Whereas the next three tracks ‘Shinrin-yoku’, ‘Undercover Agents’ and ‘The Revolt of the Atoms’ do nothing to dispel the sense that Shikari have long since morphed into a confused cliché of their former-selves, the last proper song on the album ‘An Ode to Lost Jigsaw Pieces’ at least goes some way to restoring the band’s authenticity by combining a longer play time with well-constructed hooks and a far superior vocal performance from Reynolds. The drums benefit from a looser feel, whilst the keyboards take a slightly lesser position to both the guitars and brass sections.

Ultimately, The Spark presents a baffling listening experience. Almost every song on the album poses as an unremarkable backdrop onto which the band fiddles with elements of everything from grime to orchestral arrangements with virtually no successful results. The lyricism ranges from nondescript to almost laughable, whilst guitarist Rory Clewlow finds himself completely lost in the mix. If you aren’t a fan, I doubt there’s much The Spark could do to convince you, and if you are a fan, I’m sorry.