ALBUM REVIEW: Crystal Castles -Amnesty (I)

History is written by the victors. While this may be often applied to battles and the likes, the famous quote seems to hold some relevance whenever the turmoil that was the breakup of Crystal Castles comes into play. However, there wasn’t  a victor so much as there was someone willing to carry on the name irregardless of the fact that one of the most important aspects is absent, in this case Alice Glass whose departure was due to “reasons both professional and personal“. Ethan Kath, the silent mastermind behind this electronic project, hasn’t so much attempted to reinvigorate the act by wiping Glass’ involvement, rather he’s went out on a limb by choosing another gaspy and eerie female vocalist, this time Edith Frances, to take over the reigns as front-woman.

With Amnesty, titled alongside a (I) implying that Kath has plans to start a new trilogy of records under the Crystal Castles name, we get our first taste of a band attempting to reboot themselves with mixed results. Kath’s production has always been the biggest draw when it’s came to their music and it’s a relief to see that the three year wait since the dread fuelled gloomy LP that was (III) hasn’t harmed his skills. Orchestrating waves of lo-fi splendour with great care, the gradual evolution of 8-bit nostalgia to synth melancholy to apocalyptic electro which took three albums for Crystal Castles to achieve is condensed into this one record which would be overwhelming if it weren’t for the fact that nothing really new is brought to the table.

Instead, what is delivered is very much a greatest hits rather than a new chapter in the band’s career: despite his best efforts to continue Crystal Castles without her, it’s almost fitting that Glass’ ghost can be felt haunting the tapestries of synth woven madness. In Kath’s attempt to prove that Crystal Castles has always been more of his project than anyone else’s, he unfortunately shoots himself in the foot.

Not to say that what he produces isn’t good, in fact some of the tracks on here are some of the best he’s crafted so far, but there isn’t much breathing space given to new collaborator Frances who, given the creative freedom, could win over fans who miss Glass’ ferocity and unpredictable nature. This is evidently clear on tracks like Ornament and Char where Kath tones down his bombastic sounds to a more delicate level, allowing Frances to display a more controlled and alluring vocal performance which Glass could never quite seem to perfect despite her best efforts.

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Despite their sound not being as unique as it was back in 2008, Crystal Castles still manage to feel refreshing even without Glass being present to give the act their staple edge. Unfortunately, her replacement manages to show glimmers of potential that are overshadowed by Kath’s ego fuelled attempts to show what he’s capable, something that nobody really ever questioned. Given the proper chance, it’s clear that Crystal Castles 2.0 can carry on the name in a tasteful fashion rather than being a shameless reboot.

7/10

-Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

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Crystal Castles – Deicide track review

Best of July #5

Just like a building made out of such a fragile material, Crystal Castles stood strong together for years. Whereas other synth-pop acts like CHVRCHES had a more cheerful take on the genre, this Canadian duo turned the genre on its head by infecting it with apocalyptic tales of despair and sadness. Sadly this might have had something to do with what happened behind closed doors as singer Alice Glass left in late 2014 for personal reasons, recently putting blame on Kath for manipulation.

Whether or not these claims are true is yet to be seen and I wouldn’t want to criticise a track on allegations alone. As sad as I was whenever I heard Glass had left the duo, I knew deep down that what made Crystal Castles what they are was their sound, crafted by the wickedly talented Ethan Kath.

Thankfully the disputes between Kath and his former band mate hasn’t affected his sound. In fact new track Deicide might be one of the best tracks that Kath has ever came out with. The band’s earlier stuff was known for it’s rave influences and these can be felt from the get go. The haunting sounds that come about on this track shouldn’t feel so easy to dance to yet you can’t help but nod your head along and tap your feet.

As lovely as Alice Glass was as a singer, I can’t say I’m outraged that Kath has replaced her with a mysterious female singer. Whoever they might be, they manage to capture that distant, soft spoken delivery Glass had perfected over three albums. The sound and singing both blend into what can only be described as an “absolute tune”.

This latest track isn’t a huge departure from what we’ve heard before but this is an only a glimpse of what is yet to come. Crystal Castles managed to shake it up majorly on III, I have more than enough faith that Kath can do so on his inevitable new album.

Listen to the track here!

Liam Menzies
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