|Crystal Castles always appear to be in a constant flux of angst, conflict, and chaos. Their last two albums are a testament to that as Ethan Kath’s explosive synths and Alice Glass’ staple wail placed them at a limbo in-between of dark obscure electro and blogosphere stardom. Yet, in their newest album, (III), the duo seems stuck in a dystopia of discontent, frustration, and despair as disharmonic and angst driven electronic melodies define the album. (III) is the pseudo- structure of the Crystal Castle’s imaginative hell of an apocalyptic soundscape that is ridden with ghastly lyrics and aggressive synths.
While there are times that (III) treads into a gray area of streamlined power-pop in “Affection,” Crystal Castles often reverts to its old mantra of cacophonic noise in, “Insulin.” There is a cancerous state of aggression that palpates throughout the whole album, as stabbing synths and screeching vocals tear away any remnants of hope or lightness. Even in the whimsical “Kerosene,” Glass’ outcry of optimism as she sweetly sings, “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen,” is left for a wry joke as its filtered through aggressive barrages of explosive static and manufactured beats.
While the Crystal Castles’ former catalogue of (I) and (II) is more pop friendly of rave throwbacks (“Not In Love”) and noise pop confections (“Crimewave”), (III) is purged with a hellish soundscape. Unlike the previous albums, (III) lacks a certain hopeful security amidst Ethan Kath’s hellacious production. What’s left is a utopian, hell-bent muddle of clustering synths and atonal harmonies. Crystal Castles welcome dissonance as Kath’s electronic stabs bleed into the uneasy and squeamish world of Alice Glass’ taunts of injustice, and manipulation.
Alice Glass dark lyrical poetry could be the equivalent of an emotionally taxing and acrid literature work of T.S. Eliot or Cormac McCarthy. In “Plague,” Glass becomes an epidemic as she exterminates any form of hope in her grim imagery of horrors, infants, blood, and wounds.
There is also a certain loss of playfulness and whimsicality in (III) as the band stated, “there would be a new palette of sounds to work with.” This is somehow ironic because while the new album is more sinister and terrifying, Ethan Kath’s trademark production of yearning synths and crushing static noise is still there. However, Ethan Kath’s overused tactics are spiked with a hallucinogen and a stimulant in (III) as the synths and noise become disharmonic, scrambled, and menacing.
(III) is a natural progression for the Canadian outfit as this album is concise and a fully realized compared to the blog- fanatic (I) and (II). The new album is a bundle of contradictions as it can shimmer with massive synths or asphyxiate with suffocating and repulsive imagery. But amidst the disquieting journey of (III), there is an incantatory effect that speaks to the cruel and callous side of humanity in us all.