Crystal Castles

ABC, Glasgow, November 26

When Ethan Kath and Alice Glass first came together in 2004, like two strains of the same disease, it’s unlikely they ever imagined themselves being where they are now. The ascension of Crystal Castles from chiptune madheads to mainstream midsize venue-fillers has been remarkable, not least because three-quarters of their audience is comprised of the kind of nine-to-five normals you suspect they’d loathe. What began as two lifelong outsiders making anarchic 8-bit rave-punk has turned into something unaccountably popular, but crossover success comes at a price, and for Glass and Kath it’s that they no longer seem as shocking or dangerous as they once did.

Whereas their music used to sound like your brain in the midst of a grand mal, new album ‘(III)’ marks a distinct softening, a more melodic, less abrasive direction epitomised by tunes such as ‘Wrath Of God’. They still take sadistic relish in strobe lights and intense volume, but at no point does tonight approach the misrule and malevolence of years gone by. Instead, we get something truly surprising: an emotional gamut that runs beyond mere nihilism.

Tonight’s show, like the others on this tour, is dedicated to a Crystal Castles fan and blogger who recently died of cancer. As a result, ‘Crimewave’ (augmented by a middle section where Glass repeatedly intones “We… love… you”) takes on a mournful and subdued quality; and later, when they return to encore with ‘Sad Eyes’, she asks the crowd to raise their lighters aloft in tribute to him. You can tell his passing has deeply affected Glass (Kath, as ever, is utterly inscrutable), and it’s altered the whole vibe of this show from a ritual of hate to the celebration of a life.

Of course, this is still Crystal Castles, and Glass still spends most of the gig flickering between pulses of strobe lighting like a skeletal zoetrope figure, or writhing among the crowd like a manic pixie nightmare girl, ready to throw a punch at anyone who gets a bit grabby (thankfully, she never has to). And if Crystal Castles aren’t quite as chaotic as they used to be, on the likes of ‘Doe Deer’ and the closing ‘Yes No’, you’re still reminded of the elemental, skull-buggering power they’re occasionally capable of wielding. Age may be mellowing them, but when you start out from a place as bleak and blackhearted as this, it’s all relative.
Barry Nicolson