Crystal Castles – ‘Amnesty (I)’ Review

A battle-like record where fear and dread rule

The war started on October 8 2014. Posting on Facebook, Alice Glass announced she was leaving Crystal Castles, dissolving the headachey electronic duo she joined as a 16-year-old punk in 2006 when recruited on vocals by Toronto programmer Ethan Kath. She said “sincerity, honesty and empathy” were “no longer possible” between them.

But Crystal Castles were still breathing. Eight months later, Kath responded with ‘Frail’ – the first taste of fourth album ‘Amnesty (I)’ – featuring a mysterious new singer and accompanied by a message saying Glass “didn’t appear on Crystal Castles’ best known songs”.

He later backtracked, telling Pitchfork he’d “always love” Glass. But the fight continued when Glass called Kath “manipulative” and declared him “not appropriate to perform at a feminism-centric event” they were booked for at the SXSW festival, resulting in the duo being dropped from the line-up.Amid the crossfire, the new vocalist was unveiled as Edith Frances and Crystal Castles 2.0 began to tour and tease tracks from this fractious new record.

Listening to ‘Amnesty (I)’ is like going into battle: a hostile environment where fear and dread rule. Opener ‘Femen’ is plagued by hissing, clapping electronics. ‘Fleece’ detonates a blistering noise that could render even hardened Castles supporters instantly incontinent. The creaking, jolting ‘Teach Her How To Hunt’ – which seems an unfortunate title given Kath’s dominant reputation – is stiflingly claustrophobic. The totemic ‘Enth’, ‘Sadist’ and ‘Concrete’ are as ear-scraping but see Kath pull off an old trick: offsetting noise with melody to make something danceable.

He’s helped in both instances by Frances’s accessible delivery. But the more time you spend with ‘Amnesty (1)’, the more it seems Frances could drag Kath in another, more measured, direction. They skip towards pop on the throwaway ‘Kept’ (close your eyes and you’ll see Madonna or Katy Perry, no joke), while closer ‘Their Kindness Is Charade’ is a dreamy wash that’s only remotely edgy if you scrutinise the lyrics (“If you wanna be abused / You should remain confused”).

Ultimately, it’s confusion that remains at the end of ‘Amnesty (I)’. Crystal Castles always were an uncomfortable band, but the bumpy conception of this album and the awkward introduction of new ideas dampen even its most teeth-chattering moments. They still quake, but not quite like before.