The most surprising thing about Amnesty (I), Crystal Castles’ chaotic return, is how smoothly it transitions from the original band’s work. When Alice Glass announced her departure from the project in 2014, citing problems with ‘self-expression’ and a difficult working relationship with her founding bandmate Ethan Kath, fans assumed that the project was canned for good. Just two years later, Kath returns with an album that sees the addition of a new vocalist, Edith Frances, and the continuation of the Halloween-rave sound the project is known for. It’s a suitably hectic move for a band that felt constantly on the verge of destruction from within their crumbling synths and drum pads.
Rather than come forward with a bold change in direction, the new member seems happy to emulate Alice Glass’s murmured delivery, with the occasional demonic scream thrown in to jolt a song forward. It’s eerie just how similar Frances is to her predecessor, but rather than used to enhance the band’s mood, the aim here seems to be to mask the singers own tone and personality. The cohesion arguably could be a benefit for those enthralled by the sound the band had crafted over three albums, but the result sucks the album of potential emotion.
Still, this new duo excels at combining crushing industrial noise with sweet shots of melody, one of the elements that has always set Crystal Castles apart. On ‘Enth’, the brittle percussion and cavernous, glacial synths are both grating and gratifying. Opener, ‘Femen’ brings to mind the opener of ‘The Richard D James Album,’ with its skittering snares and disorienting textures that open up into eerie choral vocals and darkly pretty melody lines.
Other songs fail to stick past their surface-level appeal of aggression and eerie atmosphere, such as on ‘Frail’, which meanders around a simple squeaking hook before melting away. Part of this undoubtedly has to do with the masking of Frances’s vocal, which doesn’t allow much room for passion or primal feelings to bleed through. But this also stems from the occasionally plain sound coming from the production itself. Kath brings little in the way of diversity or complexity to these occasionally drab textures. ‘Teach Her How To Hunt’ doesn’t build upon anything past its unnerving mood, the synths failing to create the ambient landscape aimed for. While some of the brasher moments hold up, much of the album’s later moments repeat the formula with increasingly wearing results.
The softer moments on the album, such as the Purity Sing-channelling closer, ‘Their Kindness is a Charade’, has a sense of scale that speaks to Kath’s skill as a producer, even as it ventures into an unexpected 90’s trance-style climax.
Amnesty (I) certainly proves that Crystal Castles can survive past the departure of a key member, but only offers a few reasons why they should.
Amnesty (I) is out now via Fiction Records
This Crystal Castles review was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor