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WPGM Recommends: Crystal Castles – Amnesty (I) (Album Review)

Crystal Castles’ long-awaited fourth album is finally here. Its arrived after a slow-brewing storm of controversy, with barbed tongues lashing at one another. It began with Alice Glass leaving the group due to Kath’s treatment of her, along with his general behaviour. She was ruthless with her words, and rightly so. Ethan Kath returned the sentiment in kind, denying her ‘accusations’ and also diminishing her role within the group.

Their die-hard, legions of fans were shocked and confused, many felt split, as they didn’t know who to side with. No doubt the rapture of Crystal Castles was a severe blow to both Kath and Glass, affecting them in different ways. Despite the chaos, Kath declared he would be continuing, and eventually the new vocalist Edith Frances was shared with the world.

The new era of Crystal Castles has finally come to fruition, birthing their new album Amnesty (I). To say their new album isn’t under a scrutinous spotlight would be untrue, a lot of people want Kath to fail, however that isn’t the case. Kath and Edith have created an album that surpasses Castles’ previous work. Amnesty (I) is a haunting, dissonant, warped journey into an electronic prism built upon foundations of freeing oneself.

This journey begins with the soul-stirring introduction that is “Femen”. It’s simple, harmonious and powerful. It sets the tone of the album and introduces the listener to the new-age of Crystal Castles in a dramatic fashion. Without a moment to spare, the album arrives at one of the finest displays of music I’ve experienced in a long time.

Enter: “Char”, a ghostly, beautiful example of soft, breathtaking vocals melding with the dark and hypnotic electronics. Lyrically it’s imaginative and immersive, it’s expressive with lines such as “Start a collection of brine / Because all you do is cry / Wood ticks whisper to console you“.

While the lyricism echoes mystery and magic, the electronics propel the track as the vocal melodies solidify it as one of their best songs in their illustrious, trail-blazing career. The album itself is a combination of suffocating violence captured in a morbid sonic aesthetic. The synthesisers are often raucous, oppressive and at times, monumentally terrifying.

Accompanying the synths, is the bass, which often undercuts the instrumentals, packing knuckle-duster like punches. However, there are moments of serenity, “Sadist” is a brooding, twilight driven lullaby. Its chorus evokes a sense of becoming; the instrumental layering and synth patterns represent a metamorphosis, it’s elegant. “Sadist” also shows off Edith’s vocal versatility.

Edith’s vocals are often soft and floaty, yet she demonstrates range with soaring displays of vocal prowess when her voice climbs out beneath the reverb and whirlwind of sounds. No doubt there will be a lot of comparisons between her and former vocalist, Alice Glass. Despite that, Edith is a formidable vocalist and she brings her own element to the group.

Alice Glass and Ethan Kath were the old era, whereas Edith and Kath are ushering in the new. That’s also evident in the album’s overall sound to, it’s a much more accessible approach. There are moments that borrow from the current wave of trap-esque EDM, bouncy, virulent beats and eclectic rhythms are splashed across the musical canvas. Even though they’ve expanded their sound, it’s still very much a Crystal Castles record.

Crystal Castles are known for their uncomfortable, provocative music that captured a generation. There’s still plenty of moments like that, Amnesty has buckets full of instances that are disturbing and sonically confrontational. “Teach Her How to Hunt” is an example of that. A bubbling, pained distortion of an instrumental surges over drowned out cries. It’s classic Crystal Castles.

Concrete” is another example, built on searing synths accompanied by pulsing drums burying Edith’s powerful, anthemic vocals. It sets the tone for an otherworldly explosion, delivering a sonic blast during the chorus with a seismic bass line and a pounding drum pattern culminating in a metaphorical beating. By the end of the song, it completely unravels and it’s great. Once “Concrete” is over, don’t be surprised if you spit out some blood, it’s that affective.

After “Concrete”, the album slows down, becoming a threatening yet soothing beast that’s trying to lull you into a false sense of security. The beats are calmer and cleaner while the vocals are more chopped and manipulated, juxtaposing the theme, flipping the album’s more aggressive instrumental approach on its head.

Kept” is a pleasant joyride with a torn apart Beach House sample. The track is airy and far lighter than anything before it. There’s a sense of innocence and it echoes Pop. Although it’s different, it’s still affective, maintaining the haunting qualities that Amnesty (I) possess overall. All in all, it’s a fun track.

Once the album comes to its close with “Their Kindness Is Charade”, it’s clear that Crystal Castles have crafted a well-thought out and meaningful journey. The final track is a slow-burner, with the focus on melancholy vocals and an instrumental that echoes aYung Lean track before it bursts into a Euro-Rave anthem that wouldn’t be amiss from someone like DJ Tiesto. It’s still definitely their own sound though. “Their Kindness…” embodies a sense of letting go, and moving on. It’s a goodbye, rounding off Amnesty nicely.

Amnesty (I) is a spell-bounding experience that stirs the soul and embraces the darkness of humanity with such clarity and sincerity. It comes together to create a body of work that’s unprecedented and quite frankly, it’s a statement of intent from an individual whose been in the firing line for some time.

Crystal Castles’ Amnesty is the embodiment of a soul’s unleashing into the tumultuous, chaotic yet sublime world. Embrace darkness, worship vicious electronics, spooky lyricism and become one with their sound. Amnesty (I) is out now via Fiction Records, purchase it on iTunes here.

Words by Jake Gould

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