Been waiting a while to write about this one, frankly it's taken me this long to find the words to describe it. But after a recommendation, or rather demand from a friend to check out and review the new Crystal Castles album, I couldn't exactly refuse. It was an eventuality that I check them out anyway with mass critical acclaim surrounding their simply titled third album (III). And in a world where gaining critical acclaim is by making an album that turns heads the world over, this is definitely a deserving album.
Opener Plague sets the musical ideal of the album as a rise of synthesizers upholding a soulful tone that plunges straight into darkness. And within this shift of club-friendly synthesizers into a much more blackened grinding atmosphere, the imagery immersing within one's mind is that of a grim reality of life, particularly in regards to the whole idea of clubbing, which I'm sure you'll know becomes less and less glitzy and glamourous the more the night goes along. The contrast between the poppy basslines and harsh industrial soundscapes is the musical equivalent of that popular film/TV show advertising technique where the uplifting good-times scenes are harshly disrupted by the quick shots of random civilians being hacked up by a faceless stranger in front of a burning building. Or something.
The rest of the album continues in the vein of distressing dance music with your attention constantly focused on the beats and scathing backdrops produced by the band that sound reminiscent of names like Ministry and Godflesh. With it's range of broken samples, the likes of Kerosene and Pale Flesh uphold the undead nightclub imagery where all the pleasure of dancing is grounded to a chilling halt. And the haunting performance of Alice Glass really serves as the iron plated icing on the cake.
Often, Glass' performance actually succeeds in making the album a dreamier affair. Siren-esque if you will, as she willingly drags you closer to her voice before realising you've walked into the undead nightclub. Affection's performance sounds positively framed for a shoegaze band with synthesizers adapted to match it. Even in the horror, her vocals are a source of immense charm, expressed best in the moments where production is at it's most sparkling on the likes of Wrath of God and Telepath.
But the prime focus of this album is certainly set on having a trick up it's sleeve delivered through intense trance beats and horrific industrial soundscapes, reaching the height of it's intensity on Sad Eyes, a song that would be easy for me to describe as an industrial take on the Big Brother theme tune, but would therefore reveal an insultingly low knowledge on dance music as a whole. And yet ending the album on the deceptively warm Child, I Will Hurt You, perhaps the most shocking moment that effectively turns around all you've heard of the album so far, sounding like a far more delicately woven effort from the band which actually seeks to uplift. Except it doesn't. It leaves you stunned.
As the album ends and you crawl out of the undead nightclub covered in cuts and mental scars that will never leave you, you realise how engaging an album (III) is. In many ways, it's contradictory in it's statement as Crystal Castles take the beloved style of mainstream dance music, a style of music designed to resemble escapism from the grind of real life, particularly in the context of a club, and slam it together with this cold industrial soundscaping that re-instate the grim reality of life and horror that goes beyond that. It's an album to mess with your perceptions, haunt your dreams and leave you feeling uneasy. And there's nothing more exciting than an album like that.
Crystal Castles' (III) is out now via Polydor. The band are on tour of the UK now.