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Crystal Castles – III

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III, Crystal Castles’ imaginatively-titled third album, starts spectacularly. ‘Plague’ somehow harnesses the euphoria of nineties rave culture and marries it to the foreboding solemnity of the Russian Orthodox church. The sole human element is Alice Glass, screaming, “I am the plague!” It’s not necessarily a comfortable place that Crystal Castles are operating in, but it’s compelling nonetheless. The tracks that follow maintain the chilly, euphoric atmosphere: ‘Wrath Of God’, in particular, is almost unbearably bleak – and yet, the Canadian duo are able to wring stunning beauty from the despair.

Crystal Castles have been working towards this: all the techniques once used in the service of cool detachment have, one by one, been re-tooled to explore something deeper, more human, more ineffable. They’re still exploring desolation and anomie, but now they’re exploring how it feels, rather than merely what it sounds like. The dissonant shards of sound, Alice Glass’ piercing howl, the busted-modem electronics – all have found their place among the wider array of tools at Ethan Kath’s disposal. It’s not exactly the full spectrum of human experience being explored, but it’s powerful stuff nonetheless.

The journey is a rather taxing one, so it’s a relief when a banger (of sorts) like ‘Sad Eyes’ breaks up proceedings. However, the relative levity is short-lived, as ‘Insulin’, probably the heaviest thing the band has done since ‘Air War’, comes crashing down in its wake. The only real throwback to their noise-terror days, ‘Insulin’ serves to remind you just how far Crystal Castles have come, having essentially shed their trademark sound in the space of two albums. However, after the onslaught, the storm subsides: the startling, celestial ‘Child I Will Hurt You’, offering up hope in the place of the nameless dread that stalks the rest of the album. To be precise, it offers up hope amongst the dread, celebrating the temporary respite that beauty and innocence can provide.

If III sounds like a depressing listen, it’s not: it’s too exhilarating to be depressing.

9/10 stars

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