November 13, 2012 - Republic/Casablanca
Oppression, injustice, suffering—they all seem typical subject matter for a group whose sound has always been rooted in the paranoid apocalyptic. On their third full-length, Canadian duo Crystal Castles have drank deeper still from the well of discontent, resulting in 12 tracks that paint an even bleaker picture than their heretofore already grim worldview.
“A lot of bad things have happened to people close to me since (II) and it's profoundly influenced my writing as I've realized there will never be justice for them," vocalist Alice Glass explained of the record prior to its release. "I didn't think I could lose faith in humanity any more than I already had, but after witnessing some things, it feels like the world is a dystopia where victims don't get justice and corruption prevails.”
It's a sense of malcontent returned to again and again throughout. “Light of God dimming weak/Nothing’s wrong, go back to sleep/Lost the will at infancy/Drown them in charity,” she sings on “Kerosene” over a skittering beat and the slow spreading of a flattened bass synth. Like most of her vocals, they've been manipulated and stretched to within an inch of obfuscation. She and producer Ethan Kath have always walked a very fine line between the raw mess of humanity and the sterility of machines, although here Kath turned away from their traditional computer-recording model and went straight to tape. Does it make a difference in sound quality? Hard to say. There's still so much feedback clouding the throb and synth stab riffing of “Wrath Of God” with a harrowed Glass singing from across the thin veil that separates this world from another horrific dimension, that it would be wrong to call anything here “organic” in sound quality in the way it's traditionally meant.
For the most part, (III) sounds like their previous two releases, taking a moment's respite from the prevailing chaos for lighter, cleaner moments of synth flowering (“Violent Youth”) before returning to the relentless onslaught of barely controlled noise. “Pale Flesh” creeps along with the uncanny decisiveness of an army of tinker-toy poltergeists moving into formation, while “Sad Eyes” sounds like a hedonistic club banger swallowed in the mud. There's nothing surprising or too far outside their comfort zone, but when the brand is so strong, why mess with it?
As Glass points out, it's a dark world out there, one only made more so by Crystal Castles’ devilish conjuring. Sometimes it’s easier to lean into the storm and let it carry you off where it will. The tortured souls among us will find plenty to help you along the way here, and maybe even a moment of joy as well, as on the brightly twinkling, hopeful-sounding closer “Child I Will Hurt You”—just as long as you don't pay attention to the lyrics.