Music review: Crystal Castles album, “(III)”

Zach BrownOpinion Editor |


Alice Glass and Ethan Kath are the voices behind Crystal Castles’ haunting sound. Courtesy of Lies Records

Crystal Castles’ third self-titled album, (III), sets the group even further ahead of their house brethren.

While the Canadian duo’s first two albums feature assaulting, relentless synth and screeching lyrics, (III) is the most focused and mature album from vocalist Alice Glass and producer Ethan Kath. Audio attacks remain, but the supporting blasts of past songs like “Doe Deer” are nowhere to be found. Instead, Crystal Castles provides a signature, haunting sound while conveying an even darker message.

In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Glass mentioned that the album intends to discuss aspects of social, religious and governmental oppression. With titles like “Transgender” and “Mercenary,” the idea of oppression seeps through before the music even starts.

And when it does, Crystal Castles’ brooding beats and wailing lyrics oppress the listener.

“Plague” begins the album with a menacing build-up that perfectly sets up the other songs. “Kerosene” builds on this uneasiness and introduces a major theme. Lyrics like “I can clean impurity / Wash away with kerosene” evoke images of pain rather than comfort. Glass’s oddly melodic and motherly tone in this song intensifies those images.

“Pale Flesh” creates a haunting, hypnotic sound unmatched by the rest of Crystal Castles’ catalog.  Scratching blips and faded-out voices make for a claustrophobic experience. Lyrics split and overlap each other into an incomprehensible cacophony.

This breaks to one of the more positive songs on the album, “Sad Eyes.” Featuring a rave-ready beat and quality crescendos, “Sad Eyes” easily worms its way into a listener’s head.

The album seems to lose a bit of steam after the last instrumental piece, “Telepath.”  While “Mercenary” assaults the ears appropriately, it just doesn’t pack the same punch.

“Child I Will Hurt You” slows things down as the album comes to a close, and works for the most part. Discordant tones layer over a thick drone and ethereal vocals create a much different sound. It is not the expected ending for an album with such a bleak sound. The despair remains, however, leaving the listener thinking about what has just been heard.

Like their previous offerings, Crystal Castles does not produce neon-bright, ecstasy-laced electronica.  The duo succeeds in making the listener think while still wanting to rave the night away. Painting a dark picture is what Crystal Castles does best, and Glass and Kath may have mastered their craft.

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