Recommended TrackPlague, Wrath Of God, Pale Flesh
Pop needs pantomime baddies like Crystal Castles. While their 2008 debut was as cartoony as Super Mario fuelled by a plumber’s-crack-full of class-A power-ups, it was also creepy; offset by the reaper-in-a-hoody schtick of Ethan Kath and panda-eyed banshee frontwoman Alice Glass. It made for an occult-sounding, bratty mix that weirdly seemed to anticipate the witch-house craze of the following year – and adding to the music’s villainous charm, their early interviews were beyond surly, humming with tales of murder and depravity on the Toronto squat scene from whence they scuttled.
As if to prove they weren’t bound for the 8-bit scrapyard anytime soon, follow-up ‘(II)’ drew cleverly on the deep drafts of melancholia that seemed to underpin their rage. It was a set rounded enough to persuade The Cure’s Robert Smith to show up on vocal duties, on the single version of ‘Not In Love’.
But if ‘(II)’ put paid to the notion of the group as a one-trick pony – compare it with the iffy second album from Sleigh Bells, say, another band whose visceral sound threatened to derail their long-term prospects – then ‘(III)’ appears content to coast on this distinction, although it’s not without its moments.
This time Glass increasingly plays spooky second fiddle to Kath’s dread-soaked atmospherics; with the Atari death-rattle noise now largely replaced by gothic, trancelike vamps that work to establish an oppressive mood but lack imagination at times.
Some new notes are struck: ‘Sad Eyes’ and the aforementioned ‘Violent Youth’ offer halfway compelling detours into hi-NRG territory (the former could almost pass for Erasure in black PVC get-up), while ‘Affection’ pits vacant synth pulses against fashionable, crunking beats. Elsewhere on this bleakly unsettling journey, the seething, cavernous ‘Plague’ and ‘Pale Flesh’’s wheedling horrorcore prove the pair haven’t lost their taste for blood, and the subtle washes of noise that accompany ‘Wrath Of God’ offer a potent reminder that they can be far subtler than they’re often given credit for.
A quantum leap it ain’t – and Glass could do with putting her fangs back in – but ‘(III)’ has just enough up its sleeve to keep Crystal Castles on track.