History is written by the victors. While this may be often applied to battles and the likes, the famous quote seems to hold some relevance whenever the turmoil that was the breakup of Crystal Castles comes into play. However, there wasn’t a victor so much as there was someone willing to carry on the name irregardless of the fact that one of the most important aspects is absent, in this case Alice Glass whose departure was due to “reasons both professional and personal“. Ethan Kath, the silent mastermind behind this electronic project, hasn’t so much attempted to reinvigorate the act by wiping Glass’ involvement, rather he’s went out on a limb by choosing another gaspy and eerie female vocalist, this time Edith Frances, to take over the reigns as front-woman.
With Amnesty, titled alongside a (I) implying that Kath has plans to start a new trilogy of records under the Crystal Castles name, we get our first taste of a band attempting to reboot themselves with mixed results. Kath’s production has always been the biggest draw when it’s came to their music and it’s a relief to see that the three year wait since the dread fuelled gloomy LP that was (III) hasn’t harmed his skills. Orchestrating waves of lo-fi splendour with great care, the gradual evolution of 8-bit nostalgia to synth melancholy to apocalyptic electro which took three albums for Crystal Castles to achieve is condensed into this one record which would be overwhelming if it weren’t for the fact that nothing really new is brought to the table.
Instead, what is delivered is very much a greatest hits rather than a new chapter in the band’s career: despite his best efforts to continue Crystal Castles without her, it’s almost fitting that Glass’ ghost can be felt haunting the tapestries of synth woven madness. In Kath’s attempt to prove that Crystal Castles has always been more of his project than anyone else’s, he unfortunately shoots himself in the foot.
Not to say that what he produces isn’t good, in fact some of the tracks on here are some of the best he’s crafted so far, but there isn’t much breathing space given to new collaborator Frances who, given the creative freedom, could win over fans who miss Glass’ ferocity and unpredictable nature. This is evidently clear on tracks like Ornament and Char where Kath tones down his bombastic sounds to a more delicate level, allowing Frances to display a more controlled and alluring vocal performance which Glass could never quite seem to perfect despite her best efforts.
Despite their sound not being as unique as it was back in 2008, Crystal Castles still manage to feel refreshing even without Glass being present to give the act their staple edge. Unfortunately, her replacement manages to show glimmers of potential that are overshadowed by Kath’s ego fuelled attempts to show what he’s capable, something that nobody really ever questioned. Given the proper chance, it’s clear that Crystal Castles 2.0 can carry on the name in a tasteful fashion rather than being a shameless reboot.
-Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)