It’s nearly four years since 2012’s III – uncharacteristically long for Crystal Castles but the time frame can be forgiven. With the departure of original vocalist Alice Glass and the ensuing public spat between her and remaining member Ethan Kath, all’s not been well for Crystal Castles. It’s hard to listen without wondering if it’s okay to move on when this pair seemingly still have much to resolve and there’re a lot of people who have waited a good while to hear these next steps. Surely at this point we can do that without feeling guilty?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. The choral chant of ‘Femen’ gives way to the jarring discord of ‘Fleece’ – it’s immediately apparent new vocalist Edith Frances has the unintelligible screech and primal scream to match Glass’ ferocious, trademark delivery. Whilst ‘Femen’ hinted at progress, ‘Fleece’ boomerangs back to the Crystal Castles we’ve always known. But damn if it isn’t a welcome kick in the teeth.
In ‘Char’, it’s as if a light bulb switches on. There is an innocence in Edith’s vocals and this feels like something new. An immersive high point, more than enough to lose yourself, to forgive and forget those misgivings about moving on.
Pounding synths propel the kick-driven rave of ‘Enth’. Similarly, a doomy ‘Concrete’ steps up to the plate to keep the energy level high as does the tantrum of ‘Frail’. The title is the best thing about a disconcerting ‘Teach Her How To Hunt’. ‘Chloroform’ and ‘Sadist’ provide introspective interludes. Concluding this comeback, the awesome ‘Ornament’ is a delicate thing in the tradition of III’s ‘Child I Will Hurt You’. ‘Their Kindness Is Charade’ elates with trippy sequencing.
Taking stock at this stage is easy. Without wanting to take away from her experiences, Alice Glass is now doing her own amazing thing – hopefully the catharsis there will take care of itself. But for the new Crystal Castles, there’s more than enough proof that this current arrangement is working. Edith is here. Get over it. Move on.
At 33 minutes, this is a short record. Maybe it’s a test before risking greater change. In Amnesty (I) there’s just enough to prepare you for what a future Crystal Castles might sound like. And just enough to sate the appetite for the familiar. Whoever said there was anything wrong with living in the past anyway?