Review Summary: Amnesty (I) sees Crystal Castles return with a new vocalist and a renewed sense of energy.
Crystal Castles’ fourth LP Amnesty (I)
stands out from the rest of their discography for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s their premier full length since the departure of vocalist Alice Glass, with replacement Edith Frances taking up vocal duties for the first time. Secondly, it’s their only full length to not be self-titled, implying that this is a conscious effort to begin anew, a fresh start for a band that was mired with mudslinging after Alice’s departure.
Although really that’s just about where the major differences end, as Amnesty (I)
may as well have been called Crystal Castles (IV)
for all intents and purposes. Edith, although competent, is eerily similar to Glass in her vocal style, with much of the album featuring the same laid back, drifting vocals that were heavily present on (III)
. Even when her vocals are imbued with any sort of energy they sound similar to Glass, her pained shouting often smothered with a shimmering wall of terse synth that creates a pretty chaotic and grabbing mix I’ll admit, but is still undeniably reminiscent of earlier songs.
Furthermore, just as (III)
focused on oppression (the cover was of a tear gas victim), Amnesty (I)
is about human rights violations, with all the physical proceeds going to Amnesty International. How this manifests itself is largely through the music as Edith’s lyrics are just as cryptic and generally ambiguous as Glass’s were. True, some meaning can be gleamed from lyrics such as “glow through the veils”, which according to Edith is about empowerment through woman wearing the burqa as a choice, but for the most part it’s the newly abrasive edge that hints at a darker theme. “Chloroform” for example is a mostly unsettling track that harkens back to (III)
’s sickly feel, but its heavily distorted closing barrage is Crystal Castles at their most serious and confrontational. These grating moments are much more common here and call-back to tracks like “XXZXCUZX ME” that were indecipherably noisy, although with a more aggressive than spastic tone.
Not that this similarity is a bad thing, as Crystal Castles seem to have worked out how to meld their previous styles into a cohesive whole rather than just repeat their old work. (III)
was an attempt at a darker, brooding sound that often failed to hit home in its supposed seriousness due to how weak and meandering the beats and melodies were. You could tell they were trying but energy was severely lacking. Amnesty (I)
on the other hand is permeated with the same tense undercurrent of (III)
but brings back a fair bit of the blaring, confrontational synth from their first two efforts. This is a more balanced Crystal Castles, the gloomy, echoed vocals and subdued instrumentation finding a meeting point with balls-to-the-wall synth and pounding drums.
is therefore reluctant to ever let your attention wander, often lulling you into a false sense of complacency before erupting into seizure inducing fits. Closer “Their Kindness is a Charade” is a good example of this as traditionally Crystal Castles have always ended their albums on a more relaxed note, letting the album fade out calmly. “Their Kindness is a Charade” breaks this tradition, as it alternates between a dreamlike, angelic atmosphere and a sharp layer of synth and heartbeat percussion that is far from mellow. However, some of Crystal Castles' poppy sensibilities are retained in places, "Char"’s salvo of robotic bleeps and Edith’s chilled out vocals being one such highlight, along with "Ornament" which bristles with warmth and a delightful cut-up vocal sample.
Overall though Amnesty (I)
is mostly devoid of warmth. It’s also weirdly industrial in its execution at points, the drums packing more weight and the synth more intense; yet at the same time lacking the robotic feel a lot of industrial has. It might be cold and harsh but it still feels very human. It’s a good example of how Crystal Castles can nail down the darkly serious style they were so obviously attempting on (III)
without sacrificing the ecstatic energy they’re known for. It may not be a total curveball in the band’s discography, but it is the most cohesive and focused Crystal Castles have ever sounded which is saying something for such a scatterbrained band.