Over the years, we've come to expect the unexpected from the Canadian glitch-punk turned dark-wave duo Crystal Castles. The debut album pretty much tore up the rulebook upon its release in 2008, with its visceral noise and electronic bludgeoning setting a new aesthetic for both experimental electronic music and punk music, with the talismanic and borderline frightening front woman Alice Glass accompanied by the hooded mysterious interview dodger Ethan Kath. But while their debut was more in-your-face, 2010's follow up showed a tender and more refined side to the duo's sound with more textured tracks like 'Suffocation' and 'Celestica', but also a progression in terms of their ability to create sonically titanic twisted dance-floor fillers ('Baptism', 'Doe Deer', 'Not In Love').
Crystal Castles third album (III) follows this trend of Crystal Castles releases, in that the material on the record is simultaneously dancier more emotive and well-crafted than anything they've done before, albeit this time coming from a slightly different angle within the recording process. All the synthesizers the duo so infamously used on I & II have been scrapped, with a more basic cassettes and no-computers ideology replacing their previous methods. In this sense (III) is a bare, naked, stripped down representation of the Crystal Castles sound, with Alice's shrieking and often haunting vocals taking center-stage amidst whirrs and blasts of unadulterated synth noise. The perfect encapsulation of which is undoubtedly the first released track from the record 'Plague'; the synths are lo-fi and scratched with Alice's vocals reverting to the 'Alice Practice' style dread-mongering cries everyone fell for in the first place. 'Plague' however is slightly misleading in building up in impression as to what the rest of (III) entails.
Other tracks on (III) aren't quite as lo-fi and basic as 'Plague' and other pre-album release single 'Wrath of God' might suggest. 'Kerosene' for example, is a dark and lurching yet very sleek track, using chirpy looped pitch-shifted samples in a manner than could prove grating, if it wasn't so damn well put together. 'Sad Eyes' meanwhile, indicated a further exploration into traditional rave for Crystal Castles and is very much this album's equivalent to 'Baptism', with humungous euphoric synth flourishes interspersed between lower vocal passages. There's yet more potential dance hits on (III) with the typical creepy Crystal Castles edge: 'Violent Youth' mirrors the techno influences the duo must have picked up on while recording (III) in Berlin and Warsaw, there's a sense that perhaps this song would have worked better as an instrumental as the subdued vocals sound mildly out of place atop the wash of synth patterns. The "You'll never be pure again" refrain of 'Transgender too provides for a stuttering colossus of a track that will fit well in Crystal Castles' famed hectic live set-up..
The true strengths on (III) however aren't necessarily the dance tracks. The record carries a tender side, the likes of which Crystal Castles have only really explored in a minor sense on their second album. 'Pale Flesh' is a ghostly, haunting and emotive track with its slow beat and pained vocals, coming across like SBTRKT's 'Wildfire' if it were recorded in a torture chamber. 'Mercenary' also sounds piercing, but with the synths being more sonically invasive than the vocals in opposition to 'Pale Flesh'. Most significant though is the album's concluding track, the almost classical and orchestral 'Child I Will Hurt You'. Ignoring the misleadingly violent title, the song marks a moment of reflection from an album that revels in noise and movement. It doesn't necessarily fit in with the record entirely, but it's a welcome moment of catharsis.
(III) may not be as shocking or challenging as I or even II, but it does mark progression for Crystal Castles, with some highly impressive dance tracks in one aspect, and moments of haunting tenderness in another.