(III) - CASABLANCA / UNIVERSAL REPUBLIC
FILTER Grade: 84%
By Ken Scrudato on November 12, 2012
Just when you thought there was no relief from far too many twee indie bands, Crystal Castles return on their chariots of fire to remind us just how grim the world really is. And, be assured, their third release, the edifyingly monikered (III), is absolutely, positively not a love song. Already skirting the perimeter fences of nihilism, Ethan Kath insists that real-life events have caused the band to further ratchet up the doom for this outing.
With Kath acting as sole producer for the first time (it’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling this off), (III) was appropriately recorded in Berlin and Warsaw, two cities that not all too long ago were bombed within a rat’s tail of annihilation. Kath and Alice Glass appear here stunningly unconcerned with such pedestrian nonsense as accessibility; instead, a Biblical ominousness surrounds much of the proceedings.
(III) opens with the chillingly spectral “Plague,” which sounds like a church organ concerto being piped in from Purgatory itself, Glass wailing as if begging rescue from some dreadful sinner’s limbo. The, um, charmingly titled “Wrath of God” (there’s nothing like a little wrath to really drive your point home) merely heightens the atmosphere of mercilessness—indeed, Ms. Glass’s anguished howl fades as the song collapses into terrifying chaos. (Those spooky early Visage singles like “The Damned Don’t Cry” seem an obvious touchstone.) Even when they’re ostensibly more stylistically approachable—at its core, “Affection” is fairly recognizable R & B; “Sad Eyes” and “Transgender” are essentially trance—there’s still the overriding sense of a world hurtling towards its oblivion.
So it’s strange to say, then, that this is also an astonishingly…pretty record. Underneath all the menacing effects, Glass’ always-winsome “singing” voice has never conveyed such childlike sweetness and innocence. And Kath wrings the most exquisitely beautiful atmospherics from his machines (the ethereal “Child, I Will Hurt You” sounds as if lifted from the dreams of the most innocent of innocents). That, of course, is what truly makes this record such a masterwork of haunting, unsettling otherworldliness. In deadly seriousness, it’s hardly an exaggeration to suggest you’ve surely never heard anything like (III). And don’t listen with the lights out.