Amnesty (I) review by Crystal Castles

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: Aug 19, 2016
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 7.4 (10 votes)
Crystal Castles: Amnesty (I)

Sound — 8
With so many girl/guy indie pop duos sprouting up in the last decade - Matt and Kim, Sleigh Bells, The Ting Tings and Phantogram - Crystal Castles aimed to be the most unkempt of the bunch. Originally catching everyone's attention for a raucous energy that founding producer Ethan Kath hoped would wield an esoteric appeal, his spastic, chiptune-style synth layers matched by lead singer Alice Glass' shouting vocals in the duo's debut self-titled album was a winning formula for its messiness. But with other moments of that album drawing solid inspiration from '80s new wave and synthpop, Crystal Castles would pursue that aspect of their sound further in their follow-up album, "Crystal Castles II," where Glass' singing style started to gravitate more towards an ethereal murmuring, clearly inspired by shoegazing/dream pop, and their third album, "III," further fed into this aspect of contained songwriting, with less aggressive electronica production as well, though Glass started to throw in some shriller vocal performances that time around.

Two years after the release of "III," Glass left Crystal Castles, and assumed, along with everyone else, that her departure would result in the end of the project. But in a quick rebuttal from Kath to her embarrassment and listeners relief, he stated that Crystal Castles would be continuing on without her. Now on album number four, "Amnesty (I)," Kath debuts the project's new frontwoman, Edith Frances, and uses this new chapter of Crystal Castles to get rowdy again.

YouTube preview picture

Tapping back into the louder and messier demeanor of the early years, Kath's production opts not to jump back to the chiptune-evoking sound of the project's debut album, but rather, pushes forward with a varied offering of electronica styles. He gives the frantic 808 beats the spotlight in the trap-inspired "Femen," lets the synth arpeggios throb with aplomb in the aggressive EBM cuts of "Enth" and "Concrete," dips a toe into the subtle jitters of IDM rhythms in "Ornament," and outside of defined genre labels, his synth leads are simply wicked in "Fleece," "Chloroform," and the dynamic "Char." Along with tying these different styles together with a recurring sonic theme of static noise-play (heard especially in "Sadist," "Teach Her How to Hunt" and "Frail"), Kath also makes the better call to keep songs brief - as opposed to the meandering tendencies of earlier Crystal Castles albums, Kath's brevity in executing his ideas and promptly moving on is a welcome change of pace.

If anything, the most underwhelming aspect of "Amnesty (I)" is Crystal Castles' new vocalist. Frances' performances clearly shadow Glass' vocal style heard in previous albums, from the shrillness of "Frail" to the ethereal demeanor of the ending ballad "Their Kindness Is Charade," as well as being the subject for Kath's zealous vocal manipulation in "Femen" and "Ornament." This choice to simply fill in the Glass-shaped hole instead of trying to develop a newly-defined vocal force for Crystal Castles may be a utilitarian choice, but it's also an unambitious one.

Lyrics — 7
As dependable as the vocal style has remained, the lyrics in "Amnesty (I)" also stick to Crystal Castles' familiar territory of subject matter. From Kath's overbearing synth layers to Frances' shrouded delivery, those lyrics still maintain audible obscurity in the mix, but after one slowly deciphers and picks apart songs line by line, they can find another offering of eerie and perverted religious themes, whether it be the deflowering/sullying of purity analogy of "Fleece" ("I need your penetration / Need my permit to conceive"), the voluntary absence of divine intervention in "Frail" ("We withhold our blessing / We refuse to calm the fire"), or the damn poignant and ambiguous line "Strangle while you pray" in "Concrete," which could range from highlighting the undertone of suppressing others in worship and religion, or focusing on the suppression that religion demands of oneself, while also faintly and snidely connecting that symbolism to autoerotic asphyxiation to represent it being both harmful but pleasurable.

Overall Impression — 8
With the previous "III" showing Crystal Castles settling into a comfortable style still tinged with their inherent weirdness, "Amnesty (I)" throws back to the project's early aspirations of being brazen and noisy. Kath's dabbling with louder synths and new styles of electronica succeed in making the album messy but properly compelling compared to their previous works, and despite being new to the project, Frances' vocal role maintains a sense of familiarity in the midst of those new sounds flaunted in the album. Ultimately, "Amnesty (I)" makes a great case for the next chapter of Crystal Castles' catalog.

15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Crystal Castles are one of my favorite electronic groups. This album is great! Fleece is a fucking banger
    loisramirez1 · Aug 26, 2016 01:44 PM
    Great return. Will not be appreciated by the average UG teenage metalhead, though.
    You know i must say, i agree with you. There are many albums and genres that seem somewhat avoided on this site. Very metal oriented these days, The same thing happened with my old subscription to Guitar World, it used to be a nice mix, however somewhere around 2006 it shifted to metal/metalcore/emocore whatever you want to call it. I like a little diversity, there is lots of interesting stuff being done with the guitar other than metal. Nothing against metal, i just like variety Your comment was appreciated, i agree with you Yes, i understand the irony that this is not a guitar oriented album, just sparked a thought
    Here in brazil we have few guitar magazines, so maybe this is benefic to us, since in just one or two magazines they have to get space for everyone. thanks to this, I discovered a lot of genres and artists that I woundn't if it was on a guitar world or Total guitar kind of thing(but i love these magazines as well)
    Same here on Portugal. Rock and metal music has almost no coverage here. If you wanna find a new rock band you gonna have a bad time 90% of the times... Metal-wise 99.99% of the times you gonna have a really bad time. Only the most mainstream and radio friendly songs/bands are promoted
    Agree with both of you. Usually guitar is associated with rock and metal and people just look after those genres, however there is so much more out there to be discovered... Radiohead was probably the band that started to make me open my eyes to lots of good music I wasn't even looking for just because it wasn't rock or metal. Projects like BadBadNotGood, Woodkid, Deadmau5, Orelha Negra, Black Queen and Crystal Castles are prime examples of really good music that, when I started listening to them, were totally out of my comfort zone.
    I saw them open for Depeche Mode one year, they have a interesting and dark stage persona, the crowd was diggin' it, seems more suited for clubs than stadium shows, but they pulled it off I must say though, that is one odd album cover, haha. Anyone else get a creepy Children of the Corn type vibe .... guess thats the point
    It reminded me of Korn's album cover a bit... It has to be because of the swing
    I encourage anyone who may be interested to look up Ethan Kath's previous band, kill cheerleader. They're demise may have been abrupt, but damn were they good. Ive yet to listen to amnesty 1 but I'm always ready for more crystal castles.