“There is no heaven. There’s nothing. There is no God.”
These are pretty much the only words Alice Glass utters to us all night. Empty-eyed and disillusioned, she makes her announcement after two songs to tell us about a friend who died yesterday – “They were only eighteen. It’s so fucking unfair.” Clearly tonight the nihilistic punk-electro assault we’ve come to expect from Crystal Castles is going to be short on celebratory euphoria.
At the very least it perhaps explains why at times Glass’ performance comes across a little flat. With ‘(III)’, the Canadian duo’s third album released only two weeks ago signalling a new chapter in their interestingly progressive careers, and a huge picture of its powerful artwork suspended behind the stage – a Yemeni mother in a burqa holding her injured son after a protest - all the signs are there that the duo are coming out fists raised in typically snarling, confrontational form. Certainly the crowd are up for it.
Tonight’s support Bo Ningen cancelled at the last minute meaning those waiting down the front have been penned in for hours in a sweltering pressure cooker of anticipation. But sometimes it seems Glass is going through the motions. Sure she mounts the bass drum. She stands, kneels and drapes herself on top of the mosh pit. Always the fire starter, she merely shrugs a request for the crowd to "tame" things during one of the more batshit moments. Yet there’s a lack of drama in her usual fits of rage. Instead, the performance is wholly dominated by hooded button-pusher Ethan Kath’s beats. The pummelling, planet sized beats. The throbbing bleeps. The warfare synths. Jesus, the volume is absolutely deafening, battering the crowd into a powerless mass of chaos and pulped eardrums and there are moments where Glass, despite being as distorted and inhuman as ever, simply finds herself inaudible. She seems quiet on demented opener ‘Plague’ and her shriekfests are almost drowned out by the bleak, chilling electro of new track ‘Wrath of God’ and the demonic hands-in-the-air rave stabs of 'Baptism'.
Then again if ‘(III)’ tells us anything it’s that there’s more to this band and this singer than a terrifying, crazy woman-in-the-attic frenzy and there are plenty of moments that give Glass a chance to let her emotional side shine through. Tracks like the icy trance of ‘Celestica’ and ‘Empathy’ had already proved to us Crystal Castles were capable of genuine beauty, and on the gauzy ‘Sad Eyes’ and gothic, dreamy ‘Telepath’ she grips her microphone for dear life and kneels on the stage almost like she’s praying for forgiveness from the God she so vehemently professes disdain for. And seeing her with an element of vulnerability, tiny, blonde-cropped figure sacrificing herself upon a digital alter amid retina-searing strobes is perhaps more compelling than watching her sock someone in the face for groping her during a crowd surfing jaunt. For a band whose initial mission statement was to make people feel “nauseous” by clashing together noise, screams and discordance, then tonight at the very least has provided proof in front of our very eyes that a human heart beats somewhere underneath Crystal Castles harsh, stark, robotic exterior.
Words by Dannii Leivers
Photos by Michael Parker - http://www.astarix.co.uk