It’s been a half-decade of contemplation and anticipation for HEALTH fans. After 2010’s Disco 2, and hearing virtually nothing (except a 2013 Max Payne video game soundtrack), I wondered whether these L.A.-based experimental noise rockers would soon be filed in the ‘Where Are They Now?’ file. With HEALTH’s creativity and innate non-conformity, it is inscribed in their DNA to shirk the industry expectations of quick follow-up albums and instead, focus on their own internal artistic compass. Luckily for us, their compass led them past hipster martyrdom and into their sixth full-length album, Death Magic. The album embraces and embellishes the band’s pop undercurrents and serves as a gateway drug for more mainstream listeners, as it tantalizes one’s pop sensibilities with infectious melodies and choruses, but eventually draws the listener into their raw, industrial dungeon of shoe-gazed bliss.
The album begins in grandiose fashion with an all too dramatic intro track, “Victim”, with it’s pounding timpani drums and its sinister, building, electronic riffs.
It abruptly explodes on the second track, “Stonefist”, with skull-shattering bass and power chords which subside into a driving, sexualized, Gothtronica beat that is enhanced by the apathetic and unapologetic lyrics of vocalist Jake Duzsik: ‘We’re never going backwards/We’re never growing young/ We’re never coming back here/ Remember love’s not in our hearts’.
“Men Today” and “Courtship II” reverberate Health’s signature rage-filled, unabashed savagery over primitive drums and blissful dissonance. While the stellar deep house, rave-friendly beat of “Flesh World” opens up into an angelic chorus urging the listener to ‘Follow your lust/There’s no need for forgiveness/Do what you want.’ The ominous pop ballad of “Dark Enough” is the first song that really sheds the expected HEALTH formula for a step into a more palatable Crystal Castles-esque pop direction that is pulled off with flying colors. While the following tracks “Life” and “L.A. Looks” continue into unique territory with each sounding like the Smith Westerns and Passion Pit respectively might have been in the studio, helping to coax out the lighter side of the band.
The first single, and easily the most classic sounding HEALTH track, “New Coke”, is a heavy hitting powerhouse that can be enjoyed by purist fans, but even the final tracks “Hurt Yourself” and “Drugs Exist” err on the lighter and more pop-heavy side of the band.
HEALTH has learned how to master its raw and portentous thrashing with starkly contrasted synth-laden and angelic soundscapes. This allows the listener to revel in the dichotomy of the group, allowing both sides to accentuate each other. Death Magic, the end result of a five-year hiatus, is a phenomenal composite of a dozen songs that oscillate arbitrarily between shades of primal rage and compassionate bliss, not completely unlike human nature. With HEALTH’s live show bordering on a religious experience already, anticipation cannot come close to conveying what HEALTH fans are feeling as the band kicks off their fall U.S. tour.