The ever-growing noise-at-the-core-band HEALTH is back with their first studio album in four years. After a slew of remixes and collabs, the group has dropped a polished and complete version of their new sound entitled VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, an eye-catching title with a fitting Sabbath reference to tie it all together. 2015’s DEATH MAGIC was a somewhat divisive record within the HEALTH fanbase: the prominent vocals and acceptance of contemporary synth pop and metal were met with some disdain, and admittedly there were some growing pains, but the growth and maturity of the band were very apparent in the production and songwriting. The balance of slow-paced, heavy synth work against metal guitar against noise in a fully mixed, droney context is a hard act to pull off, but HEALTH is a band that’s released four remix albums and are no strangers to fine-tuning something unique. This album, as beat-driven it is, is by no means a dance record. And while it incorporates a lot of elements to get you moving, the chaotic and harsh sound is completely off-putting to the point of being utterly dismal.
Jake Duzsik’s effeminate voice grounds the album in the realm of synth-pop, channeling scene colleagues like Ladytron and Alice Glass. As always, the solid foundation of groove is the base of their music, turning multiple genres on their head with a noisy and witchy flair. This album brings a lot of space in HEALTH’s sound, ramping up the heavy hardcore style with some reverb breaks and solo vocal takes. Tracks like “Black Static” and “Strange Days (1999)” are straight up hardcore breakdowns wrapped in dark techno aesthetic. There’s even some trap thrown in for good measure, as heard in the bobbing hi-hat and snare trade-offs on tracks like “Rat Wars” and “NC-17.”
The political messages that HEALTH was hinting to on DEATH MAGIC is increased tenfold on this album, obviously due to a gigantic shift in the modern world. Overall, the album feels very complete and well thought-out, stringing together solid themes among newer and bolder songwriting, with the vocal work sitting comfortably in the way the tracks are structured. It’s an introspective record, dealing with the looming fear of Armageddon as well as the inherent divide that comes with culturally turbulent times.
HEALTH isn’t really a band that compromises their sound to appease people, with their first album barely breaking the realm of harsh noise — what’s been consistent is their firm grasp on rhythm and unique sound design. Their signature and ever-present synthy choral guitar din is here, ringing loud and clear between the metal chugs, and the heavy, punchy beats. This record is a step up in terms of crisp recording quality nice their first release, possibly because it’s been recorded at an actual studio as opposed to in a reverberant punk venue, as well as receiving help from the patron saint of well-produced witch house Lars Stalfors. The closing track is a delay sodden ballad that really hits at the core of the record, tying the overall theme of anxiety and displacement into an anthem of unity and misery. HEALTH may have started out as a slightly introspective noise band, but their growth into something more poignant is welcomed and aged like fine wine in the context of today’s aggressive music. Listen below.