Album Review: HEALTH Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear
Los Angeles' HEALTH played at Moogfest in 2016. They had the opening slot on an outdoor stage that would eventually feature Bob Moses, Grimes, and ODESZA. This was already against a lineup that featured Sunn O))), Ben Frost, and Explosions in the Sky. They held an early afternoon slot in the midst of a stacked festival bill. Nevertheless, the LA trio took the stage under a booming North Carolina sun—and produced one of the most sonically jarring performances of the whole festival. It stopped people in their tracks and drew people in. Their stage show was impeccable. John Famiglietti's windmill headbanging rivaled Corpsegrinder as he loomed over his synthesizers, bass in hand. BJ Miller's drumming was controlled chaos. Jake Duzsik's airy vocals provided a stark antithesis to the frenzy his guitar and bandmates created.
Their appearance at Moogfest that year was my introduction to the band. However, HEALTH—who combines heavy industrial elements with noise rock and dream pop—have appeared in a number of video games and movies. They did the entire soundtrack for Max Payne 3 and popped up in Grand Theft Auto V. They also contributed a cover of New Order's "Blue Monday" to the Atomic Blonde soundtrack and recently collaborated with Youth Code on a gripping song. In addition to these contributions, the Californians also released three full-length studio albums and four remix albums over the years. This month sees the release of their newest studio album, Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear. Their latest outing showcases further leanings into metal music and further mastery of their electronic noise.
Observing trends in HEALTH's records, with each passing album the trio gets a little heavier and a little darker. On 2015's DEATH MAGIC, they maintained a lot of noisy, industrial sounds and samples but funneled them into livelier, lurching dance songs. Songs like "STONEFIST" and "FLESH WORLD (UK)" just bopped and made people move their limbs in various ways.
Vol. 4 carries those same industrial sounds, but they're much more metallic. "GOD BOTHERER" carries out a mid-tempo Godflesh-esque vibe. The big differences are: HEALTH has an actual drummer—and damn good one in BJ Miller—and Jake Duzsik's voice is a glaring contrast to Justin Broadrick's voice or anyone in industrial metal for that matter. This play HEALTH makes at this realm of metal is wonderful. The subsequent song, "BLACK STATIC," tracks like a Nine Inch Nails effort. Famiglietti, Miller, and Duzsik pace the three minutes brilliantly. Duzsik breathes, "Life's gonna break us down, I said softly to myself, 'Fuck your armageddon'" between well-placed synth/drum crescendos.
HEALTH doesn't fully abandon some of their noisy dance numbers though. "LOSS DELUXE" and "THE MESSAGE" are bound to get crowds moving at shows. The latter carries a punishing boom-clap and a hook which Duzsik claims "Death is the message"—it's a personal favorite moment from the album. Of course, there are moments on Vol. 4 that encapsulates both of the industrial metal and dance ambiance. "STRANGE DAYS (1999)" and the title track are two brilliant examples of this. The former is an album standout and arguably one of HEALTH's best tracks to date.
The Los Angeles trio continues to blur the lines between noise rock, electro pop, and industrial metal. On their newest album, Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear, this amalgamation also results in HEALTH's most ominous, brooding, and diverse effort yet—and consequently their best. Famiglietti, Duzsik, and Miller's musical chops have carved out a niche of their own with very few contemporaries to rival them. Since that summer day in Durham years ago, they've become a personal favorite. More importantly, they've burgeoned into an absolute sonic force, unparalleled and unique.
Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear is out Feb. 8 through Loma Vista Recordings. Pick up a copy of the album and other merchandise from the label now. The video for "STRANGE DAYS (1999)" is a true crime murder mystery webisode with an accompanying game you can play here.