In their fourth record, LA’s industrial noise purveyors HEALTH have pretty much remade their third. Like, it’s a good album, but perhaps we didn’t need it twice over. Previously distinctly lo-fi and fixated on atonal, squally soundscapes, the group threw a few hooks at 2015’s ‘Death Magic’, a triumphant project that saw them sifting through the rubble of their nihilism to find something brighter. Yes, ‘Slaves of Fear’ lives up to its title, grappling with anxiety inherent to modern times, and in that respect differs from its predecessor. But the sound’s the same.
Pounding, juddering, action movie trailer percussion collides with staccato metal guitar riffs throughout, vocalist Jake Duzsik crooning boyishly. The record opens (and closes) with moments of quietude, but it’s not long before ‘Psychonaut’, with its Spanish guitar, gives way to an ominous, brooding synth that collapses under massive marching drums. Duzsik implores: “I’m only here once / Once is enough / Don’t bring me back”. 2019: a year in which immortality doesn’t really appeal.
This sets the sonic template from which the album largely declines to deviate. At times that’s admirable, as on the fabulously titled ‘God Botherer’, where an echo of Duzsik’s own voice bobs and weaves around him before he resigns to the fact that there’s “pain in everything now”. Elsewhere, such as on ‘Slaves of Fear’ (“Why do we waste our years / When there’s nothing to fight about?”), it feels like mere repetition. Mid-album track ‘NC-17’ explores a more ambient approach, offering the LP – and its compelling lyrical themes – space to breathe.
It’s certainly welcome for HEALTH – who’ve always explored their own personal sense of nihilism – to make a state of the universe address (see the fantastic, ironically titled ‘Strange Days (1999)’, on which Duzsik begs us to “slow it down”; you can imagine him watching his Twitter feed unspool with his head in his hands). But the endless sense of melodrama robs the record of its potency, the impact of that pounding sonic template diminished through its constancy. The sense of doom is familiar, the sound of the band’s new record even more so.