As far as I can remember, I’ve never started out a review with a personal anecdote. But HEALTH holds a special place in my musical journey. Back in 2008, my dad took me to see my first concert: Nine Inch Nails at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. Support for the tour (or at least that date) came from a rambunctious group called HEALTH, whom I enjoyed a great deal while my father grimaced through every shriek and blast of noise. It was probably the first time I’d ever heard anything that could be fairly classified as “experimental music,” and I was a huge fan of what I heard.
The rest of my high school years were defined by several different musical stages; first, there was an obsession with ska and punk, followed by an affinity for anything with a “-core” attached to it and plenty of breakdowns. What HEALTH offered back in 2008 – as well as what they sound like today – didn’t really fit into what my friends and I were into at the time. Sure, it was an electrifying performance, and I loved the fact that my dad didn’t love it (teenage rebellion, etc.). But I was more comfortable with music that offered a sense of immediacy, and I often passed over bands that pushed beyond that comfort zone (some of whom I now lsiten to today).
But now, all these years later, I find myself face-to-face with an album from a band that proved subtly influential to the development of my personal taste. In short, they planted that experimental seed in my head; the idea that music could sound like this, and a growing part of me enjoyed the fact that’s what it sounded like. Anyone who’s happened to follow my writing for the blog has likely noticed this seed has sprouted, to say the least. And it’s with that mindset that I approached VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, an excellent exploration of both experimental and accessible genres packaged together in an infectious combination.
As the “post-industrial” tag is used with more frequency these days, it starts to lose more and more of its meaning and specificity. But in every sense of the world, HEALTH extrapolate a great deal of sonic texture from the industrial canon. From industrial and noise rock to experimental electronic and synthpop, everything HEALTH craft results in a truly unique set of sounds that offer a great deal for listeners to latch onto in different ways. One moment the band is thrashing through a noisy outburst in the vein of Street Sects, while the next track will genuinely sound like something that could pass on the fringes of pop radio stations. It’s a diverse affair with a singular goal: memorable songs with a distinct edge and bold, instantly recognizable flair.
In a little under three minutes, opener “Psychonaut” weaves through a myriad of musical moods, making for a spaced-out, electro-post-punk affair. It sounds like a ghoulish, glitch-obsessed remix of a Pains of Being Pure at Heart song, which is as perplexing but intriguing as it sounds on paper. Following that, the band immediately turns toward a stadium-sized atmosphere on “Feel Nothing,” which sounds like a synthpop group like CHVRCHES playing industrial metal. As you can see, we’re only two songs in an already exploring wildly different sonic styles.
“God Botherer” continues the short but potent romps that comprise the majority of the album, with large bombastic beats and Jake Duzsik’s ethereal vocals. Similar to “Feel Nothing,” the industrial metal trend continues on tracks like “Black Static,” with remix-esque electronic elements that bolster the simple, heavy riffing. Midway through, the band hits a huge highlight with “Loss Deluxe,” a danceable track that pulsates through the mystic haze created by the band and Duzsik. A recurring theme on the album is that of a still-frame of a rave gone wrong; the lingering moods of dancing and catchy beats clashing with some sort of imminent danger or disaster.
All of this is turned up to the album’s peak on “The Message,” what is easily the album’s strongest track and greatest synthesis of its overarching ideas. If not for the dark subject matter dissecting death, the song could easily fit as a crossover pop hit, what with its driving beat, commanding guitar hook and anthemic chorus. On the other side of the equation, tracks like “Wrong Bag” explore the more experimental side of the band’s sound, sounding like a trio of ambient, glitch and noise songs duking it in a wall of sound.
As the slower, ballad-esque closer “Decimation” winds down the proceedings, the creations and overall sonic destruction HEALTH has wrought become all the more impressive. Every step along the way, the band continuously introduce new experiments within a consistently adrenaline-pumping formula. Taken as a whole or dissected for its individual elements, there’s no shortage of highlights to pull from SLAVES OF FEAR, which is easily at the forefront of this overarching “post-industrial” trend. Truth be told, HEALTH are both rooted in industrial traditions and looking beyond its boundaries, and where their gaze takes them next will be an exciting journey to follow. I’m glad I’m back along for the ride.
VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR is available now via Loma Vista Recordings.