Upon first listen, HEALTH’s new album Death Magic burdens its listener with an almost overbearing sense of dread. It’s also unmistakably, well, a HEALTH album as all of their trademark chaotic, juddering sound is present throughout. However, there is a certain level of emotion about Death Magic that is perhaps not fully palpable at first – it’s the sort of thing that you get a sense of before actually realising what it is. The main reason that it’s not quite so clear in the beginning is because those feelings are of sadness and despair. Thus, it can get lost in the turmoil a bit but it adds a dimension to their sound that is utterly compelling.
The first full-length track ‘STONEFIST’ explodes out of the end of ‘VICTIM’ (a bleak, slow-paced introduction that sets the tone perfectly) like a Stone Cold Steve Austin run-in but quickly gets dialled back in both pace and tone. Jake Duzsik’s lyrics quickly take centre stage as he muses on lost love and the fact that “We’re never growing young”. There is a certain rawness about all of the writing on this record, which serves as both a positive and a negative. It is certainly good to see the band moving in a new direction and adding new dimensions to their sound, but at times it can come across as broadly drawn.
The quality of the actual music covers a multitude of sins and it’s not lyrically bad by any means, but when he wonders “Am I stuck with myself/Alone with everyone else” and “It’s not love, but I still want you” on the otherwise wonderfully depressed and warped disco sound of ‘L.A. LOOKS’, it can come across as immature. There are many lyrical themes that fit the soundscapes they have created and lovesick teenager is not always one of them.
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When the music is this good, forgiveness for such things is not hard to find. Lead single ‘NEW COKE’ is absolutely stunning. The sinister early build is jarringly replaced by a drop that sounds like something out of a movie trailer for a big budget thriller. ‘MEN TODAY’ features primal drums so good that Kanye West would be jealous. They form the spine of a song that intersperses between industrial bedlam and brief windows of calm. The pervading sense of emptiness and despair, expressed through instances of anger and bluster, peppered with moments of gloomy clarity make up a formula that is repeated over and over throughout the album. It does not become tiresome because the album is so short – clocking in at just 40 minutes, it almost relishes in giving the listener the occasional chance to breathe before thundering on.
The time flies by because everything is so well paced. ‘NEW COKE’ serves as an overall crescendo, following up on a track called ‘SALVIA’ that could conservatively be described as “threatening”, before things begin to get dialled down with ‘L.A. LOOKS’. The tone shifts so suddenly after ‘SALVIA’ that songs like ‘L.A. LOOKS’, ‘HURT YOURSELF’ and ‘DRUGS EXIST’ could perhaps be intentionally placed as a way of representing the malaise that one presumably feels after consuming such a terrifying drug. If not, it feels like an appropriate comparison. The highs of earlier songs aren’t quite reached again but after the near constant barrage of anger and frustration built on top of a framework of emptiness, it is a welcome reprieve.
Death Magic is another impressive outing from a group that has a huge amount of potential some of which still, promisingly, feels unrealised. It is at times lyrically ham-fisted and immature, but otherwise this is an excellent album that is emotive in ways that few others can or will be this year. It’s a post-apocalyptic horror movie featuring a lovesick protagonist expressed purely through song. And if that isn’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what it is.