Death Magic comes six years after Health’s second album Get Color, and five since the remix album ::Disco2. Now Health themselves have started forming their normally impenetrable noise into danceable chunks.
This doesn’t mean Health’s handiwork is heading for Ibiza club mixes. There’s a distinction between music that makes you want to dance, and music that shoves you around to the beat. The band have retained the darkness of their previous albums, but strong production has sharpened and clipped Benjamin Jared Miller’s tribal drums, and brought Jake Duzsik’s vocals back from the dead. It sounds like, for the first time, an entire band has been found underneath the blanket of industrial screams.
The introductory track ‘Victim’ is as quiet as this album gets. Sparse drums creep louder and more distorted over the opening minute, dropping away for a brief sketch of a song. But it’s just a fake-out, before single ‘Stonefist’ begins at maximum velocity. It mixes its extreme noise with four-on-the-floor beats, suspenseful verses and a mid-section that is destined for a slow-motion sequence in a Channel 4 drama.
The relentless drums and electronic overtones of the first single ‘New Coke’ leave room for the occasional silent beat and a steady dynamic build. This shows the maturity of the band; they are not just adopting the sound of now, but making it their own. It is a shame that, for the squeamish, the heavy drop might be difficult to enjoy after seeing the music video, however.
‘Flesh World (UK)’ and ‘Dark Enough’ are two of the more usual club-type tracks on the album. The newly audible vocals reveal a pretty typical focus on love and joie de vivre, although never without a darker twist. “Life is strange, we die and we don’t know why” is what Duzsik sings on ‘Life’ and; “It’s not love, but I still want you” appears in ‘L.A. Looks’ – this could be considered a sneaky parody amongst the usual dance music fare. As a result this record does belong in the club, but in a sandpaper sleeve; abrading the records around it.
‘Men Today’ is close in style to Get Color, however its sudden spikes of white noise are used as distinctive accents. The free-form, time-bending drums open and close the track but know when to acquiesce to EDM beats. ‘Courtship II’, a sequel song, feels the influence of their self-titled debut album, and shows just how much has changed. The original, ‘Courtship’, owes much to hardcore punk and improvisation. Substitute the human screaming for a screeching saxophone and it could have featured John Zorn. Instead, ‘Courtship II’ feels like the original stretched out over three minutes. The drums still tirelessly fidget and the blasts of noise still block out everything in their way, but Duzsik’s soft vocal delivery provides a focus that the original lacks. On the opposite end of the scale ‘Salvia’ recreates the theory, but not the sound, of early Health. Short blasts of drums, wordless vocal snippets, and dynamic shifts are all present, however it’s all done using the EDM toolkit.
‘Hurt Yourself’ bends the album’s usual noise into rising sweeping textures to play with euphoric tropes. The keystones are so evident in the beginning that the song threatens cheesiness; and only the overloaded squall in the final minute saves it from this. The finale ‘Drugs Exist’ also presents clichés, however it demonstrates all the while that the band does know that there’s more to good dance music than Get Color‘s foreshadowing repetition.
At times, Death Magic feels like it’s a remix of an album that was never released (a hypothetical Disco3) with the source material seeming well worth hearing on its own. Health has reworked, polished and refined the album several times in a way that seemed so unlikely six years ago. The album, however, is still Health underneath; proving that they don’t need the crutch of lo-fi recording. It’s a dramatic step forward, and has resulted in a shaky but brilliant album.
‘Death Magic’ is out on the 7th August 2015 via Loma Vista Recordings