Premiere L.A. noise-rock band HEALTH are scheduled to return with Death Magic on August 7th. Their first album in almost 7 years, Death Magic takes an entirely different approach to the sonic assault of 2009’s Get Color and minimal assault of their self-titled debut. Here, the group worked with esteemed contemporaries like The Haxan Cloak, Lars Stalfors, and Andrew Dawson, longtime engineer for Kanye West. The result is an album that takes influence from everything from UK garage to modern pop, at times highlighting the most obnoxious aspects of each genre for maximum discomfort; at others, creating danceable, catchy electropop.
The debut single for Death Magic was “New Coke”, a song which opens at a breakneck tempo – just past the point of being too fast – then abruptly shifts into a murky, trap influenced beat. Shades of Atari Teenage Riot or KMFDM abound: name an early industrial/techno influenced act that managed some crossover success, and you’ll hear their influence at some point on the album. The lyrics imply politics, but remain oblique: “let the guns go off, let the bombs explode, we’ll be gone before we know”.
Other highlights include “Stonefist”, a song that could almost sneak onto mainstream pop radio, depending on the time slot. Here, HEALTH dials back all the weirdness of the rest of Death Magic, creating a vaguely Italodisco influenced track. The keyboard melody mirrors the vocal hook for optimal catchiness, harmonies enter and disappear. By borrowing a few turns from Depeche Mode, HEALTH manage to retain their quirks and still deliver something familiar to the untrained ears of the general public.
In the past, HEALTH have been known for their aggressive, drum-heavy sound. While Death Magic is certainly more rooted in melody than its predecessors, there are a few exceptions. Take the cold, minimal techno of “Flesh World (UK), or the near black metal onslaught of “Men Today”. The former could fit in with some of the acts on Hospital Productions, who have found unlikely success with the release of the latest Prurient and Silent Servant records. The past five years have been a renaissance period for techno and drone, and with the release of Death Magic, HEALTH have released their most uncompromising and best work to date.