If you’ve ever seen a HEALTH show, you probably remember a slight feeling of regret realizing you forgot earplugs.
“We’ve always really prided ourselves in being a great live band,” says guitarist and lead vocalist Jake Duzsik. “That was the original concept of the band, just being so experimental in nature. From its inception, it wasn’t a band that just writes a bunch of tracks. We just wanted to be a powerful, physical, cathartic live show. We’re not precious about keeping it the same.”
In the early days, HEALTH records were chaotic collections of loose themes and concepts, mostly serving as sample platters for their live shows. But after years of touring nonstop and a full year working on the soundtrack to Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3, they returned in 2015 with an about-face: a well-organized collection of well-structured songs called DEATH MAGIC.
“The thought was, ‘How do we put out a record that maybe interpolates the live experience?’” Duzsik says. “There was definitely a pretty rigorous R&D period. Part of the reason it took so long to do DEATH MAGIC was all the stuff we were doing. The rest was this wilderness of all these advances that had been made in electronic music. We needed to crack the code on that.”
HEALTH found a co-conspirator in the form of producer Lars Stalfors, who helped shape the sound of the record and help them marry the experimental nature of their old work with a pop-structured mindset. Inasmuch, there’s little surprise that a few years later, the band turned back to Stalfors to produce VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR. With the R&D phase behind them, HEALTH could push forward with momentum into a fearsome horizon.
“We definitely knew we wanted to make a fucking heavy, dark record,” Duzsik says of SLAVES OF FEAR. “It was going to be rougher, less poppy, integrating guitars in a way that we hadn’t before. It needed to sound new. And for us, that’s using crazy ways to process and chop and marry it to noise.”
Listening back through HEALTH’s catalog, a careful ear will notice that, beyond the vale of piercing sound, there are few notable guitar lines to pick from. The band have been careful never to repeat themselves, let alone anyone they hold respect for.
“One thing we would have never done in the past is have heavy guitars,” Duzsik says. “Guitars have always been brittle or jagged. Heaviness just comes from pure noise, which isn’t melodic. We just wouldn’t have done that. And what are we going to contribute to that canon that hasn’t already been done so well? But I understand the problem-solving aspect of it. When you are influenced by all these different elements, if you want something to be really intense but also melodic, a guitar is still a very efficient and achievable way to do that.”
Efficient and achievable are two hallmarks of HEALTH’s fourth outing. Songs like “GOD BOTHERER” show off double-time guitar riffs on par with the likes of Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish.” Meanwhile, a ravenous guitar hook gives the album’s title track a Fury Road sensibility, ripping up hot asphalt with an inferno behind them.
“It took the better part of a decade to come to terms with it,” Duzsik says. “We knew it was a bold move, because we don’t like to repeat ourselves.The record is a nod to Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4. The riffage on that record is like, mwah!” — Duzsik kisses the air — “High five, God.”
SLAVES OF FEAR isn’t all riffs, though. Much of what gives the record power is the underlying groundedness of Duzsik’s lyrics. “Slaves of fear from the moment we’re born,” Duzsik sings on the title track. “We want to feel love or we want to be numb … Why do we waste our years when there’s nothing to fight about?”
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“These [records] are reflective of my own preoccupations on a philosophical level,” Duzsik says. “There’s a Bertrand Russell speech about mutually assured destruction within the context of nuclear war. It became a mantra to me in writing the lyrics. So much of our lives are motivated by our fears, which are a lot of ways reducible to a fear of death, almost from the moment that we’re conscious. Those fears result in so much misery — in our lives, relationships, politically. To me, personally, I’m just trying to remind myself: Whatever that thing is that you’re worried about, it’s just sort of a central theme of being conscious.”
Duzsik’s effort to explores these themes, while laborious and personally difficult, has proved to be rewarding. “The response to the record has been overwhelmingly positive,” Duzsik says. “You are always scared when you make a big change like we did to the sound … We were on tour in Eastern Europe when the record got released. Fans started writing, and surprise, surprise, the people that like our music tend to have some problems, and they were like ‘Hey, this is really helpful for me.’ That’s rewarding in a way that I couldn’t have anticipated when we started [HEALTH] as this art, noise rock thing.”
Braving ever-evolving strange days, armed with more volume than ever, HEALTH continue to reinvent themselves with no plans to die slow.