Heavy prog-electro-indie band HEALTH deliver their fourth LP that moves the (now) trio to an even more muscular sound than previous albums as a quartet. Vol. 4: Slaves Of Fear see HEALTH moving from a noise rock/art club scene into a larger sound that is more arena-sized than ever before. Part of the credit goes to the crystalline production of such heavy music, making for an aural feast if you like your tunes loud.
HEALTH are the spiritual descendants of bands like indie-electronic indie outfit Trans Am, who fuse guitar rock with electronics seamlessly, which gives license to explore different styles and moods. On Vol. 4: Slaves Of Fear, HEALTH channel the epic scale of the likes of Nine Inch Nails or Tool, but with their own unique sound. But all this math rock logic would be academic without a heap of quality tunes, with nice hooks and arrangements. And really – these tracks would sound great in an arena.
Part of the HEALTH sound is the crunchiness of the guitars, electronics and drums hitting you at the gut level, whereas the floating, ethereal vocals of Jake Duzsik are in counterpoint to this heavy riffage and pounding. This gives the effect not so much of an angel floating on a cloud to provide a message from the heavens (although in isolation it might), but rather an avenging angel flying in on a blazing fireball to deliver a proclamation on modern society that’s scary as hell.
Opening track Psychonaut starts with a few guitar notes, sounding like Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi in a quiet mood, before launching into a drum-led pacey assault with chugging guitars, the short track concluding with a nice complex ending that stops on a dime.
Feel Nothing begins with the heavy riffing that characterises many of the tracks here and mines the soft-loud-soft recipe to great effect. So after the angelic verses and a call-and-response chorus, it’s back to the heavy main riff. The lyrics channel a disaffected mood, a kind of oblique comment on modern life that is rife through the album: “Here alone, we didn’t choose to be born under the dying sun… ‘Til we don’t feel nothing, why should we try so hard? Let’s get numb… there’s comfort here in the dull”.
There’s many other fine tracks on Vol. 4, exhibiting a range of sounds from raw, metalesque riffing numbers such as Black Static and Strange Days (1999), the slow-burners NC-17 and Rat Wars, to more anthemic tracks such as The Message, a real stomper and a heart-pumping highlight.
Tracks such as Loss Deluxe feature more conspicuous use of electronics, with B.J. Miller’s heavy drum style – a combination of pounding tom work with the cymbals downplayed – guiding the tracks along with a firm hand on the rudder.
Many of the album’s tracks come in at just about three minutes, most shorter, but with the two last numbers five minutes. The title track and closer Decimation are infused with some more resolution in the tunes and feature massive dynamic shifts in keeping with the Vol. 4 ethos.
Whether it’s the reduction in members to a trio after over 10 years as a foursome, or just a new vision for the band, HEALTH have really honed their dynamic on Vol. 4: Slaves of Fear, and show a new-found swagger on these heavy yet gleaming tracks. Play it loud!