Hatched a decade ago from within the underground incubator of famed Los Angeles DIY venue The Smell, Health first made its reputation as a relentless noise-rock band. It was less interested in decimating a stage with blown-out, thick riffs and red-faced rage than it was in gnawing scenery to shreds with razor-edged, schizophrenic drumming, and its tenacity left contrails of sweat in the air well after the members peeled themselves off the floor.
The band’s 2007 self-titled debut was so raw that it blistered and popped and oozed in six-second intervals. Never mind a slow build of tension: The dudes preferred for tension to be blasted like a battalion of jackhammers having its way with a fresh patch of concrete. The band’s live shows, loosely held together by the flailing command of drummer B.J. Miller, upped the ante as the other three members flew around stage like their instruments were burning alive.
Health’s follow-up, 2009’s Get Color—which was bookended by a pair of remix albums and a oddball gig composing the soundtrack for Max Payne 3—features a refined primal sound as the group began sewing together patches of ornate electro-experimental rock rather than giddily stapling them together blindfolded. The space-age, emotionless vocals of frontman Jake Duzsik moved more to the forefront of each track, instead of being buried beneath the rubble created by the collision of guitars and drums.
Nearly six years later, Health returns with Death Magic, a monstrous album on which its electronic and industrial mystique has matured to represent an absorption of the band’s discography, injected with a serum of growth hormones. Beginning with the menacing “Victim”—an ominous intro built mostly of deep-buzzing synth and a trudging, creeping thump—the album melts into a cocaine-cool blend of slow, jogging beats and slow-burning synths, as Duzsik’s vocals snake through each track’s valleys and peaks (“Stonefist” starts off bouncy and forceful before simmering into a hypnotic groove). Though tracks like “Men Today” and “Courtship II” are tips of the hat to Health’s back catalog with wild drumming from Miller and insane bursts of static noise—which is tough not to want more of—Death Magic drives more toward sweeping hooks that crescendo on the same level as the effects-drenched vocals.
But it almost seems a little unfair to imply that the foursome is any less nasty in its attack—it’s just much darker in shade. “New Coke” breaks down into a frenetic electronic hi-hat-driven rhythm that feels less like a beat that’s pulling you along and more like one that’s chasing you with a kitchen knife. And it could just as easily be paired with a single strobe light front-and-center of a rickety makeshift stage, flickering as you only catch flashes of the members stalking around one another.