Loma Vista Recordings
As happens every so often, there’s been a cyclical shift towards darker tones in the last few years in alternative music: The sunny, carefree naivete of the early to mid 2010’s has given way to the crushing realities of a pandemic, political instability and the darker aspects of social media. In this age, bouncy dancepop anthems and hollow, jangly retro rock just aren’t going to cut it – or at least they won’t cut deep enough to leave a lasting mark.
There’s a cruel irony in the notion that a band named HEALTH has become arguably the defining artist of a period where health itself, both physical and mental, has become such a target, even a crutch at times. Indeed, much of their subject matter is concerned with corporeal and psychological wellbeing, be it the nihilism of their drug fuelled dancefloor destroyers (and the consequences therein), or their ruminations on love lost, and the disconnections within and between people.
Mutating from their chaotic noisepunk roots into the cold industrial monster of today, they have survived the coming and going of one fad after another, flying somewhat under the radar until the early 2010’s. A stunning turn on 2012’s Max Payne 3 soundtrack raised their profile significantly; Of course, a rub from Rockstar Games never hurt anyone. A decade later, it remains peerless as a video game score, with the lone vocal track ‘Tears’ becoming an absolute modern classic.
2015’s Death Magic announced their arrival as major players, fulfilling major promise with an album of the decade contender. From the appropriately cold and crushing ‘Stonefist’ to the murky, hypnotic ‘NEW COKE’, a truly remarkable evolution in sound placed them at the forefront of modern industrial. 2019’s Slaves Of Fear followed up brilliantly, with the titular track and the pounding nihilism of ‘Feel Nothing’ demonstrating a mastery of craft and totality of concept that few, if any, of their generational peers have managed.
Their clinically produced, carefully measured brand of darkness serves as a kind of sonic existential reckoning, served to a generation racked with fear and doubt. Equal parts catharsis and contemplation, they are capable of blunt force trauma and delicate nuance with equal dexterity, knowing exactly when to hold back, and when to let go with reckless abandon. Driving rhythms, haunting synths and unique vocals akin to the chanting of monks defined a sound which in turn came to define an age of angst and uncertainty.
That sound is as much the pummeling, narcotic brutality of the night before as it is melancholy comedown of the morning after, and every shade of darkness inbetween. It’s rare to see a modern act able to indulge in it’s own vulnerability without excess self pity, but HEALTH manage it with rare grace. Direct and plainspoken lyrically, the almost ethereal singing leaves the heaviness of their sound to a crushing rhythm section, one that can go full metal jacket when needed.
The covid era has seen them expand their sound with a plethora of collaborations with everyone from metal heavyweights like Lamb Of God to industrial predecessors Nine Inch Nails, and even rappers like Ghostmane. With their first three studio LPs receiving the remix treatment with their DISCO series, DISCO 4 instead sees them assemble their recent collaborative efforts into an impressive compliation, split over two volumes.
The recently released Volume 2, highlighted by opener ‘Dead Flowers’ with metal singer Poppy, takes the HEALTH sound to some of the darkest corners imaginable. It features some of the heaviest tracks in their catalogue (and some of the gloomiest), serving as a testament to their versatility. Few veteran artists manage this many quality collabs in a multi-decade career – for a relatively young band to compile a double album of them in less than three years is remarkable. To see them highlighting such a diversity of both established and emerging acts is even better.
With a best-in-class video game score, two classic albums, a plethora of quality remix work and now more than twenty published collaborative tracks in the last decade, HEALTH have managed an output as prolific as it is potent. Their visual presentation over a distinctive style of merchandising and some of the best music videos of the last decade further a brilliant artistic vision, one that has seen them graduate from criminally underrated contenders to era-defining champions, evolving without compromise. It would be easy to say the future is bright for them, but is a sound of darker futures from an incredibly murky present.