HEALTH have been nothing if consistent in their career, even making a videogame soundtrack that could be appreciated away from its primary entertainment. They make strange crossovers between noise-rock and throbbing Michael Bay electronica which could easily slot into some CGI-tastic robotic fight sequence. DEATH MAGIC shows HEALTH’s poppy sensibilities, as well as their extreme rock side. Songs such as ‘FLESH WORLD (UK)’ are just accessible enough to go on Radio 1 alongside the superstar DJs knocking out dubstep. Then there’s songs like ‘MEN TODAY’, which I wasn’t a huge fan of in single form due to it being short and had some over-dramatic moments, but instead in long-play format it slots right in to the heavy bookmarks of ‘STONEFIST’ and the pop of ‘FLESH WORLD (UK)’. Funnily enough, it isn’t the heavy noise-terrorism of ‘MEN TODAY’ or ‘SALVIA’ that makes up the more enjoyable parts of DEATH MAGIC, but instead it’s the poppier moments that make up the majority of the album that work the best and show a new side to HEALTH.
‘FLESH WORLD (UK)’ is the first true pop moment of DEATH MAGIC, contrary to the three-song burst at the beginning to fool you into thinking this is another album designed to test your ears to their limits. The lyrics, repetitive and monotone in delivery, have never been a key part of the band and nothing has changed this time. Lyrics such as ‘We’re not here to find ourselves’ and ‘Do all the drugs / We die, so what?’ grate up against the dancey beats and serve as nothing more than a distraction to what the instrumentation achieves. At times, it feels as if HEALTH do best on instrumental tracks such as ‘MEN TODAY’, which has enough drama and gloom to deliver a message without piling anything else on top.
Then there’s the darker, more traditionally ‘HEALTH’ songs such as ‘COURTSHIP II’ with the killer drums, skyscraper synths and atmospheric electronics. ‘COURTSHIP II’ works against the poppier tracks because it doesn’t go overboard like ‘SALVIA’ with its machine-gun drums and quiet/loud dynamics. These are the Michael Bay moments, and if you’ve ever watched a Michael Bay movie you’ll know it consists of slow-motion, over-acting and taking itself too seriously, amongst other things. This is exactly what HEALTH become in these moments, then they become a parody of dubstep drops and any atmosphere built up disintegrates into thin air.
The best song on DEATH MAGIC is the poppy ‘LIFE’, which could easily slot alongside the harsher electronic pop of today. It has a positive melody, something that’s hard to come across in a HEALTH song. Maybe this is where HEALTH need to go; it’s a refreshing side to see alongside the stony-faced noise-rock tracks that ‘LIFE’ sits with. Jacob Duznik sings ‘I don’t know what I want but I know that I don’t know what I want’ without thundering synths or saw-like guitars. Instead, there’s skittering, echoey drums and a bloom of electronics on the chorus. It’s stripped back for HEALTH, but the confessional lyrics, strangely emotional vocals and traditional song structures, plus a minor embracing of dubstep ‘drops’, leads to a major step forward in what HEALTH can achieve.
DEATH MAGIC could have been a retread of past comfort zones, and for some parts, it does exactly that. Aside from ‘MEN TODAY’ and ‘COURTSHIP II’, the heavy tracks such as ‘SALVIA’ and ‘NEW COKE’ feel limp against ‘LIFE’ and ‘DARK ENOUGH’. It’d be a strange claim to say that HEALTH could play stadiums one day, but they have the possibility of a crossover hit in their grasp. They can stand against Foo Fighters and the rest of the Reading and Leeds headliners and have the electro-heads and the rockers in the palm of their hands. DEATH MAGIC is a step in that direction and with a few minor missteps into over-dramatising things, succeeds in creeping closer to that mainstream popularity.