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Review: HEALTH's DEATH MAGIC is the band's most sensuous album yet

Review: HEALTH's DEATH MAGIC is the band's most sensuous album yet


La petite mort

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Industrial music — and the genres, like "noise," that have sprung from it — is meant to be overwhelming, forceful, and voluptuously textured. The words typically used to describe LA's HEALTH reflect this visceral quality; they are described as "pulsating," "pummel(ing)," and "pounding" — actually, "pound" and "pounding" come up a lot. Seems kind of, hm, Freudian.

Industrial music is often accidentally sexy anyway Sexuality, when it occurs in industrial lyrics, is typically played for shock value (Lords of Acid), comedy (Lords of Acid, again, but especially Voodoo-U; My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult's 13 Above the Night), the grotesque (KMFDM's "Itchy Bitchy," Throbbing Gristle, "Discipline," and — you'll never guess — Lords of Acid), and the melodramatic (Coil's "Anal Staircase," Skinny Puppy's "Love in Vein," KMFDM's "Juke Joint Jezebel," Nine Inch Nails' "Wish"). Industrial artists rarely deal well with lust, though there are notable exceptions (Nine Inch Nails' "Physical" and, of course, "Closer"). The "sexy" lyrics in most industrial music are not especially observant or naturalistic. They are instead stylized performance art — at best, they are knowingly silly. At worst, they commit the undeniable sin of making sex boring.

Industrial is often accidentally sexy anyway, though, because it's extremely reliant on beats. Disco drums (Ministry's "Lava," Nitzer Ebb's "Let Your Body Learn") are part of that, of course. But the whirring machine noises are visceral — industrial music is meant to be felt, usually in a slow, grinding rhythm (a prime example: Skinny Puppy's "Stairs and Flowers"). That's the point of the noise, after all — a visceral layer to the music, a bass line you can feel in your teeth.

Which is precisely what makes HEALTH's DEATH MAGIC a remarkable album; they have matched the pounding rhythm to the lyrical content, without slipping into cliché. You get a hint of this right away, on "STONEFIST": "We stay possessed by what we lost / And we both know love's not in our hearts."

This is not wholly new territory for HEALTH. Both "DIE SLOW" — from their second album, GET COLOR — and "USA BOYS" — a single on their remix album, DISCO2 — are languidly sexy, thrumming, and atmospheric; their self-titled debut ended with the frankly sweet "LOST TIME." What's new, though, is that Jake Duzsik's ethereal, detached vocals are higher in the mix; it's possible to make out the lyrics. "Follow your lust," Duzsik implores on "FLESH WORLD."

The noise isn't just noise — it's carnal physicality It is, in some sense, possible to trace the contours of love by its absence; lovelessness is a central preoccupation of DEATH MAGIC (From "LA LOOKS": "It's not love, but I still want you." From "DRUGS EXIST": "Try to love the ones who love us."). There's a sort of abstract impressionist approach to love and lust in the lyrics and in Duzsik's remote vocals; any turmoil is expressed, instead, in Christopher Nolan-esque blatts, thumping low end, squalling guitars, and massive drum solos. The noise isn't just noise — it's carnal physicality, at an ideal tempo for grinding, with teeth-rattling intensity that's meant to be sensuously overwhelming. This isn't about love, sonically; it's about immense lust.

Unlike in previous outings, HEALTH allows long stretches — even full songs, like "LIFE" — of assonance and even sweetness, extending the band's sonic and emotive range. Usually, you'd have to wait for the remix album to hear the melody buried under the din. But since HEALTH's first album, in 2007, pop has gotten noisier. Acts like FKA twigs, Disclosure, and even Britney Spears (the dubstep moments in "Hold It Against Me" and "Freakshow" come immediately to mind) introduced machinery and low-end wubbing to mainstream radio listeners' sonic palettes. Between the moves HEALTH has made toward pop, and the moves pop has made toward HEALTH, this album has the potential to introduce the band to a wide range of new listeners. At the very least, I expect many of DEATH MAGIC's songs will be in heavy rotation at alternative strip clubs.