Although the latest record from L.A noise rock outfit HEALTH is an impressive listen, it’s not particularly a satisfying one. Vol 4 :: Slaves of Fear should theoretically be a treat for someone of my tastes: the industrial beats blast, the nu-metal guitars chug, and the soundscapes evoke a sense of fear and dread.
The overall package, however, lacks originality and inventiveness. The album is an imposing experience that proves a thrill through its powerful production, whilst severely lacking in substance. The continuous sense of melodrama loses its effectiveness when most songs follow a similar pounding formula.
It’s not until the rather gorgeous closing track “Decimation” until Slaves of Fear offers a change of pace, and it’s simply too late. HEALTH have continued their trend of making exhilarating music, but something feels slightly off this time round. The departure of founding member Jupiter Keyes has likely played a major part, though its Jacob Duzsik’s faint whines that proves to be the most underwhelming aspect.
Slaves of Fear is a bleak record made to provoke the barren vision of the future. In that sense, it’s an accomplishment. There’s no doubting the sincerity of its message, nor the authenticity. HEALTH have perhaps prioritised concept over execution whilst also ignoring the importance of finesse. A record this polished shouldn’t feel so utterly flat.
6 out of 10
This is an album that really sells itself short. *Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear *goes a mile a minute sounding cavernous and empty in equal measure. It reminds me a little of Nine Inch Nails, but only as a kind of pretender. NIN’s industrial edge leaves festering wounds, whereas HEALTH leaves only a glazed expression.
If the instrumentals and vocals weren’t so sanitized Vol. 4 may have been onto something. The raw elements of the album are often very good, but they’re produced in a way that feels far removed from anything I could ever relate to. Songs like “Strange Days (1999)” deserve grittier presentation than they get.
It’s strangely appropriate that the album presents itself in all-caps. Just as all-caps manages to make language less impactful, the polished, not-quite-epic sheen of Vol. 4 keeps it from making any lasting impression. As “Wrong Bag” attempts to carve out clarity in an apocalypse, I can’t escape the feeling HEALTH are trying way too hard.
Strong industrial music doesn’t need to resort to cavernous production and all-cap track names to make an impression, just as this review is unpleasant enough WITHOUT MY HAVING TO RESORT TO CHEAP SATIRE. The album is actually fine, but that’s all it is. It could have been more, possibly much more, and the frustration is we’ll never know.
5 out of 10
HEALTH’s latest record had me intrigued from the outset. Its opening moments are menacing and mucky, and the thwack of beefy kick drums and gritty bass lines particularly hit the spot. It’s a great shame, in that case, to find that the effect doesn’t have the staying power I had hoped for.
“BLACK STATIC”, “NC-17”, and “STRANGE DAYS (1999)” all make for some of the high points in the tracklist. Each feature chugging, mournful, twisted instrumentation that provides a substantial, skulking atmosphere and manages to establish a sense of vast scale within their opening moments. Vol. 4 is indeed very successful at creating moments across its play time, as tracks powerfully explode, it does well with initial impressions, but from there is where it gets into difficulty. Jake Duzsik’ vocals aren’t strong enough to hold up alongside the mammoth instrumentals, and while there is development throughout tracks, it often isn’t enough to stop the album becoming a blur of noise in for the majority.
At thirty-eight minutes on paper, the album feels a fair measure longer, and, with the aforementioned tracks aside, the only other point that makes real, noticeable change is the closer. Appearing as a pleasant departure from the norm set by the rest of the record, “DECIMATION” is an airy, sparse track that puts its vocals at centre stage. Had there been similar variation across the album, I’d have no doubt been far more enamoured with it.
It’s clear that a lot of creativity and thought has gone into Vol. 4 and I’ll certainly be taking a listen of HEALTH’s wider discography. Unfortunately, it’ll likely be key tracks, rather than the album as a whole, that will see return visits.
6 out of 10