“We have no words any longer to say to one another. Your mouth opens and: nihil, nihil, nihil.” – Current 93
We live in a time of great uncertainty. Systems fall around us. Mass economic disparity, social injustice and a dying planet are the legacies we leave for future generations. A deluge of information bombards us daily, there to be seen, liked and then forgotten. The boot stamping on our faces isn’t that of an oppressive government, but rather the concrete realization of our own neglect.
We, the human race, love to terrify ourselves on a daily basis with the thought of our own annihilation. We fetishize the incomprehensible end because we fear it. Approached with a pair of tweezers and a microscope, it’s a strange fascination, one that fulfills mankind’s attempt to place itself outside the natural order of things. How do we maintain this obsession without devouring ourselves like an ouroboros? What we need now, perhaps more than ever before, is a post-nihilism that embraces entropy and fear and then enfolds it into the secondary routine of nightlife pleasures: death reshaped into dance magick. Heralding this musical memento mori, HEALTH have returned with a collection of anthems for a crumbling world.
Violence and noise have long been staples of the celebrated Los Angeles group, whose live shows rank among some of the loudest and most intense I’ve ever experienced. But it’s with Death Magic that they’ve crafted a definitive statement for Generation Fear. The cacophonous guitars have been shaped into concise industrial dance perfection, while Jake Duzsik’s vocals achieve something akin to pop emotion. On “New Coke”, the album’s bombastic lead single, Duzsik’s wail bombs and destructs with the aid of thudding kick drums and chainsaw synths. Standout cut “Stonefist” details love like an uncertain atheist invoking god: in a dismissive and derogatory way, but obsessively in their thoughts. It’s music tinged with a sadness of something half-remembered, yet perpetually just out of reach: “We’re never going backwards. We’re never growing young.”
While these themes are prevalent throughout the album, it’s hard to necessarily call Death Magic a celebration of them. Like contemporaries Crystal Castles, HEALTH’s musical evolution finds them acting as bitter commentators on the state of the world for an audience more attuned to getting their news and views in the form of entertainment. It’s easy to imagine “Flesh World,” one of the most enthusiastically rave-friendly tracks on the album, burning up the same indie discos where Crystal Castles’ “Crimewave” once made hearts race. Yet underpinning the hammering beats are lyrics that speak of isolation in a crowd and a psychology that, beneath a veneer of apathy, is screaming at itself to regain control: “Follow your lust /There’s no one here to judge us/Do all the drugs/We die, so what?”
As necessary as it sometimes feels to embrace the macabre, surrounding oneself with images of death often functions like carving a large-scale jack-o’-lantern display: creating totems to scare off the real bogeyman. Every musical explosion and reverb-drenched shriek echoes with the words “the unknown terrifies us”. Some of us don’t know what we want, or where we’re going, or even if we’ll be alive next year. This is our reality. But it doesn’t have to be a mental dead end, a downward spiral or even a negative. In this sense, the music on Death Magic suggests that, even as we revel in death-worship, one day we’ll maybe be able to shrug it off and resurrect.