Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear

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Since their return with 2015's Death Magic, HEALTH have added purpose and focus to their music, a trend they continue with Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear. To confront the chaos and despair that seemed to dominate the late 2010s, they add more weight to their lyrics and sound by giving Death Magic's industrial and synth pop leanings a stomping heft. The contrast between their crushing noise assaults and hollowed-out atmospheres is starker than ever, and on tracks like "Strange Days [1999]," the results are both wounded and wounding. HEALTH's juxtaposition of Jake Duzsik's soft vocals and the hard-edged sounds around them has always been striking, but it's never sounded more relevant, especially since they haven't forsaken any of Death Magic's hooky songwriting. Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear is filled with perversely catchy songs about death and hopelessness: On "The Message," they match the bluntness of lyrics like "Death awaits, so make your peace with it" with chugging industrial metal riffs; "Loss Deluxe" is a grimly danceable meditation on aging and isolation; and "Feel Nothing" and the title track are feel-bad anthems par excellence. That Duzsik's voice barely rises above a moan frequently makes Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear more affecting, and more unsettling, than some of the band's influences; his resignation when he sings "life's gonna break us down" on "Black Static" sounds fresher -- and truer -- than howling defiance. If the world has caught up to HEALTH's anguish, then the band likewise reflects the sounds of the late 2010s by turning trap's relentlessly ticking beat into a death rattle on "NC-17" and "Rat Wars." Sometimes, Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear feels almost too successful at what it sets out to do, but as bleak as it gets, there's something special about its empathy and honesty.

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