Though it’s as harsh as fans of the band have come to expect, Death Magic may well be the most accessible record HEALTH have yet released. It’s a surprisingly tender, surprisingly entertaining release, the sound of destruction made danceable. Although now and then it does suffer under the burden of its tonal ambition, on the whole this is a thrillingly original work, one that leaves a very genuine impact by the time it’s done.
Death Magic sees HEALTH continually and memorably flirting with pop conventions; tracks like single Stonefist edge (admittedly obliquely) towards radio-friendly fare, and beneath all those layers of rot and abrasion lies a slick, approachable sound. Even a track like Men Today, a song that begins midway through a veritable cacophony of noise and sonic assault, eventually breaks apart into a soulful, near sweet number, and Flesh World (UK) owes as much of a debt to Depeche Mode as it does to a band like Nine Inch Nails, HEALTH’s one time touring mates.
At times, however, the carefully constructed balance is upset, and a song like L.A. Looks tips over into forgettable filler. New Coke similarly suffers from mundanity; even when the crashing strains of the chorus truly begin to ramp up, the underlying melodies are still slight, and never grip in the way they should.
Nonetheless, Salvia, the track that sits at the off centre of the album, is a true example of what HEALTH can do when at their most ground-breaking. An instrumental, it combines the most challenging aspects of dance and house music, with haunting echoes of electro. It’s a determined delight, an uplifting yet distinctly bitter take on a twin set of genres.
Death Magic is the first album HEALTH have released in over half a decade, and though perhaps the record is not the stunning comeback fans were awaiting with baited breath, it is a defiantly original release. They might not always succeed, but the facts remain the same: HEALTH are playing a game few other bands are even aware exists.