Album review: HEALTH – Rat Wars

LA industrial geniuses HEALTH exude menacing melancholy and evident greatness on glowering fifth album…

Album review: HEALTH – Rat Wars
Olly Thomas

After two volumes of their collaborative DISCO4 project, Rat Wars is the first album HEALTH have made in their own right in almost five years. So while the former outings were fun exercises in admitting outsiders as varied as Full Of Hell, Poppy and Ho99o9 into their world, this is a return to a sharper focus for the LA trio. On Rat Wars, they conjure their most effective rendering yet of their distinct aesthetic, a slick night drive through rainy neon-lit streets in search of answers to existential crises.

There are enough crunchy guitars and mechanistic beats on offer to suggest that Nine Inch Nails will be top of HEALTH’s collective Spotify Unwrapped for the umpteenth year running. However, these classic industrial signifiers are allied to contemporary electronic and pop production styles from the get-go, with DEMIGODS and FUTURE OF HELL as concerned with soul-searching introspection as jackhammer fury. Frontman Jake Duzsik cuts a melancholy figure, his lyrics and vocals bleak but with understated melodic nous. UNLOVED is the sort of glowering ballad Depeche Mode do so well, while closer DON’T TRY finds the band at their most stripped-back and moving.

Amongst the heavier cuts, CHILDREN OF SORROW finds thrash riffs from a guesting Willie Adler knuckling down alongside another elegiac vocal from Jake, while SICKO does something similar with a Godflesh sample, Justin Broadrick’s intonation of ‘Breed…like rats!’ taking the tune from sombre to borderline uncomfortable.

Balancing an instinct for dancefloor-crushing industrial with gloomily lush soundscapes, Rat Wars suggests that even when HEALTH are at their most meticulously state-of-the-art, a fervent need to express honest emotion finds humanity overriding tech to emerge as the dominant element in their work.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Nine Inch Nails, Cold Cave, †††

Rat Wars is released on December 7 via Loma Vista

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