Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come.
Quite potentially the most left-field band I have ever found and fallen in love with, HEALTH was introduced to me, via one of my favourite games of all time: Max Payne 3.
In fact, the game’s score and style was so influential, I actually discovered 2 artists through the game, HEALTH and Gary Clark Jr. (more on this guy in a follow up post) and subsequently became obsessed with cynical monologues for the rest of my life.
An obsession you can clearly read in my writing.
In fact, I could argue that Rockstar is probably responsible for most of my excellent music taste. Their choice, direction and soundscape in games is essentially impeccable, from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’s 80s pop on Flash FM to the addicting anger in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’s 90s rap Radio Los Santos and my current interest in electronica heard in Los Santos Underground Radio in Grand Theft Auto V.
HEALTH have been long collaborators with Rockstar and I must say I am grateful, because the score in Max Payne 3 is ridiculously unique and truly evocative. When I first heard it, I was genuinely stunned. The sounds that came from the score were so distinct, unique and impactful. I could hear the pain and anguish in Max’s grief, the sadness of the favelas and the nihilistic overtones of the cutscenes.
There has never been a score since that has simultaneously unsettled me and lifted me to emotional heights like Max Payne 3.
Now upon listening to more of their albums, I am incredibly addicted to their angry, violent sounds and the throbbing undertones of dark energy, that are juxtaposed with soaring lyrics and voices.
It is downright weird.
It is industrial noise rock.
Beyond the first initial reaction to the Max Payne 3 score, I knew that I was hungry for more from these guys.
Enter DEATH MAGIC.
The first real album I found from HEALTH and the subsequent addiction. For me, DEATH MAGIC is still as incredible now as it was to me when I first heard of.
For me, an obvious sign that I am loving the music I am hearing, is when the hairs on my forearm stand up and goosebumps suffuse my skin. That’s when I know my entire being is vibing completely with the music I am listening to.
DEATH MAGIC still invokes that sensation years after I first found it. To listen to DEATH MAGIC is to go on a strange, dark journey that is terrifying and violent, occasionally interrupted by soaring, despairing and sweet songs that tug away at your inner despair and make you long for love.
If you look at the album cover, the names of each song is unapologetically strange and cryptic, to match the chaotic album art. The red and black strange Jackson Pollock’s style of art is in perfect harmony to the diverse soundscapes you will be expericing in the album itself.
If I had to sum up each song, here is what it would look like:
VICTIM: The very first song is all about setting up a precedence. It’s heavy thumping rhythms make you feel like you are descending into a dark place. You are sinking, falling and diving deeper into a strange, chaotic place. Just when you are lost, and about to give up, in comes Jake Duzsik’s strange soaring vocals to guide you further on your dark path. You follow his voice, like a blind man would, bewildered, hopeful and trusting of a strange angel.
STONEFIST: Hits you with all the iconic HEALTH sounds, from Duzsik’s hauntingly sweet vocals, to the dark pulses of the band’s drums, guitar and synthesizers. It legitimately slams you straight after VICTIM, letting you know that Duzsik’s angel is now accelerating your journey through this dark place, and you have to keep up, as his voice is punctuated by hard hitting synth and drums crescendos. As you try to keep pace, all you’ll hear is LOVE’S NOT IN OUR HEARTS.
(Oh and the music video is deceptively normal, until the 1 minute mark, and then it decides to go full Society (1989) on you)
MEN TODAY: Takes a dark turn, with its heavy emphasis on drums and chaotically quick guitar riffs. Slow drums, then punctuated by quick guitar and dark synth, only to mellow out into soft, high vocals. Almost like you are on a roller-coaster of sound, terrifying one minute, then bliss as you hit the apex. It is mercifully short and then you transition into FLESH WORLD.
FLESH WORLD (UK): Rhythmic, then all the sudden interjected by a strange siren, high vocals allow you to take a breather, and settle in. It is a slower tempo than the other songs, but really allows Duzsik’s unique vocals and HEALTH’s strange lyrics to shine.
All the bones grew strong before they broke
All the blood runs hot before it’s cold
All the bones grew strong before they broke
COURTSHIP II: Just as you were getting comfortable, COURTSHIP II comes in with dark terrifying visions of nightmares, with slow, throbbing drums, constantly playing in the background, only to be accelerated by rapid guitar, bass and synth. Just as it ramps up, the song takes a sudden turn and lets the slow vocals kick in, confusing you with its chaotic energy. It slows down and almost soothes you with how gentle the vocals are. It would be relaxing, were it not for the crash of drums and guitars at the end.
DARK ENOUGH: A personal favourite of mine, this song is the relaxing element of the album. Slow, and fully utilising Duzsik’s vocals to the absolute pop limit, it is a dark pop song, with haunting melodies. You feel like you are being nursed to health after the chaos of the earlier songs.
Does it make a difference how I feel
As long as I come back to you?
Does it make a difference if it’s real
As long as I still say I love you
SALVIA: A primer for NEW COKE, SALVIA’s first initial seconds of the song are dark and pounding, but suddenly it relaxes into a mellow melody that is airy, and gentle. Short and sweet, it is meant to be an linking song to NEW COKE.
NEW COKE: Another favourite’s of mine, HEALTH’s dark pop style is on full display here, with a dark theme to the lyrics.
Let the guns go off
Let the bombs explode
Oh just once
We’ll be gone before we know
Question how will we go
Will we see the ones we’ve lost?
It is nihilistic, despairing and tragic and the song peaks in the centre on a wail that threatens to consume you.
L.A. LOOKS: After the nihilistic, almost suicidal tones of NEW COKE, L.A. LOOKS almost seems to mock you with its actual pop style zest and zing. It is quite possibly the only “fun” song, that doesn’t really delve into the darkness to much. With its more fun style, comes this feeling that you are nearing the end of your journey. That you really have gone through the worst of it. The lyrics of course are dark, disguised by the fun slow tempo of the song.
But it’s not love
It’s not love
It’s not love but I still want you
It’s not love, it’s not love
It’s not love but I still want you
HURT YOURSELF: With an odd choir-like opening, HURT YOURSELF is an excellent example of how HEALTH loves mashing genres and styles to create a wholly unique sound to their songs. There is an angelic style to this song, with high pitched peals and tones to accentuate the lyrics. You soar for a while, until HEALTH slams in a beautifully dark undertone to the entire song near the end, to make it seem like you are flying, only it is the sky beneath the ground.
DRUGS EXIST: The final song of the album, and the terminal leg of your journey, is an reflective and gentle song, with high notes and crooning lyrics. It is sad, slow and moody, softly letting you down after the ride through DEATH MAGIC. You finish your journey, empty, and bereft of something, yet … if you leave your music player on repeat, the booming sounds of VICTIM take you right back to the beginning again and your dark journey starts over.
Limp as you’d like
Pray if you must
Try to love the ones who loved us
There was no blood
We’ve worried all but numb
There lies no ghost
The dead will call us home
Live as you’d like
It’s hard to know what’s right
Pray if you want
But try to love the ones who don’t
DEATH MAGIC isn’t really just an album with a near perfect replay value, it’s an incredible work of art that is wholly unique and bizarre to the charms of HEALTH.
Of course, I had to go and check out the rest of their discography, from their titular release HEALTH, to the high octane GET COLOR and their latest Vol 4. SLAVES OF FEAR.
What really struck me throughout all their albums, is the consistency of their work. They are always pushing, striving for that unique sound of theirs, and it never ceases to surprise me with how much better they are getting with each album release.
In addition, their music videos are some of the most strange, dark and twisted out there. In particular, WE ARE WATER features highly disturbing and gory results, that I was definitely not expecting from a music video.
But then, I should have known better with how dark and twisted HEALTH is from the beginning. After all, the score during the titular abandoned hotel sequence in Max Payne 3 was some of the most evocative soundscapes I’ve heard in a long time.
Without the discovery of HEALTH I suspect I wouldn’t be able to appreciate new type of music as easily. It took me a while to warm up to them, as I couldn’t work out whether I loved or hated these new sounds.
But repeated playthroughs of Max Payne 3 made me acknowledge the genius behind Rockstar’s choice and appreciate that just because something was unique and utterly strange to me, it wasn’t bad. Not at all.
Chaotic, frenzied, violent and atmospheric, DEATH MAGIC is one of my favourite albums to listen to on repeat because the journey it takes you on, is legitimately like a horror ride.
You’re confused, angry, terrified, and engaged in your primal side. You cling onto the angelic vocals, not realising it is leading you astray and in a strange way, you are having the time of your life, engaging with this strange atmosphere of fear and anger.
To say that HEALTH’s soundscapes are unique is doing it a bit of a disservice in my humble opinion. They are experimenting with all types of things and honestly, they are awesome at slamming it all together in a coherent musical narrative.
I will also like to point out, if you think this is a band trying to “edgy”, I would say that has never been the case with HEALTH. Much like Nine Inch Nails, from the onset HEALTH has been consistently dark in their exploration of music and I don’t see a shred of pretension in their art so far.
To see them live would be a dream come true, and I really hope one day they might tour somewhere Down Under so I can catch them.
A tiny bit of extra trivia that I thought was an insanely incredible act of generosity, was that for their NEW COKE music video, there is a phone number at the end of the short film.
This was actually the phone number for the band and they would legitimately talk to anyone who called the number, about their lives and if they needed any help.
Just amazing. You just have to get past the projectile vomiting to see the end though.
DEATH MAGIC … just go check it out.
I love HEALTH’s work and will doubtless continue to be a fan for a very long time.