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Words by Sam Wolstenholme

As the Information Age hurtles faster and faster towards critical mass – when human and technology become indistinguishable from one another – what was once designed to connect and empower us seems to have left us feeling lonelier than ever. The more crises we absorb through the screens in our living rooms, basements and hands, the more desensitised many of us become. It’s the overwhelming compassion fatigue of being a human in a world where now we know just how much is outside of our control, and online life carefully constructed through the framework of algorithms has replaced our traditional sense of micro-community. 

This modern malaise is the crux of LA-based industrial rock luminaries HEALTH’s fifth studio release ‘RAT WARS’, a wryly ironic yet unflinchingly brutal anthology of songs each expressing different aspects of the experience of feeling too much in an often callous world. ‘RAT WARS’ offers 90s industrial metal a la Nine Inch Nails meets ambient electropop in a reinvigorated sound that is purpose-built for this digital age, and the album is bolstered by world-class production that is refined yet inexplicably raw courtesy of Stint, whose resume includes stadium stars such as Demi Lovato, no less. But make no mistake, this album is a dark odyssey through and through for the haunted souls among us.

Singular, eerie, held guitar notes herald a somewhat apocalyptic beginning to the album’s opening track DEMIGODS, which moves slowly and deliberately through passages of melancholy ambient synths juxtaposed with pulsating rhythmic guitar chugs. Singer-guitarist Jake Duzsik’s intimate, silky vocals glide over the top of this stately procession, until suddenly the track takes a turn into cinematic movie-score territory as it builds to FUTURE OF HELL. This track fully embraces the gritty industrial vibes, echoing Ministry and Peturbator with saw synths shuddering around fatalistic yet hypnotic vocal melodies spelling out our doom – “The touch you feel / Awake the plague of fear / The voice you hear / Consume the body”.

Album single HATEFUL is pitch-black, urgent and seething with latent resentment, rage and bloodless cynicism. It’s a cyberpunk nightmare with strangely elegant grace, its driving techno beats straight out of Berlin. The addition of guitar distortion and frightening screams towards the end of the track inject further fear and trepidation – if there was a musical expression of what being consumed by The Matrix would feel like, this track is it. This melds seamlessly into (OF ALL ELSE) in something of a continuation, with all musical elements dissolving into two minutes of steely blood cage rave. CRACK METAL begins as the title sounds – in an EDM frenzy – then seeping into almost Sepultura-esque guitar chugs that finally explode into lightning bursts of electro-thrash.

UNLOVED swaggers in with dark grooves as it echoes every thought we’ve ever had about that one toxic ex – “And it’s not my fault you were unloved when you were a child” – and it lulls us into a deceptive moment of cathartic peace. This is promptly interrupted by the Slayer-esque thrash of CHILDREN OF SORROW, which fittingly features Lamb of God’s Willie Adler on guitar whose dirty riffs contrast deliciously with the polished, dark glamour of the synthy soundscape behind them. SICKO brings gothcore and goth gore with the gritty, tribal samples of Godflesh’s Like Rats chanting in the background, and I could honestly hear this track as the theme for a serial killer in a retro slasher flick.

The plaintive, introspective one-two punch of ASHAMED | (OF BEING BORN) follows in stark contrast as something of a despairing wake-up call. It’s the saddest techno pop you’ll ever hear, like MXMS meets Scandroid, and the unexpected addition of ballady acoustic guitars layered over laser synths in part two really hammers home the sense of hopelessness creeping through both tracks. DSM-V startles us back into the present moment with Rammstein-esque brisk guitar/synth pulses, and thematically by virtue of the song title, takes a delectable turn into an  exploration of our pathological fascination with everything that’s bad for us. Ending with the static, poignant DON’T TRY, it feels as if we are floating away from this plane of consciousness and towards a secret place, somewhere we can be safe to gaze at our innermost, darkest thoughts.

With ‘RAT WARS’, HEALTH have birthed a new sound for an uncertain generation, validating our fears and misgivings about the dystopian world we may be facing, while questioning the role we all wilfully play in the potential building of that world. The trio has crafted such a unique and distinctive voice in alternative music through the course of their career, and with this release, they have solidified their reputation as genre-fusing mavericks who have brought the underground to the surface.

Thanks to Dallas Does PR

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