RAT WARS showcases an ever-darkening world and an ever-growing band whose progressions inch more into the void just as our lives do

Release date: December 7, 2023 | Loma Vista Recordings | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Stream/Purchase

Feliz Jueves – this is a big day. New HEALTH is momentous for people like me who stew in the provocative haze and heaviness the trio play with. Or as they put it, ‘sad music for horny people‘. It’s been four years since a ‘solo’ LP dropped in VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, but let’s not sleep on either part of their DISCO4 series which, while collaborative in nature, saw the band really stretch their mechanical limbs a bit into other territories to great effect. The ride’s been good, and I’m so happy to say that this new album is one of their best yet.

RAT WARS is an album of extremes. It’s not like they’re going full-blown industrial metal or anything, but they’re inching their trademark sound toward the edge in many directions like it’s walking the plank of a cyberpirate ship, metaphorically edging with death, literally edging with the natural conclusions of their diverse music. The danceable parts are more catchy, the heavier sections carry more weight, and the emotions run at an all-time high with some of the most cutting lyrics yet. Yet this is still so profoundly HEALTH with little in the way of left-field characterization – Jake Duzsik’s voice is still so hauntingly captivating; BJ Miller’s drums thump, slam, and pulsate (assisted by producer Stint as well); and the various electronics (mostly done by John Famiglietti) still run the show texture-wise with dramatic stabs, abrasion, and openness when appropriate.

The best part is that none of the singles really give away what makes RAT WARS special, it’s mostly a treasure buried in the deep cuts, hidden in the nuance. “FUTURE OF HELL” gets first mention not only because of its place in the track list (second), but for its enormity. It sounds like goth/industrial night at a nightclub with knocking bass and serrated melodies made up of synth splashes and grinds backed up by throbbing drums. It’s a take on the crunchiness and rhythms that made me fall in love with the band the first time I heard “STONEFIST” and “MEN TODAY” off of DEATH MAGIC. This all skates pretty nicely into “HATEFUL” (which was a single), a tense, suspenseful song that sounds like it should be soundtracking a car chase in Cyberpunk 2077. Featuring some understated backing vocals from Street Sects‘ Leo Ashline, this is one of the more straightforward cuts and yet justifies its place by being one of the catchiest on RAT WARS. Think of the song that HEALTH and Perturbator did from DISCO4 :: PART I and you’re close.

That’s followed by “(OF ALL ELSE)” which is a sequel to “HATEFUL” and interlude-ish track that winds down the action of the latter song with metallic crashes and fading rhythms until it cascades into a vacant, destitute ending with glum, unprocessed (or at least less processed) guitars and nothing else, like you got the bad ending in a video game. The second sequelude of this kind, “(OF BEING BORN)”, does similar things in a more irradiated fashion and features more prominent vocals from Duzsik on top of faded buzzsaw synths and acoustic guitar (also performed by him). The lyrics here are some of the most dejected on the album capturing the looping nature of our day-to-day torment – ‘We see the body/How long left in me?/We see the morning/We’re all wearing down‘.

All of that pales in comparison to “DON’T TRY” though, the final song on the album and one of the most emotional non-collaborative song I’ve heard from HEALTH. Washed-out guitars, moaning atmosphere, and gentle vocals that sounds way more lively than the lyrics and tone demands. I love the relatable lyrics (‘Islands caught in the middle/Islands unto ourselves/I’ve been forced to remember/Everything I wanna forget‘) which really capitalize on RAT WARSelevator pitch of being ‘The Downward Spiral for people with at least two monitors and a vitamin D deficiency‘ (fucking lol).

Of course I can’t leave without mentioning “CHILDREN OF SORROW” which features Willie Adler from Lamb of God (a band they already collabed with on DISCO4 :: PART II) and his driving, steely guitar. He provides a dense, metallic chug to the track – some of the most prominent guitars you can hear on RAT WARS as this album is very much an electronics-first affair – which sets it apart and give it that DEATH MAGIC-era edginess like “FUTURE OF HELL” did. There’s also “SICKO” which features motherfucking Godflesh. This song is an industrial gem with Justin Broadrick’s vocals hanging in the back like nooses at gallows, and you can really hear his and Ben Green’s influence on the instrumentation which is very cold, callous, and calculated.

HEALTH get memed a lot because they’re, despite the tenor and mood of all their music, a delightfully unserious band. Famiglietti wore a body suit modeled after Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion (a character the band have an affection for and will find in much of their social media posts) around Anime Expo and DragonCon this year and turned it into a music video. And yet it’s these two apparently disparate tones that make the HEALTH mystique complete. What’s more relatable than a band channeling the malaise of modern dystopian life, where there’s fire and death present every meter or so on your doomscroll, where there’s news of the government being absolute motherfucking dickholes denying mass student loan forgiveness while sending hundreds of millions to fund wars across the world, and still drudging up the energy to put on a smile, laugh or make someone else laugh, perform, and persevere until we will a better world into existence or die trying?

In that sense, HEALTH are one of the most honest bands out there, a distillation of millennial depression and escapism, twisting the harshness of the world into something palatable for us, something worth living for, and it’s apparent that the band are still plenty embarked on this ongoing journey of what they can all do with it. Every album has seen a deft progression and gradual shift in the details of what they do, never half-baked, always well-earned. RAT WARS is the latest step, and history demands that we not take it as the final form of the band. This album is their darkest and most spread out yet because the world is the darkest it’s been in decades, and we are nothing if not stretched to our absolute maximums mentally, emotionally, and physically. So this is for all of us – the anxious, the poor, the baristas with a nose ring, the Discord lurkers, the habitual DoorDashers, the smokers, the overworked, the gamers, the gooners, the thrifters, the E-girls, the streamers, the meme page admins – YOU WILL LOVE EACH OTHER.

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

"I came up and so could you, and fuck the boys in blue" - RMR

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