Health goes heavy on ‘Slaves of Fear’

John Famiglietti is lamenting the state of heavy music in the early 2000s while looking out at the Swiss Alps the afternoon before a show in Stockholm. After the demise of nu-metal, it seemed that to be taken seriously, bands playing aggressive music had to keep getting angrier.

The result was bands lost sight of making good music, and the scene became cartoonishly dark before flatlining momentarily, according to the bassist and founding member of L.A.-based noise-rock group Health.

"Metal just screwed the pooch," he says. "Heavy really left the conversation for a while. We came up in the 'naughty aughties,' but we were missing a lot of the heavy music."

Health's self-titled debut album dropped in 2007, rife with machine-gun percussion and vocals ranging between syrupy sweet melodies to howling screams, often buried under screeching walls of feedback tied to off-kilter time signatures. Since then the band, rounded out by vocalist Jake Duzsik and drummer BJ Miller, has evolved its sound from industrial noise to something more along the lines of a darker, harder take on Tears for Fears. Think: dreamy synths and androgynous vocals punctuated by chugging guitars and sub-bass. Its latest, Volume 4: Slaves of Fear, might be the band's heaviest yet. But don't give the modern metal resurgence credit for that.

Instead, you can thank SoundCloud rappers. The Suicide Boys, Ghostmane, and City Morgue all play an influence on the band, and in the run-up to Slaves of Fear, Health even collaborated on a track with JPEGMAFIA. While on the surface these influences don't make much sense, it's a different story if you dig deeper. Famiglietti loves the production of trap music and the raw DIY feel of the SoundCloud scene in general.

"What they're doing is very unfinished a lot of the time," he says. "It's like, this song's one fucking verse, it's like a minute. That's really punk and hearkens back to where we came from in the noise days."

It's why "NC-17" off of Slaves of Fear sounds the way it does, all distorted bass with a thick, sexy groove running from front to back. "Obviously we didn't rap on it, but that's where we were sort of going [musically]," Famiglietti explains.

Health's music has always had an air of anxiousness, but it reaches a fever pitch on the band's latest. Whereas previous albums would balance out the aggressive industrial songs with major key, melodic tracks, the band intentionally eschewed that here to reflect on the times and maintain a singular vision. On Slaves of Fear, the band stuck with the sound-craft it developed on 2015's Death Magic while looking back to its earlier work to give the new record a heavier edge.

The album could've been released last year, but because the band had the time to keep tweaking songs, they took full advantage of it. Much of the record went through various permutations along the way, with the band working in the studio day after day, then taking a few months off from recording, coming back and cutting a song in half or bumping the BPM by ten.

"You're not like, 'Ah fuck, if only we could've [changed this],'" he says. "It's like, you could. You could just wait." Famiglietti knows this isn't a luxury other bands have, but he's intent to keep taking advantage of it while he can. "I don't know if it's the best way to make a record, but it's really awesome," he says with a laugh.

Famiglietti stresses that the album isn't a political statement, but a meditation on the current social climate as a whole and the way the internet shapes and affects perception.

"Things aren't actually that bad, he says. "It's just people are on their fucking phone and it's making them think everything is terrible and they're whipped up in the psychosis of it."

It might sound like he's passing judgment, but Famiglietti has fallen victim to it as well. He misses the days when Twitter was about photos of lunch and making jokes, for instance.

"Now it's fucking wall-to-wall angry vitriol, insane politics," he says. "It makes you so fucking depressed. It sucks."

That hasn't stopped Health from interacting with fans online or posting life-on-the-road clips to its Instagram story. Social media is just a highlight reel of everyone's lives, but Famiglietti says the band has as much fun on the road as it seems.

"This is our fucking tour and we're having a great time," he says. "We got in the game to tour, to live the lifestyle and that's why we're still here."

When we speak in March, the band still had a string of nightly European club dates on its calendar, with a few days off before their return to the United States. For the domestic leg, they're bringing hardcore punk/industrial band and fellow L.A. natives Youth Code along for the ride. The band loves playing Europe, but Famiglietti says coming home is nice because everything works the way you expect it to.

He's especially excited to come back to Detroit. Health last played El Club in September 2016 and Famiglietti fell in love with the venue, saying that it makes the city a destination for them when drawing up tour plans.

"Sometimes you play in Grand Rapids, or sometimes you play in fucking Pontiac. And then a lot of times on tour, you wouldn't even book [Detroit]," he says. For a long time, it was never obvious where the band could perform, despite Motown being right on the way when touring coast to coast. He says a lot of times, had the band known of a club-sized venue in the city that was available, they'd have played it.

"With El Club, there's a place to play in Detroit," he says. "That's where we're going to go."

Health performs with special guest Youth Code on Monday, April 22 at El Club, 4114 Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-279-7382; Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20+.

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About The Author

Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala is a senior copywriter and freelance reporter living on Detroit's northwest side. Since 2008 he's been published in The Daily Beast, Architectural Digest, Crain's Detroit Business, and Engadget, focusing on the humans behind entertainment, business, and tech.
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