Death Magic arrives more than five years since Health released their last full studio album amid a swirling cacophony of noise and smoke that seeps out of the speakers like a sort of toxic presence. It sucks all the air out of the room before accusingly asking you what the hell you have been up to for the last half a decade, because Health have been doing THIS.
Following Get Color and their second remix album ::DISCO2, Health's soundtrack to the Rockstar video game Max Payne 3 pointed to their future. More cinematic in scope, the sound exhibited on that record felt distilled and amplified. Where the lo-fi production of The band's first two albums helped create the aesthetic the band are known for, their newer sound is all the darker for removing the blinds and letting the sheer volume stand tall and pure. Sometimes a little polish actually lets you hear more.
On original song Tears, taken from that Max Payne soundtrack, Health experimented with a more melodic sound combined with their trademark wall-of-noise - the result was an emotive centrepiece for the game's climatic final scenes, but more than that it stood out as the band's strongest work to date. Death Magic is what happens if you extend that widescreen ambition, a heart of darkness and an ear for pop music into full album territory, and it sounds a lot like the future.
After opening track Victim seeps into your skull it is brutally savaged by the slamming and acerbic bass of Stonefist, a track that feels like a break-up letter from your soulmate delivered wrapped around a brick. It is a stunning statement of how Health see music in 2015. Having toured with Nine Inch Nails in 2008 it is easy to see the LA band as Trent Reznor's natural successors, and if they are then Death Magic just might be their Downward Spiral.
The melodic edge and pop melodies introduced on Tears, and now here on Death Magic, only make what surrounds them feel more ferocious. The synths and big chorus of Flesh World (UK) rumble through a darkly blank vacant space, like Joy Division lost in the corridors or a warehouse rave, complete with lasers and a smoke machine.
And between those brief moments of light there is so much darkness. Early interlude track Courtship gets a sequel, and it is a pummelling assault on the senses. Even when the vocals echo through the darkness with innocent melody the vocals are often loaded like a switchblade, deeply cynical tells of a relationship so dysfunctional.
Only on Life, positioned at Death Magic's middle, does this apparent discomfort ease... Chants of "I don't know what I want, know what I don't, know what I want... No, nobody knows, nobody does, nobody knows" sound like they could be a confused anthem for a confused generation. It's weirdly uplifting - an abandonment of trying to understand and control everything.
The feeling you are left with is that Death Magic is what happens if you extend a widescreen ambition, a heart of darkness and an ear for pop music into full album territory. And it sounds a lot like the future.
Death Magic is out now through Loma Vista Recordings. Order on iTunes.