For all the intense instrumentation and weighty distortion that can be crammed into a noise record, often it’s the subtleties that leave a lasting impression. While one would think that such subtlety would elude a group such as Health, known for producing music of a very certain (and very loud) electro-industrial-noise-pop-dance-rock nature, Slaves of Fear hints that they aren’t always so far from the more refined and consistent side of the genre.

The extent of Health’s genre-blending on Slaves of Fear reaches far greater breadths than any of their previous material. To some extent, it’s no wonder they’ve accumulated such a far-reaching sound, considering the artists they’ve worked with since 2015’s Death Magic. Exposed not only to the likes of fellow electro-industrialists Perturbator and Youth Code, but also indie staples Soccer Mommy and Purity Ring and numerous others on their two albums of remixes (Disco3 and Disco3+), Slaves of Fear attempts to bring these influences together under Health’s usual umbrella of violent loudness and danceable sub-basslines.

On some level, Health enjoy quite a large degree of success in this endeavour. Opener ‘Psychonaut’, with its eerie steel guitar intro followed by Health’s usual ferocious drumming and EBM beats, is unrelenting and scatty, underpinned by good songwriting and multiple ambitious phases. Combined with its follow-up, the sludgy, dance-worthy ‘Feel Nothing’, and there’s a definite sense of occasion to Slaves of Fear beyond anything the band have previously attempted. Furthermore, the aforementioned dissection of genre labels manifests itself throughout, from the obviously trip-hop, Massive Attack’s ‘Angel’-inspired ‘NC-17’, through to the more reflective closer ‘Decimation’, one of Health’s slowest tracks yet. Slaves of Fear also continues to demonstrate many of the qualities that made Health stand out in the first place. Jake Duzsik’s vocals remains refreshing within a genre that usually croaks, screams or growls, and in the production there’s a scale to the desolate emptiness of certain phases that provides an apt setting for much of the ultra-aggressive noise that follows.

However, as much as Health manage to retain the more impactful sides to their sound, they also cling on to more irritating past tropes. As demonstrated by song titles such as ‘Psychonaut’, ‘God Botherer’, ‘Decimation’ and so on (stylised, of course, in all-caps), they’ve retained a tendency for overly-serious melodrama that permeates most of the disc, screaming of self-importance and a lack of self-awareness. Accompanying this is a fetish for hyper-aggressive, rattling drum-fills, used as a substitute for creatively conjuring drama and aggression. A constant fixture of Slaves of Fear, the use ear-splitting drumming as a vehicle between instrumental passages appears on at least six of the album’s twelve tracks, growing ever more grating and only indicating that the band could think of little better to do than just wallop the drums for a few seconds.

That being said, Slaves of Fear still contains some of Health’s most accomplished material yet. The album’s pacing doesn’t falter as it did on Death Magic, and very few artists have as much success summoning these levels of intensity without sacrificing impact over the course of a record. While it may be held back by Health’s usual faults, Slaves of Fear demonstrates clear progression from their past material and they remain one of the most aggressive, accessible and stylistically varied artists in the current electro-industrial wave.