LA experimental trio HEALTH recorded their new album, RAT WARS, with producer Ajay Bhattacharyya, who’s better known as Stint. Stint’s previous production projects include Kesha’s 2020 album High Road and Danish pop artist MØ’s 2018 album Forever Neverland, which offers a clue to the sort of stylistic balancing act HEALTH wanted to execute on RAT WARS.
HEALTH were influenced by industrial figureheads Ministry and Nine Inch Nails when working on RAT WARS, as well as the contemporary EBM scene. Their fascination with EBM led to a collaboration with French producer SIERRA on the album’s lead single ‘HATEFUL’. The follow-up single, ‘SICKO’, samples Godflesh’s ‘Like Rats’, which appeared on the UK industrial titans’ debut album, Streetcleaner, in 1989.
To coincide with the release of RAT WARS, band member John Famiglietti takes us through the album one track at a time – though, Famiglietti declined to provide any commentary on the album’s lyrics, stressing that “the personal connection and interpretation of the audience is the greatest joy.”
HEALTH: RAT WARS
Johnny Famiglietti: In this song, we are fulfilling some long unrequited classic rock desires we’ve had from the beginning, and we personally feel it’s one of our finest moments. Much like Psychonaut on Vol. 4, this song is intended as a kind of a showcase of nearly everything that will happen over the course of the album in one song, setting the stage.
The original version of this song was written as an entrance theme for the wrestler KILLER/KARRION KROSS and was used for a short time when he returned to indies before being called back to WWE. The metal guitars and heavy arpeggiators on this one were re-produced/re-recorded from the original samples by the electronic producer SWARM. The guitar solo in the outro is played by Tyler Bates, the composer of such films as Guardians Of The Galaxy, 300 and more. The outro also features background vocals from Leo Ashline of Street Sects.
2. FUTURE OF HELL
Johnny: Listening in the car, a song randomly came on that just blew me away with this insane novel production and I immediately felt we had to have a moment on the record like this. I reached out to its producer, NEXY, and asked if he would write a song with us aping some of these techniques. He was like, “Dude, I’m in a different place right now, I’ll send you the samples if you want.”
So, we kind of pulled a Drake with this one, turning ‘Dark Thoughts’ into ‘FUTURE OF HELL’, which is a fusion of EBSM, phonk and industrial. The outro features some background vocals from Sara Taylor of Youth Code.
3. HATEFUL (feat. SIERRA)
Johnny: We have been listening to a lot of EBSM over the past few years and my favourite artist from that scene is definitely SIERRA. So, it was a no brainer to reach out to her for the album. Jake [Duzsik] featured on a song from her record, Holding on to Nothing, and she sent us this amazing arpeggiator riff and percussion.
The song came together in seconds with very little struggle as is the best of outcomes usually with music. The breakdown features backing vocals from Leo Ashline.
4. (OF ALL ELSE)
Johnny: Vibin’ ze Deutsch. Probably a terrible idea for the streaming era but fuck it.
5. CRACK METAL
Johnny: We were listening to a lot of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails while making this record and felt we could use some speed and aggression. This track we feel is quite interesting in terms of production and I guess what you could call melodic unpredictability. The outro once again features background vocals from Sara motherfuckin’ Taylor.
Johnny: This was an old demo we had for years that had almost been turned into several other songs. We went back to the drawing board and started completely fresh from the original demo, the post-apocalyptic dirge instead became dancier and catchier. EBM 2023.
7. CHILDREN OF SORROW
Johnny: If you’re wondering who is ripping this wild guitar, that’s Willie Adler from Lamb of God. And also if you’re wondering why this song sounds noticeably shittier than the rest, it’s because it’s my mix not Lars Stalfors’ mix. We felt this demo mix had more vibe – kind of how Rage Against The Machine used a chune from their cassette tape release on their self-titled album.
This song was a last-minute addition that we were hesitant to put on cuz we felt it sounded too much like our last album, Vol. 4, and in its place we had a spacey cool down song here. But the sequence just wasn’t gelling. By putting ‘CHILDREN OF SORROW’ in here we have inadvertently made the most “fun” HEALTH record to date.
8. SICKO (feat. Godflesh)
Johnny: As you might have gathered, this song samples the classic 1989 Godflesh record ‘Like Rats’. During the making of this album, we were listening to a lot of classic early Earache records. I got to meet Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick in person to ask his permission and he gave me the thumbs up.
Johnny: Definitely the pop song on the album that wouldn’t be terribly out of place on DEATH MAGIC. Jake brought in a nearly complete song with lyrics. But while written quickly, the production was obsessed over and changed many times over many months. Leo Ashline provides backing vocals.
10. (OF BEING BORN)
Johnny: This was a mostly-improvised, random interlude that ended up being Frankenstein-ed into ‘ASHAMED’ and it creates a great emotional moment. Taking a breath before the end of the album.
Johnny: As is HEALTH custom, every record always has two endings. Or maybe a climax and denouement. This is the climax. Bonus points if you recognised the reprise. Could not resist going industrial metal. SWARM again contributes heavy guitars and arpeggiators.
12. DON’T TRY
Johnny: The Durutti Cohen. As the curtain closes it is cut off abruptly. To be continued?