ALBUM REVIEW: Code Orange—’Forever’
Posted: by The Editor
There are a handful of reasons as to why Code Orange are currently the edgiest—in every sense of the word—band in hardcore. Three years ago they dropped the “Kids” from their name alongside the release of their breakout record I Am King, which ushered in a more metallic musical style as well as their now-infamous ‘we make scary music for scary people’ image. They’ve since gone on to play nearly every major hardcore festival (This Is Hardcore, United Blood, FYA Fest, etc.), tour with the Deftones, and hold a slot on the now-defunct “real metal” equivalent to Warped Tour, Mayhem Festival—while simultaneously making inflammatory comments toward Asking Alexandria and “bargain bin fucking deathcore bands,” without mentioning that both AA and loads of those deathcore bands (Emmure, Thy Art Is Murder, Suicide Silence) had played that very tour in the past. Remarks such as those, combined with their theatrically cryptic online presence, have left a sour taste in the mouths of many of their fans who caught interest after their Converge-esque 2013 debut Love Is Love // Return to Dust; leading to the derogatory label of “edgy” by such critics.
However, the band can be described as edgy in a positive way too. Their devastating sound and creative ethos are on the cutting edge of what it means to be a heavy band in 2017: essentially a mashup of everything metal touched in the past 20 years combined with a millennial disregard for conventions. Despite a couple of needless and slightly hypocritical lashes toward their peers, Code Orange have maintained a level of authenticity in both their music and their message that’s otherwise lacking within their ilk; garnering praise and reverence from respected hardcore figureheads such as Aaron Bedard (Bane) and Scott Vogel (Terror). They’re currently signed to the titanic Roadrunner Records, but they continue to honor their hometown and bring out an eclectic array of younger bands as support on the road (seriously, the baroque, goth-pop singer/songwriter Nicole Dollanganger is on their current tour. Literally who else in hardcore is doing that? Nobody.). On their Roadrunner debut Forever, Code Orange are determined to demonstrate just how far they can tinker with their sound while still remaining one of the heaviest bands in their scene.
The onslaught of pit fodder on I Am King successfully established their reputation as one of the most dangerous bands to experience live, but honestly the first three tracks on Forever might be their heaviest yet. “Forever,” “Kill the Creator,” and “Real” each feature crushing mosh parts, savory grooves, disgustingly dirty bass tones, and great examples of the band’s most distinguishing feature: the triple-threat vocal attack. Unlike comparatively heavy bands such as Harms Way, Blistered, and even Nails, Code Orange are constantly—and seamlessly—rotating between drummer Jami Morgan’s harsh yelps, guitarist Reba Meyers’ animalistic screeches, and guitarist Eric Balderose’s hellish growls, whereas those aforementioned acts are confined to one vocalist who often grows tiresome after half an album’s worth of such relentless material.
The vocal mixing on this record is superb, giving each vocalist a commanding presence within the harsh wall of noise. Even during sections where the vocals are layered on top of each other, such as the menacing chorus of “Spy” where each member is yelling in unison, or parts of “The Mud” where Meyers is clean singing in conjunction with Morgan’s barks, it never feels like anyone’s getting buried and the instrumentation never takes a hit.
Other bruisers like “The New Reality” and “No One Is Untouchable” sound like they could’ve been written during the I Am King sessions; they reinforce the band’s aggressive abilities, but they don’t really do anything that the first three tracks didn’t already do better. Therefore, it’s the odd combination of Trent Reznor worship and grungy melodicism found throughout the rest of the record that sets Forever apart, for better or worse.
“Bleeding In the Blur” is a catchy grunge song with a metallic tint to it that, on its own, is actually pretty solid. Unfortunately, its placement in the tracklist makes it feel more like a desperate changeup that too starkly contrasts the songs that come before it. The stylistically similar “Ugly” is the more memorable of the two grunge tracks and it comes about more naturally, as its moody bassline intro transitions nicely from the creepy synth outro of “Spy.” It’s interesting to note that these two don’t sound very similar to Adventures—the shoegazy, alt-rock side project of Meyers, Morgan and bassist Joe Goldman, among others—because it further proves the band’s collective versatility and shows that they didn’t just take the easy way out and toss in a couple Adventures B-sides.
Code Orange songs sans unclean vocals might be the biggest outliers, but it’s the inclusion of numerous industrial metal interludes, intros, and outros that come across as the most daring. However, these instances produce varying degrees of success. The mechanized ringing that’s weaved into the breakdown of “Real” is incredibly frightening and the vocal distortion and chopping earlier in the track is interesting too. The disorienting synth arpeggio at the end of “Spy” that bounces between the speakers also effectively sets a dark mood.
However, for whatever reason the band is never able to flesh out this direction successfully into a full track, and at times these elements even feel like irritating distractions. The second to last song “Hurt Goes On” suffers from a mindlessly boring first half before finally exploding into a genuinely captivating, powerful riff accompanied by ravenous gang vocals. It’s one of the most intriguing moments on the second half of the album—recalling everything good about Antichrist Superstar-era Marilyn Manson—but it only appears for roughly 30 seconds of the four-minute track. Closer “dream2” is ominous, atmospheric, and features haunting clean vocals by Meyers that actually reminisce their tourmate Nicole Dollanganger. Nevertheless, the song feels like it’s building into something the whole time and then never does; instead it abruptly ends mid-note.
Neither of these songs are fully satisfying and they’re completely overshadowed by both the heavier and more melodic moments on Forever, but they at least show some promise. It’s sections such as the random instrumental cuts in the middle of “Real,” “The Mud,” and “Kill Your Creator” that are completely unnecessary; failing to set a spooky, horror movie-type mood, and instead killing the pace of otherwise great songs. The off-kilter pauses in the intro track on I Am King were unique at the time and still sound intimidating today, but they didn’t need to be replicated in such a gimmicky way on this record.
Nevertheless, Code Orange exhibit a fearlessness toward innovation in a genre that’s utterly obsessed with nostalgia. They’re a band who’re committed to the future of hardcore; one that’s not bogged down by repetitive records and divided by made-up rules that attempt to define what “real hardcore” is. Their efforts to experiment on Forever don’t always hit the mark, but their bravery to try basically whatever they want and proudly present it to a scene with a fickle fanbase that often dismisses individuality as trendy garbage, is commendable at the very least. Again, Forever isn’t perfect, but its lack of cohesion actually opens up a slew of possibilities that this young, passionate band can explore with more focus going forward.
Eli Enis | @eli_enis