Code Orange, Forever: Die Like a King
Like Nails, Deafheaven, or Full of Hell, you have to wonder how a band as extreme and commercially unpalatable as Code Orange are managing to achieve crossover success. From their fast-rise to touring headliners, a deal with Roadrunner, and coverage in Rolling Stone and NPR, it’s exciting to see a band so committed to artistic expression gain the recognition they have.
That’s what’s different about our current music culture, despite the financial collapse of the industry. It’s smaller and more concentrated, so whether you are a fan of them or not, artistically-driven bands like Code Orange can break through, where even ten years ago they would’ve been lost in a sea of corporate-subculture which rewards things they staunchly oppose.
They have no frontman. They alternate on vocals. Songs cut off abruptly. Riffs are dragged into the dirt and heard maybe once. Anti-Periphery, uncatchy dissonance is a focal point. Out of nowhere, we get melodic pop-rock. They invite controversy with their all-serious, cult-like image and rhetoric: if they don’t like your band, they will call you out.
There’s a part of me that, just like with Nails, finds all the hubbub boring unless I like the music. There comes a point where I really just want these bands to, as Zappa said, “shut up and play yer guitar.” But metal and hardcore music is so safe these days — you almost have to be in order to maintain business relationships with the few people and outlets that matter — that I kinda dig Code Orange’s “bring the beef” style, even when it verges on corny. Mainly because, for the most part, they bring the tunage. And partially because they’re from a great American city, Pittsburgh — a fightin’ town if ever there was one.
Musically, Forever‘s playbook aligns with the band’s last album, I Am King. Added years of touring, life, and songwriting experience have tightened up Code Orange’s game — but there’s also a dream-like quality about it, a nightmarish hardcore fever. So few bands in this genre are able to conjure up anything deeper than a pit-beatdown or head-bob, but Code Orange put themselves out there.
The songs are knit together with moves that the previous generation of post- and math-core bands pioneered: sudden stop-starts, glitchy electronic transitions, harsh noise, and mid-riff cutoffs. Forever is cohesive in a way hardcore records outside of Jane Doe or Ire Works rarely achieve. It’s paced like a movie, going ever deeper and darker towards horror-closer “dream2.” In the lick department, they bring some of their hardest, coolest ideas yet — especially the single-note lines of “Spy” and the polyrhythmic hits in the title track (which also boasts a sweet From Mars to Sirius esque whalecore-slide).
Because Code Orange are a heavy band who make records for heavy music audiences, the key controversial aspect of this album will be its melodic centerpieces, “Bleeding in the Blur” and “Hurt,” as well as aforementioned closer “dream2.” It might just be my love of pop/hooks, but this is the Code Orange I prefer. Not just for Reba Meyers’ moody, expressive singing on “Bleeding” — which may be their “Black Bubblegum” — but because they achieve through unfamiliar territory the very essence of what this band is about: impending doom. There’s a quality in the sparse, cleanly-strum opening of “Hurt” that’s just scarier and more effective than their usual “fuck the barricade”-core breakdowns.
Ultimately, the promise of something dangerous, which we know the band can deliver, gives their best songs the exciting terror of walking on a razor-wire. To my mind, Code Orange are still earning the dropped “kids,” when you consider the company they’re aiming for — but between this and I Am King, they’re building a really cohesive, surprising, interesting discography. And it’s the drive, the fact that they are aiming at all, in an arts world that values detachment and irony, that makes them important.