Make no mistake, Code Orange have never been a band to rest on their laurels. Keeping their fanbase – and themselves – guessing what’s next, the Pittsburgh five-piece have strayed from the hardcore path that shaped them, delving into grunge, melodic rock and glitchy metal across their illustrious discography. Returning with their long-awaited fifth record ‘The Above’, it marks their first album since 2020’s ‘Underneath’, a record NME described as “game-changing, forward-thinking hardcore.”
There’s a similar expectation set as the creepy, murky opening to ‘Never Far Apart’ kicks off ‘The Above’. Underpinned by a sense of unease, vocalist Jami Morgan’s soaring vocals in the chorus are merely a false alarm as the track flicks a switch to inevitably descend into an abrupt, bone-crushing breakdown. This microcosm is a firm reminder that Code Orange are bound to catch you off guard, as they’ve done all their career.
Enter Billy Corgan. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman features on ‘Take Shape’, a single accompanied by a music video set in a spin-off of The Truman Show. The track is a giant middle-finger to the naysayers who plant barriers in the way of individuality, boxing you into convention. As Corgan sings “Spread your wings / show us who you are” virtually a capella – save for a whisper of acoustic guitars – Morgan plummets off the top of a skyscraper, unleashing his freedom once and for all. It’s fitting that the track has the most quintessential Code Orange sound on the whole album, a marker of the identity they’ve pioneered, courtesy of some serrated riffage and a brutally melodic chorus.
The album, frustratingly, proceeds on a perplexingly flat note. Clocking in at 14 songs, one wonders if the ferocity of ‘Grooming My Replacement’ could have completed a memorable ten-track collection, with the final few tracks lacking that consistent cutting edge. The catchiness of ‘Circle Through’ feels somewhat of an outlier, a stale chord progression not quite hitting the heights of 2017’s melodic masterclass ‘Bleeding In The Blur’. Whilst ‘Snapshot’ is a welcome injection of pace, the closing duo of ‘But A Dream…’ and title track ‘The Above’ feel lethargic in relation to an otherwise eclectic album.
Then again, this is the bar that Code Orange have set. Continuing to innovate on ‘The Above’, their every left turn is a sign of an unequivocally purposeful band.
- Release date: September 29, 2023
- Record label: Blue Grape music