With their third album, 2017’s ‘Forever’, Code Orange broke the mould. Their unique take on hardcore, which pulled in jagged fragments of industrial metal, goth, grunge and caustic punk, forced their peers to re-evaluate their own approach and the world to sit up and take notice.
As a result, the band’s fourth record arrives with a weight of expectation that most bands would be crushed by. And when the Pittsburgh quintet released the first taste of the new album, its brilliant titular single, ‘Underneath’, was perhaps inevitably met with a chorus of disappointment. It’s surprisingly melodic – dare we say anthemic? – with a Nine Inch Nails indebted chorus, and some fans were concerned they were playing it safe.
It was a red herring, of course, and it takes all of 30 seconds of opener ‘Swallowing The Rabbit Whole’ for Code Orange to blow away any concern that they’ve gone soft. Led by a horribly sinister piano, punctuated by caustic blasts of rage from drummer-turned-frontman Jami Morgan, it feels like being dragged into the bowels of the bleakest of horror flicks. ‘In Fear’ follows, exploding with a ferocious maelstrom of violence, and by the end of ‘You And You Alone’s cold, hard, clinical mauling, it’s clear this band are not fucking about.
What has always set Code Orange aside, even back in the day when they released their early material under the moniker Code Orange Kids, is their hunger to innovate and experiment, flipping between musical styles on the edge of a blade. ‘Who I Am’ sees guitarist and co-vocalist Reba Meyers set down almost dreamy vocals over an Alice In Chains churn and ‘Sulfur Surrounding’ is rain-drenched goth lament, until glitching cyber-fused guitars come in mid-track and smash up the short-lived serenity. ‘Back Inside The Glass’ is two-and-a-half minutes of relentless, harsh and suffocating intensity.
You never know quite what’s about to happen, but no matter which sonic mask the band slip on, they sound terrifyingly comfortable wearing it. This unpredictability is what makes Code Orange and ‘Underneath’ such a thrilling listen.
This is a band that wants their records to make you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. Jami has commented that with ‘Forever’ they wanted to create an album that was “artful and thoughtful but that also hurt”. ‘Underneath’ surely surpasses that vision. This record will draw blood and raise bruises, a game-changer that has raised the bar once again.
Release date: March 13
Record label: Roadrunner Records