On its latest LP, Code Orange reinvents pain.
by Joe Daley
In the past decade or so, metalcore has become depressingly unoriginal. The genre is represented in the mainstream by an army of generic bands that repeat the same formula, endlessly. It is hard not to take the “-core” suffix to mean “…but boring.”
Enter Code Orange. Never shy to smack-talk the competition, the Pittsburgh foursome backed up their claims to superiority with such fierce, ambitious records as 2012’s Love is Love/Return to Dust, and 2014’s I Am King. Those albums not only highlighted the band’s hardcore punk roots, but demonstrated a willingness to step outside the box. On Forever, their new full-length album, they smash that box to pieces and create something brilliant out of the wreckage.
The incendiary title track kicks the record off in violent fashion. Starting off with the words “When hands are caught in my brother’s pocket, I’ll burn my gods down” — spoken by a voice that seems to come straight from the seventh circle of hell — this track builds into a hyper-aggressive groove driven by a ripping guitar riff and thumping drums. But when the song starts to build, Code Orange throws a wrench in the works. Defying metalcore convention, the verse builds and eventually breaks, only to implode into a subdued, near-ambient section in which the guitars are replaced by sparse, buzzy synths. Guitarist and occasional vocalist Reba Myers chimes in here as well, lending some ominous singing to the backdrop. It’s these subversive twists and turns – which are introduced into each track — that make the album so great.
For instance, take “Real.” What starts off as a standard metalcore affair suddenly shifts into drum-driven industrial rock-esque territory, a dark sonic neighborhood littered with frightening whispers and fizzy bass synths. “Kill The Creator” is interrupted by an interlude that features no music — save for some anonymous thumping and glitchy synths. “The Mud” gives listeners a break from the walls of sound, swapping music for roaming bass synths that eventually give way to a choppy sample of a man repeating the word “suicide.”
Even when Code Orange plays standard metalcore, the band never stops innovating, spicing up the mix with subtle touches that keep listeners ears on their toes. Chugging riffs end on shrill high notes. Breakdowns come with a healthy dose of syncopation. There is no predictable song structure. Code Orange breaks the genre apart and reassembles it as they like, and the result is an exhilarating success.
The band casts aside genre constrictions entirely for the duration of “Bleeding in the Blur,” a standout track that places Reba Myers at center stage. In some ways, it calls to mind the metal-tinged grunge of the late ’90s. Boasting an ominous, yet catchy chorus, the song is the flowering of a seed that was planted on “Dreams in Inertia” from I Am King. It even features a tasteful guitar solo.
Lyrically, this album is inscrutably brutal; the lyrics are mostly unintelligible as performed. Highlights include “What once had significance is now just pestilence / It lays dead at our feet” (“Real”), “I wanna watch the lights go out / I wanna see you fade to black / I wanna feel you calling out / When no one answers…” (“Hurt Goes On”), and “Words out of both sides of broken mouths / The only words that stand to rule me” (“Forever”).
If the album has any drawbacks, it is the lack of a thrilling conclusion. For such a fiery album, “dream2” is a tad too weak and understated to be a proper kiss-off. But that letdown doesn’t make the album less of a triumph. This is a stunning show of creativity in a genre that desperately needs it. It makes you really want to believe what Jami Morgan screams on the title track — “Code Orange is forever.”
Joe Daley is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an English major focusing on alternative literature.