Code Orange pushed the worlds of metal, hardcore and rock festival sleaze through a perpetual hazing during their I Am King and Forever cycles. The Pittsburgh group established dominance, creativity and a not-to-be-fucked-with attitude, consistently rewriting the standards of their peers, and continually exceeding them with each release. Their following is more cult-like, but like it or not, all look to the “Thinners of the Herd” to affirm the next sonic trend. Their fourth LP, Underneath, has every nuance they have ever dabbled with shifted into overdrive.
But first, the band would like for you to lose your hearing. Introduction “(Deeperthanbefore)” unleashes a literal slab of static and noise that might break any speaker over five years old; it’s partially a jump-scare, mostly a middle finger to critics who felt the soft stop-starts of their past work were a gimmick of weak songwriting. Jami Morgan has never been one for comfort, and this sentiment bleeds through second single and album highlight “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole.” The music video revealed he’d stepped away from drumming for the group, solidifying himself as the Code Orange frontman. The mix is sheer clarity and much less nauseous than Forever. There is still beeping, booping, pauses and glitches, but its nearly impossible to call these detours a creative ploy. It’s more like if Grimes’ child made metalcore.
The mid-section of Underneath has the most to unpack. “Who I Am” is a hybrid of dream-pop and electronica led by a pitch-corrected vocalist/guitarist Reba Myers. The cut is a huge risk that could find a home on active rock radio, but blazes a trail all its own. Concluding through jarring percussion, Code Orange demonstrate they won’t even sugar-coat one of their most accessible tracks. Wobbly electronics and loose-stringed guitar work introduce “Cold.Metal.Place,” later filling out lyrics with jarring samples of children’s voices. No instrument leads another, feeling immersive and dissonant at once.
“Sulfur Surrounding” and “The Easy Way” are where Code Orange hit a ceiling. The former initially feels like a ballad, but slips into trudging rocker territory. The synth accents here are only distracting, lacking a cohesive vision. The latter strives for hardcore’s sincere answer to Nine Inch Nails, and while driving and catchy, one can’t help but grin when Morgan speaks (raps?) of “A broken record in the basement / The old toy you used to play with.”
Underneath is not to be played on a dusty Bluetooth speaker or aloud to a friend on your phone. That experience is so far removed from many clever intricacies the rest of metalcore won’t be using for another two years. “Erasure Scan” is a case in point: one of the fastest and most frequently pummelling songs the group have ever written, playing over the sounds of a gun fight and police call. A moment so menacing, and yet it’s followed two songs later by “Last Ones Left,” the Code Orange equivalent to music for a Revlon commercial. Not even scattered, big-brained electronic samples can hide this moment of pandering to rock traditionalists. It’s a problem similarly heard again on “A Sliver,” greasy rock music merged with Billie Eilish for the hardcore sect, dragging along a chorus that never quite gels.
Code Orange usher in a new era with Underneath that will alienate sections of their audience, and bring their us-against-you might to places no Pittsburgh band have gone before. They’ve become masters of numbingly heavy and world-expanding metalcore, but operate within rock music more than they probably ever intended to. (Roadrunner)