Imagine ever doubting Code Orange.
Three years ago, the band kicked the mainstream in the teeth with their Roadrunner Records’ debut, Forever – serving the uninhabited a taste of the group’s relentless intensity. That record broke the band into the Billboard Top 200, numerous spots on big-name festivals, countless collaborations ranging from JPEGMAFIA to Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, and ultimately a Grammy nomination. But for those aware of the Pittsburgh quintet’s work ethic, you already knew the band wouldn’t ever rest on just those laurels – a zero chance possibility that their next record would resemble its predecessor. Forever only skimmed the surface of the Grammy-nominated band’s uncompromising vision, laying the foundation to deliver their fourth full-length album Underneath – Code Orange’s most brutal and visceral music yet. It’s exactly what band leader Jami Morgan proclaimed to Rolling Stone earlier this year: “At the end of the day, that’s what we are about: disruption. down. we. go.”
No genre is left unexplored as Underneath conjures up ghosts ranging from The Prodigy to Type O, NIN, and Alice In Chains, yet nothing ever feels like a retread. There aren’t any bands creating what Code Orange is creating – a unique maelstrom that begins and ends with Underneath’s first two singles “Swallowing The Rabbit Whole” and the title track. Both tracks advance the band’s agenda in entirely different ways – “Swallowing The Rabbit Whole” immediately lays down the gauntlet with unsettling explosive breakdowns and disorienting electronic flourishes as Morgan growling, “Like birds of prey spitting out the bone/Like watching my dreams come and go/You’re staring into your new god’s soul/I’m swallowing the rabbit whole.” The track serves up a warning (“Or better yet what are you gonna do/When it comes your turn to pay time’s debt?”) to all the “little rat fuck kids and the pigs who sign the checks.” It’s an auditory tsunami that assaults your senses from every angle – a perfect introduction to the album.
The title track, on the other hand, closes out Underneath with a spiraling mixture of melody and pummeling industrial tones, succinctly summarizing the album’s ultimate missive. Reba Meyers unleashes one of the best choruses in the band’s discography while the spiraling guitar riffs and stop-and-go keyboard jitters make it instantly captivating. It dives into how one’s psyche when it’s in the shit of everything (“You think you know who you are until you’re under duress/You got it all figured out until you’re under the skin”) – a cutting analysis of when the tough gets going where do go? For Morgan and company, it’s always “down we go” – the finale is a reminder that even with all their success, Code Orange will never stray from the integrity they’ve possessed since day one.
Co-produced with Will Yip (once again) and Nick Rasculinecz (collaborated with the likes of Deftones, Mastodon, and Foo Fighters), Code Orange brilliantly fuse everything from hardcore to alt-rock to industrial. One moment, you’ll be trying to catch your breath from Balderose’s claustrophobic electronic glitches (the frenzied “Erasure Scan”) and in the next singing along to Reba Meyers’ soaring metal choruses (“Autumn and Carbine”) – with most times existing within the same track (“Who I Am” is just one of many tracks that should dominate SiriusXM’s Liquid Metal). The band have painfully perfected their craft, masterfully implementing technical inventiveness with an accessible immediacy that allows insane numbers like “Back Inside The Glass” and “Cold.Metal.Place” to reign terror through headphones.
The rapport between Meyers and Morgan’s Jekyll and Hyde vocal deliveries has never been stronger, and “Sulfur Surrounding” highlights this. Meyers’ powerful approach ping-pongs between soaring and snarling, serving as the perfect counterbalance to Morgan’s consistent barking behind the kit. It’s Meyer’s best vocal performance on a record full of them. The track is a flawless modern rock song – seamlessly transitioning between melody and mayhem (Meyers and guitarist Dominic Landolina unfurl roaring guitar licks that evoke memories of Baroness’ grandest moments) and not being afraid to take the opposite sides of the rock spectrum and blending it into something unheard of. Balderose has fine-tuned the frenetic glitches and breathtaking drops from Forever and weaponized it into something truly horrifying – a mad scientist approach along with Joe Goldman’s persistent bass work that ensures a flurry of panic behind every pulverizing breakdown throughout Underneath’s 48 minutes (“In Fear” and “Last Ones Left” instill a chaos that’ll never leave your bones).
If Forever?was the takeover, then Underneath is changing how one consumes and interprets heavy music. Honestly, even using the term “game changer” feels like a colossal understatement, as Code Orange is in the midst of turning the entire industry on its head for good. The duality of Underneath is equally cathartic and distressing – all at once super accessible and incredibly challenging. Underneath will undoubtedly be 2020’s only perfect album – a dark and twisted journey dispatched from metal’s most brilliant and defiant artists. And those foolish enough to think Code Orange had gone soft? Well, it’s time to pay the piper.