Release Date: 13.03.20
For Fans Of: NIN, Alice in Chains, Anaal Nathrakh
Label: Roadrunner Records
In 2017 Code Orange put the heavy music world on notice with Forever. It was an entirely fresh blend of hardcore stomp, hip-hop sensibilities, and a sprinkle of anthemic alt-rock songwriting. Not only did it seem to embolden other hardcore artists to incorporate similar elements to their music, it pushed Code Orange firmly into the spotlight with a Grammy nomination, a guest appearance from Corey Taylor on follow-up EP The Hurt Will Go On, and even led the band to record remixes for alt-J and an entrance theme for WWE superstar Bray Wyatt. So it’s fair to say that their fourth album, Underneath, comes with quite a bit of expectation. The individuals within Code Orange are never going to allow themselves to be beholden to any kind of expectations save for the extremely high creative bar they set for themselves. However it is a pretty big ask to try and top what they have achieved so far. Of course, they’ve only gone and bloody done it!
It feels weird to think now, but after listening to Underneath, it feels like Forever really was just a taste of what was to come. A mad blueprint which showed just what could be possible. You can indeed write absolute monster songs while retaining hardcore sensibilities. You can subvert expectations, but still deliver something relatable to a huge number of people. You can ride on the cutting edge in the 21st century and keep it heavy. Most importantly, Underneath shows that when you push these things to the furthest possible degree, it’s possible to produce pure magic. From the opening synth pulses of ‘(deeperthanbefore)’ to the very last glitched-out electronics of the title-track, we are sucked into Code Orange’s world. A world just as much inspired by psychological horror as it is by The Matrix. Everything about the record is designed to keep you on your toes, from seemingly random pauses and glitches in ‘Swallowing the Rabbit Whole’ to the jarring musical shifts found on almost every track. It really shouldn’t work and every second has clearly been meticulously planned out, but such is the ability and bravery of the band that these moments feel organic and chaotic, and they all end up causing the exact intended effect; pulling you deeper down the hole.
A large part in helping this is how each track flows into the next. Even with the more definitive break between ‘Autumn and Carbine’ and ‘Back Inside The Glass’, the transition still seems almost seamless thanks to those small electronic jitters. The most effective of these transitions can be found between ‘In Fear’ and ‘You And You Alone’, as the former seems to be winding down from its hardcore beatdown the most harrowing of screams is unleashed in your ears before they are battered with a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a tech-death record. Underneath is clearly designed to be listened to as a whole and it rewards your attention handsomely.
This cohesiveness is made all the more impressive by the huge range of ground covered in terms of musical influence. ‘Who I Am’ combines the industrial gleam of Nine Inch Nails, the laid-back swing of lounge music, and the atmospherics of John Carpenter to inexplicably end up as one of the most immediate tracks on the album. Elsewhere you can find the grungy undertones of Alice In Chains on ‘Autumn and Carbine’, the esoteric side of electronic music on ‘The Easy Way’ , and Dilllinger-esque mathy hardcore on ‘Erasure Scan’.
With everything here being of such high quality it feels like a bit of a misnomer to call ‘Sulfur Surrounding’ the highlight of the record, but if there is one song which might just strap the rocket to Code Orange it’s this. Once more Underneath shows that its true strength lies in its vision and the song is made all the more impactful thanks to ‘Cold Metal Place’ which directly precedes it. Musically, the two songs are leagues apart, but on repeat listens that final minute acts like an extended intro. In many great films you usually find that an iconic scene is really built-up to in some way and on repeat viewings knowing what’s coming makes the journey even better. Here it is the exact same deal, and by the time that opening lead line comes in there is nothing to be done but listen in awe. Progressive, anthemic, brutally heavy and utterly undeniable, by writing a song like this and using it on a record in this way, Code Orange are showing just how far in front they are right now.
It turns out that Forever was merely a polite wake-up call. Just as everyone else was blinking the sleep from their eyes Underneath sees Code Orange kick the bedroom door down and set the place on fire. For years heavy music seems to have been looking for the band to anoint as saviours and thrust it back into the forefront of popular culture, inspiring a whole new generation. Only time can tell if they are the band to do it, but if it’s not Code Orange and it’s not this album, it’s hard to see it ever happening. Regardless, for those who know, this is what we’ve been waiting for.
Savour it and enjoy it, records like Underneath don’t come around very often.
Rating : 10/10
Recommended Tracks: All of it!