By Tim Cornwell
Band: Code Orange
Release date: March 13, 2020
When I was 16 years old, I snuck out of my house and caught a ride from an older friend to a Fun Fun Fun Fest pre-show. This was my first hardcore show and one of the most formative nights of my life.
While waiting in a line wrapped around the block, I got to hear openers Code Orange Kids live for the first time. I was disappointed to end up missing their set as I had been listening to their debut full length album Love is Love / Return to Dust on repeat weeks prior to the show, a record I still revisit nearly seven years later. Fortunately, I was still able to properly see them at their festival slot and two more times in the following years.
The band’s live show has always been a captivating sight. Not only are they excellent live performers but versatile musicians as well, as displayed on the Adventures album Supersonic Home, a catchy indie rock project featuring three members of the band.
In the year following my discovery of the band, they relabeled themselves as simply “Code Orange” as a display of change and growth within the band’s sound and image. Their follow up record I Am King was well received and propelled them into becoming one of the most popular new bands within hardcore, and soon after aggressive music in general with their Grammy nominated 2017 major label debut Forever.
Admittedly, my interest in the band began to dwindle with this rebranding and the vague, almost mindlessly over-the-top messages and themes associated with this rebrand such as grouping their fanbase into being called “thinners of the herd” and essentially making cocky music about how good their music is, hence title tracks “I Am King” and “Forever,” as in “Code Orange is forever”.
On the contrary, I don’t think Code Orange is going to be forever and their latest effort solidified that belief. Their second major label release Underneath is what a band in the midst of an identity crisis looks like. Their shift towards making this brand of glitched out metalcore is Code Orange going through the playbook of a band like Vein who aced this sound on their 2018 debut Errorzone.
Their attempts at incorporating an industrial influence comes across as half baked and would be best left to the likes of Ministry or Skinny Puppy. Underneath sounds rushed and is the worst sounding record the band has put out yet, despite having all the resources a major label like Roadrunner could provide at their disposal.
One of the more unique aspects of Code Orange was witnessing their drummer Jami Morgan take on double duty by also doing vocals on most of the band’s tracks. Judging by recent footage from their current album cycle, this seems to be no more as he has now moved to center stage doing lone vocals while the band has brought a new drummer on board, a change I was disappointed by.
The last two Code Orange albums have had singles that hold intentions of being accessible, such as “Dreams in Inertia” on I Am King and “Bleeding in the Blur” on Forever. This creative recurrence was quadrupled on Underneath which contains four clean vocal tracks, an all-time high for the band, marking a shift towards a more consistently accessible sound that doesn’t bode well.
Overall, I was disappointed with this record and the changes it brought to the band with it. It feels thrown together to maintain a deadline more than the band feeling truly inspired, like they’re just going through the motions. The attempts at channeling assorted influences aren’t fluid and come across as inconsistent rather than a display of flexibility or variety.
The band’s decision to go with a less abrasive route with a third of the album containing clean vocals was an unapologetic cash grab. I didn’t particularly hate I Am King, but this album was just plain cringey.
Featured image via Code Orange.