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As the saying goes: ‘growing up is hard to do.’ Although some might argue, that growing up in hardcore is even more difficult.
For Pennsylvanian wrecking crew Code Orange (once innocuously branded under the moniker Code Orange Kids), their fruitful seven-year career has not been without ups, downs and growing pains. After two albums – 2012’s ‘Love Is Love/Return To Dust’ and 2014’s ‘I Am King’, both recorded with mentor and engineer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou – as part of the reputable Deathwish Inc. label, their newest and third LP ‘Forever’ sees the four-piece stretching their caustic and devastating brand of hardcore fury under the famous Roadrunner Records umbrella. And while sharing a label with diverse acts like Alter Bridge, Slipknot and Dream Theater might, on the surface, seem an odd fit for such a young and unapologetically aggressive band, a few spins of their latest album reveals sound reasoning behind such a decision, and it also hints at the band’s future prospects.
For ‘Forever’, Code Orange returned to God City Studios in Salem, Massachusetts to work with long-time collaborator Ballou, while also recruiting Will Yip, whose production talents can be felt across releases from a wide range of acts including Turnover, Title Fight, Blacklisted and Code Orange’s alternative side project, Adventures – fronted by guitarist Reba Meyers. Sonically, ‘Forever’ treads very similar territory to that of ‘I Am King’, with screeching, dissonant guitars, thick and rumbling bottom-end and punchy double-kick bursts. The first third of the album contains far and away the most hostile and hard-hitting material of the bands music to date, with the first three tracks, in particular, forming a triumvirate of hyper-aggressive, mosh pit ragers which provide a much stronger start to ‘Forever‘ than the languid, droning chugs of the early moments of ‘I Am King‘.
On the album’s title track, drummer Jami Morgan and guitarists Meyers and Eric Balderose trade equal shares in a vocal cacophony, pitched against sheer, sliding walls of guitars which create a moody and unnerving atmosphere. That sense of unease becomes truly palpable when bassist Joe Goldman lays down some seismic grooves in amongst frantic bursts of percussion and discordant riffs on the murderous ‘Kill The Creator’. Electronic and mechanical glitches announce the arrival of ‘Real’, as Code Orange build to an impressively abrasive yet short-lived crescendo, all before a massive, double-kick propelled breakdown annihilates everything in it’s path. Reprieve from this vicious onslaught comes in the form of standout ‘Bleeding In The Blur’, which sees Meyers use her clean vocal range for maximum impact on a slow-burn, alternative/grunge track which recalls her work in Adventures, as well as other staple acts like Alice in Chains or even Nirvana. It’s also the lyrical peak of the album, where most of Code Orange’s vocals tend to serve more as instrumental bookends for pit calls and side-to-side destruction, Meyers drops a catchy yet scathing critique of mainstream music fodder, with a chorus that rings loud and clear in both its focus and intent: “You’re bleeding into the blur/You’re dying in a ditch/Paint the picture how you want/It’s yours to make fit.”
However, despite these rather excellent moments, ‘Forever’ is not a flawless endeavour and its faults can be effectively wrangled into two distinct categories: pacing and sequencing.
On ‘I Am King‘, Code Orange dabbled with sudden, ambient segues and industrial, electronic soundscapes, which helped to lend a sense of definition between the passages of bludgeoning mosh. And while these elements definitely make a return on ‘Forever’, their impact is far more distracting than entertaining. Songs like ‘Spy’ and ‘The Mud’ suffer from these interruptions and often feel stunted or under-realised, leaving the listener hanging on to some obscure, repeated pattern and drone-noise glitch, waiting for a payoff that never arrives. In terms of sequencing, the last two-thirds of ‘Forever’ feels uneven and messy compared to the razor-sharp edges at the beginning of the record. Both the anti-anthem ‘Ugly‘ and the punishing ‘No One Is Untouchable‘ are worthy of note, however, the final two tracks feel utterly redundant in comparison to the volatility of tracks like ‘Kill The Creator’ and ‘Real’. The Nine Inch Nails-aping, nu metal instrumental ‘Hurt Goes On’ severely lacks Code Orange’s trademark lyrical bite, and when Morgan deadpan raps “The next time you use your big boy voice/Next time you choose to speak my name” – it’s almost cringe inducing. Finally, ‘dream2’ merely feels like an afterthought used to pad out the track listing, offering nothing exciting and instead, capping off ‘Forever‘ with three minutes of poorly mixed guitars and tired vocals that are instantly forgettable. And considering just how memorable the first half of this record is, that’s a shame.
Speaking with Rolling Stone, Morgan offered a suitably defiant description of ‘Forever’ and the band’s motivations: “Everywhere we’ve turned, we’ve met a lot of ‘You’re not this enough for this, or that enough for that.’ ‘Forever’ opens it up by saying, ‘Fuck you, we’re here. We’re gonna do whatever the fuck we wanna do, and there are no rules.’” And while that sentiment is something that should be encouraged, especially in this era of diluted and plainly manufactured, major-label trash, listening to music is still an entirely subjective experience. ‘Forever’ definitely has the makings of a good album, but it is not a great album. With 11 songs over 36 minutes, the album suffers from a little too much filler, and weird (albeit creative) stop-gap moments, rob the darker, aggressive tracks of their momentum and pure destructive power. A conscientious approach to sequencing, pacing and clear, focused direction (evident on standouts like ‘Kill The Creator’ and ‘Bleeding In The Blur’) would allow the band to find their feet and bare their gnashing teeth.
Deep inside Code Orange is the potential for a genre-defining, classic album, and while ‘Forever’ might not be it, we cannot wait for it to break out of them!
- Kill The Creator
- Bleeding In The Blur
- The Mud
- The New Reality
- No One Is Untouchable
- Hurt Goes On
‘Forever’ is available January 13th through Roadrunner Records. You can read our interview with Code Orange’s Jami Morgan here.