Review Summary: Code Orange prove that they just can't stay on task.
To a degree, I can understand Code Orange
’s mindset right now. It’s not uncommon for a band to be dissatisfied with their current direction, desiring to stretch their limbs into a more introspective field to their craft. And yeah, the writing was on the wall. Their 2017 album Forever
earned Code Orange a lot of exposure. It was a critical darling that drew in many new fans to the Pittsburgh metalheads’ filthy, brooding world. It was, by all accounts, the band’s breakout. It put them on the map.
However, anyone can tell you that success is taxing. Code Orange were bound to explore new sounds on their follow-up LP. It was inevitable. But Code Orange’s spontaneous EP of extras, The Hurt Will Go On
, was the siren alarm. It was the band proudly announcing their future, haters be damned. Safe to say, it was a controversial release. Some were thrilled at the group’s brutally extravagant aesthetic, but others found it to be obnoxious and atrociously mishandled. Regardless of which side of the fence you stood on, following up on such a divisive release was going to sound like either a triumphant unfolding of wings or a straight-up death knell. So Underneath
is upon us, and best hopes/worst fears confirmed. It’s exactly what everyone expected it to be.
Even for those who find Code Orange’s blaring use of metal and electronics to feel pressing and claustrophobic, it doesn’t take long for the spontaneous samples and interruptive shifts in tempo to just get on your nerves. “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” has the intensity of a metalcore anthem, but so much of that industrialized electronic noise coats that intensity, leaving a drenched, soggy mess that never reaches a full-on peak. It’s also what makes “In Fear”, “Erasure Scan”, and hell, pretty much Underneath
’s entire aesthetic so aggravating: these constant shifts, these glitched-out breaks in audio (that honestly sound like a CD skipping), they don’t settle into anything whole. It’s like a musical act switching songs mid-show and just not even mentioning it. So many of these moments cloud what would otherwise be interesting moods and some pretty ferocious vocals from drummer Jami Morgan. There’s just so much going on in Underneath
’s angrier, more frenetic moments that it’s difficult to stay focused. Code Orange take so much time and put in so much effort to throw whatever they can at the listener, that it doesn’t congeal into anything necessarily intense or imposing. It’s just distracting.
This conviction to the band’s aesthetic makes the more successful tracks all the more surprising. When Code Orange nail it, they really make their style work, against all odds. Despite its rampant noise, “Back Inside the Glass” is a roar of metal song, filled to the brim with suffocating anger and an oddly sensible use of distorted, noisy production. “Last Ones Left” is a pit-pleaser from start to finish, in spite of its lack of any real invention, and even tracks like “The Easy Way” have a sort of straight-ahead charm to them (even if it crawls back to Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine
at almost every opportunity). There’s a ton of potential in the sound of Underneath
. It’s just utilized in a pretty standard – and here’s the big red flag for the band - a remarkably safe way.
But nothing screams “safe” like the softer tracks. When Code Orange slow things down, things take a severe
hit. The mellower tracks are blatant capitalizations on accessible radio-friendliness, and they’re just not that fun to listen to either. The approachability of “Bleeding in the Blur” has obviously gone to the members’ heads, because Underneath
is so chock full of tracks that sound like imitations of what was already a pretty middling formula from their arguably infamous track from Forever
. “Who I Am” almost shamelessly draws from the book of Nine Inch Nails, while “Sulfur Surrounding” sounds like one of the softer cuts from All Hope Is Gone
-era Slipknot. “Autumn and Carbine” is easily the worst offender, and as a result, the worst track on the record, dashing between the template of “Bleeding in the Blur” to the book of nu-metal cornerstones Korn. But even that track, with its slithering groove, suffers from the indecisive moods and tonal start-and-stop that plague the more intense tracks. These songs’ quality isn’t really the fault of Reba Myers' vocals, which take command for a large portion of these tracks. Her voice is fine, albeit a bit one-dimensional, but across songs that run the radio rock playbook (from the uninteresting 90’s alt-rock throwback “A Sliver” to the totally sanitized title track), don’t expect to really fall in love with it. Like many tracks on this album, there’s potential, but it often goes unfulfilled.
does fulfill is Code Orange’s ambition to carve their own path and redefine their sound into something even Forever
couldn’t signify, but with that ambition comes a whole host of new challenges that I’m hesitant to believe the band is equipped to tackle. Between glimmers of true energy like “Back Inside the Glass” and “Last Ones Left” are so many flickering flames that just can’t collect into something truly focused and fully on-task. Underneath
is such an indulgent record, filled to the brim with sounds, styles, and shifts. It’s admirable, I’ll give them that, but it’s all so unfocused. Without that focus to show us, Underneath
is going to leave such an unclear footprint moving forward, but for better or worse, I don’t think the band really care. More power to ‘em, I guess.