Code Orange
Underneath



Release Date: 2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: "Staring into your new god's soul"

Few bands have had career arcs as bewildering as Code Orange. Their radical stylistic progression has made them one of the most divisive metal bands with the likes of Deafheaven and Ghost. The more the band drifts further from what they started with Love is Love//Return to Dust, the more polarizing they get. Underneath serves as the near-antithesis of Return to Dust’s ragged moodiness, a maximalist spectacle aiming for mainstream audiences. While this might seem like a bastardization of everything that once made this band promising - absolutely the case in the eyes of their detractors - Code Orange have in fact created their most ambitious and satisfying record yet.

Part of what makes the band’s ascent exciting is the level of ease with which they are able to deploy their tricks. One of the most recognizable aspects of Code Orange’s sound is their use of jump cuts: often used to create negative space in order to make a riff hit harder, the band took the concept to a new extreme with their last record Forever, where jump cuts interrupted a song’s otherwise straight-forward progression in order to disorient the listener. These cuts were the main crux of Forever, but on Underneath they feel like a garnish to the main course, showing up to give the listener a quick jolt on songs like “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” and “In Fear”. It fits nicely with how ever-present the electronic elements have become due to guitarist Eric “Shade” Balderose fully immersing himself behind the boards: now the band are able to expand Forever’s queasy ambiance into a suffocating, glitched-out hellscape equally weighted with the traditional rock instruments instead of just being sprinkled into the background. Most of all though, the band have just gotten better at their instruments. With such riffs as the tremolo picking of “You and You Alone” or the multidirectional guitar squeals of “Cold.Metal.Place”, Code Orange are able to pounce at a higher velocity than anything on their previous records. Part of the reason for this upgrade comes from frontman Jami Morgan shifting away from performing drums and vocals simultaneously and instead focusing solely on his vocal performance, with this album bidding farewell to his tenure behind the kit. While this move mares one of the group’s more recognizable aspects, what they get in return is an increased nimbleness in songwriting, free from the restrictions of feasibility for a live setting. While Forever and I Am King are more menacing records, there’s more muscle to Underneath’s riffs that make it feel like their heaviest work.

That reduction in menace is largely due to the more radio friendly tracks that make up half the tracklist. When a band aims for mainstream appeal, it usually gets labeled as playing it safe, but there’s a lot at risk for heavy acts who pull this move. If the songs aren’t there, then you’ve turned away your original audience for little to no reward. Code Orange, however, don’t have anything to worry about, as all of the more mainstream tracks here are addictively catchy and replete with excellent choruses. A lot of that comes down to how the band arranges their vocals, their biggest secret weapon amongst many. Morgan and guitarist Reba Meyers serve as the main vocalists of Underneath, with Shade occasionally popping in to do gutturals, and each of them provide wonderful chemistry with each other. Whether it’s the impassioned duet of “Sulfur Surrounding” or the layered approach found on the title track, there’s clearly a lot of thought put into creating memorable vocal hooks that rival anything being played on the radio. Another factor to why Underneath’s more accessible moments work is the instrumental interplay between Meyers and newcomer guitarist Dominic Landolina, whose guitar harmonies really give “Autumn and Carbine” and “The Easy Way'' the anthemic pulse needed to make them soar. Even with this aim for mass appeal, there’s still enough strange textures and jarring rhythmic choices to make these songs sound peculiar, like the sputtering bridge of “Who I Am” or the clanging rave outro of “A Sliver”. Underneath is the kind of record I want radio stations to be playing: it’s harsh and experimental but nevertheless inviting. There’s something thrilling about hearing the more melodic cuts interspersed with the more extreme tracks, like the band are easing unacquainted listeners into the world of harsher and heavier music. If someone who was lured in by the title track or “Who I Am” gets blindsided by the ferocity of tracks like “You and You Alone” and “Erasure Scan”, then mission accomplished.

It may be more nu than new, and in fact that’s a lot of the reason why they’ve become as hotly disputed as they are. A lot of people take umbrage with the band’s boastful claims of being the most innovative heavy act around, with Jami Morgan going as far as to claim that Underneath is “more relevant than anything that’s coming out in rock and metal this year. Period.”, even though they’re a borderline 90’s nostalgia act taking cues from grunge, nu metal, and Nine Inch Nails’ style of industrial rock. This is especially disheartening for those who got into the band because of the quieter moments on Return to Dust, and seeing Code Orange devolve into try-hard nu metal cheese feels like wasted potential in their eyes. I can see where they’re coming from, because the reason I found this album so alluring is because of how well it captures the spirit of 90’s alternative metal and nu metal, cheese included. It’s an album where the phrase “sounds like it belongs on the Johnny Mnemonic soundtrack” could be used by both its harshest detractors and its ardent supporters.

Underneath is a goofy album. When I hear Morgan shout lines like “I’D DO ANYTHING AT ALL/JUST TO CUT THE LEGS OFF/A MAN SWALLOWS HIS SON/THE SON MEETS THE BOOGEYMAN” I can’t help but laugh at how seriously the band takes itself. Yet at the same time that self-seriousness is part of the band’s charm. You may scoff at Code Orange’s claims of being the heaviest and most forward-thinking band today, and yes the band’s “Last REAL ones left” marketing gimmick can be a bit grating, but that’s besides the point. What matters is that THEY believe they’re the heaviest and most forward-thinking band today, because that confidence is what gives Underneath its pulse. I’m usually put off by metal bands that take themselves too seriously, as aloofness for me is a turn-off in a genre that works best when it acknowledges its inherent absurdity. In Code Orange’s case they dive head first into absurdity but refuse to wink to the audience, which means that every single idea, no matter how outlandish, is delivered with unwavering conviction. Take for instance “Back Inside the Glass”, a comically intense rebuke against social media addiction filled with abrupt samples and ridiculous voice modulation. It’s by far the silliest track on the album, but because of how convinced the band are of their own work, the song ends up winning you over, and sure enough you’re right there with the song yelling “OPEN THE DOOR! OPEN THE ***ING DO-“. The band’s self-seriousness belies a giddiness present throughout this entire album that makes even its goofiest moments feel camp and endearing.

While it’s easy to poke fun at Underneath’s ludicrous moments, I don’t want to overshadow the amount of depth in the record’s concept. Underneath inquires about how much of yourself to put into your online image, how that image can be used to manipulate others regardless of intention, and whether that image even represents yourself at all. “Who I Am” uses the pitiful story of Bjork’s stalker to compare the ways people invasively invest themselves in another’s online presence, while “The Easy Way” embraces the artifice, accepting that breaching the digital barrier will only lead to disappointment. “In Fear” is a cancel culture song where the phrase “cancel culture” is thankfully absent, whose song structure replicates the anxiety of uncovering another’s worst deeds. “Autumn and Carbine” is about how an influencer’s persona is exploited for corporate interests, while the influencer uses said image to abuse others. “You and You Alone” points the finger at those that blindly form their beliefs solely off of what others say on social media, regardless of any conflicting opinions that might arise. “A Sliver” and “Erasure Scan” shows how information glut diminishes our collective memory, where even the most abhorrent tragedies are processed, reacted to, and quickly forgotten until the next viral moment occurs. Despite some occasionally clunky lyrics, I have to commend Jami Morgan for not taking the lazy route by just saying “phones bad” and pressing on some hard questions about how people interact with each other and the larger systems within our digital world.

The concept goes a long way in making some of Underneath’s more idiosyncratic ideas work. The production is an odd beast; the instruments sound almost bit-crunched, vocal glitches are reminiscent of audio clipping in video games, and occasional moments where the electronics sound significantly louder and more distorted than the instruments. The digital disruptions of the album’s narrative have bled into the music, hitting listeners in directions they didn’t expect to be hit from. Yes the production can be overbearing at times, but because of the album’s concept all of these production choices work seamlessly. All of this is buoyed by phenomenal pacing; if there has been one thing consistent with this band, it’s their uncanny knack for track sequencing. It’s beautiful hearing this album as a front-to-back experience, marveling at how each song transitions into one another in order to maintain a ceaseless momentum. Taken as a whole, Underneath is a record of staggering ambition, the type of all encompassing go-for-broke mainstream metal album that only Slipknot seem capable of creating these days. Even then, Slipknot don’t have the vigor of a hungrier, less well-known band like Code Orange who still have something to prove. A grand vision from a band ecstatic to have resources and the skill to perform at the level they’ve always dreamed of.

Underneath is one of the few albums I’ve been alive for that really felt like an event, and this is from someone who only had a mild curiosity with the group prior to the record’s release. If you were a member of the band’s Discord server, you were treated to an interactive program that gave hints to Underneath’s tracklist and release date a couple months before its release. Despite the clues I doubt many were prepared for where Code Orange was heading with the release of Underneath’s title track in January 2020. It’s such a radical departure from anything they’ve written up to that point that it almost reads as the band selling out, but manages to skate by on its infectious chorus and brilliant song structure. One month later the music video for “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” drops, and not only did it assure those who worried the band was getting soft, but it showed how strange and experimental the band had gotten over the years. The way these two singles were released feels intentional, like the band were intentionally misleading listeners to create a sense of mystery as to what the rest of the album would be like. On March 13th, 2020, the album drops to critical acclaim, eventually appearing on not just metal year-end lists, but on lists from unexpected sources like Anthony Fantano, NPR, and Sputnikmusic’s year-end user list. All is ready for the band to tour as the version of themselves they’ve been patiently inching towards, that is until COVID-19 came in and affected every facet of how we function in this world. This catastrophic event could’ve halted Code Orange’s momentum entirely, but in a last ditch effort to do something with the hand everyone’s been dealt, the band teamed up with legendary hardcore archivists Hate5Six to stream a live performance on Twitch and Youtube titled “Last Ones Left: In Fear of the End”, a rather fitting scenario considering the album’s subject matter. Code Orange managed to rock on while the rest of the world stopped dead in their tracks. As for the live show itself, it’s shocking how high in production value it is for such a small turnaround time, especially with regards to stage presentation. Most noteworthy was a large screen projection of off-putting visuals that were taken from the band’s music videos, made in-house, or from music videos that were made in-house. The stream was meant to translate what their tour was gonna be like, but instead it served as the tour’s replacement. After the success of LOL:IFOTE, Code Orange opted to release two more concert live streams in 2020: the MTV-Unplugged inspired acoustic set “Under the Skin” and “Back Inside the Glass”, which focused on their heavier cuts as well as expanding their visuals. All of this would fall apart if Underneath wasn’t the masterpiece it is. Imagine catching these guys back when they were Code Orange Kids and slowly watching them develop their sound and aesthetic over the course of a decade.

If there’s any takeaway from this, it’s that Code Orange are a band of perseverance and resilience. They will work with any situation they’re given and make the most of it. Not even serious injuries will stop them; bassist Joe Goldman sustained a serious hand injury while on tour in 2018 that left his index finger permanently unusable. For most musicians that would be a death blow to their career, but Joe not only managed to work past it, but played the most demanding bass lines of his career on Underneath. Code Orange are a band that will stop at nothing to achieve their vision, and if this album is anything to go by, their vision extends farther than what any metal band both big and small is willing to commit to. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say they’re the “Last REAL ones left”. Code Orange put so much thought and care into every aspect of their work, where even the most minor details are given a Code Orange twist to them. If Code Orange are doing more with what they have than rock bands with way more resources and notoriety are doing, then maybe they have a right to brag.



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user ratings (493)
3.2
good
other reviews of this album
PostMesmeric (2.5)
Code Orange prove that they just can't stay on task....

hung0ver (4)
Yeah, if you like your metal without all the trimmings, probably give this one a miss. Everyone else...



Comments:Add a Comment 
DavidYowi
May 24th 2022


3512 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Incredibly proud of this, took a while but was worth the wait. Much thanks to Johnny for checking this over and not just immediately writing in "lmfao"!



Songs ranked:



1. (deeperthanbefore)/Swallowing the Rabbit Whole

2. Erasure Scan

3. A Sliver

4. Who I Am

5. t/t

6. You and You Alone

7. In Fear

8. Cold.Metal.Place

9. The Easy Way

10. Autumn and Carbine

11. Sulfur Surrounding

12. Back Inside the Glass

13. Last Ones Left



All these songs rip



JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2022


60953 Comments


YES awesome!!! tried to listen to this a while back and bailed 3 songs in, but i love this review a lot for offering a solid af case for why we should fully respect this band for putting together whatever the hell this record is. excellent work, keep writing!

DavidYowi
May 24th 2022


3512 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"offering a solid af case for why we should fully respect this band for putting together whatever the hell this record is"



I honestly should thank all the people shitting on this for inspiring me to write lol. This band is weird and fascinating and I want to preserve some posi words on this site to highlight why

Mort.
May 24th 2022


25665 Comments


band is indeed weird and slightly fascinating

good review posd

Zac124
May 24th 2022


2833 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Haven’t listened to this album in ages! Remember absolutely loving it though. Sulfur Surrounding is great too.

Uzumaki
May 24th 2022


4545 Comments


Delightful review! Heavy pos and yes, please keep writing!!!

Wildcardbitchesss
May 24th 2022


12428 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

eh you probably know I how I feel about the record but the review is nice

pizzamachine
May 24th 2022


27363 Comments


Not gonna read.

Pos

Koris
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2022


21311 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Excellent review, pos'd. You should definitely write more, I've liked all the reviews I've read of yours so far :]

DavidYowi
May 24th 2022


3512 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

: D



Don't worry, I definitely will continue to write. In fact I started like 1&1/2 paragraphs for another review, it just takes me a while to finish one of these. I'm really glad y'all are interested in my writing

AsleepInTheBack
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2022


10289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

what johnny said. great work here.

parksungjoon
May 24th 2022


47235 Comments


1st para by "absolutely the cast " do u mean "absolutely the case"?

Mort.
May 24th 2022


25665 Comments


it has been edited!!!!!!!!!!! get him!!

botb
May 24th 2022


18001 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

Great review, totally disagree

JayEnder
May 24th 2022


20222 Comments


Sheesh dude, killer review. Not a fan of these guys but clearly a lot of effort was put into this so hard pos.

Koris
Staff Reviewer
May 25th 2022


21311 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Who the hell neg'd? lol

JayEnder
May 26th 2022


20222 Comments


Dick move, seriously. Be proud of this one David

Mort.
May 26th 2022


25665 Comments


ghost negs are just a part of sput, a lot of my reviews have them

tends to be a user who just doesnt like you for some reason

usually if the review is badly written people will jump at the opportunity to let you know lol

but yeh this is a good review good user

JayEnder
May 26th 2022


20222 Comments


[2] to everything Mort said

DavidYowi
May 26th 2022


3512 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

[3] to everything Mort said, especially the third line



I'm guessing it also might have to do with someone just not liking the album or agreeing with the rating. Glad y'all still like the review despite not liking the album



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