In recent years, as far as the alternative press is concerned, the future of challenging, heavy music appears to lie with the likes of grime, EDM and hip-hop. But Code Orange are here to prove that theory wrong, a truly aggressive band with an ironclad belief that the general public will enjoy their music if only they give themselves the chance.
The only ‘metal’ act on this year’s Coachella bill, they constantly engage with the world outside their scene, collaborating with boundary-pushing acts like JPEGMAFIA and Ghostmane and getting their music onto WWE. In Code Orange’s eyes their rivals are not Turnstile and Knocked Loose, but Travis Scott and Dua Lipa. Their influences are not Nine Inch Nails and Slipknot, but horror directors like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster, artists in a parallel field who have demonstrated the huge audience out there for genuinely unsettling art.
‘Underneath’ is practically a horror movie in audio form – there are jump scares, blasts of shattered glass and suffocating static. Warped voices whisper in your ear before erupting into unearthly screams moments later. Tracks skip and shift in unexpected places, trapping the listener in a state of anticipatory dread. While the band began experimenting with these tricks on 2017 breakthrough ‘Forever’, here they are far more assured and fleshed out; like the work of David Lynch’s foley squad, or an ASMR channel gone rogue.
All this studio trickery would be pointless if the music it punctuated wasn’t up to snuff. It is. The opening salvo of ‘Swallowing The Rabbit Whole’, ‘In Fear’ and ‘You And You Alone’ inject the band’s hardcore chops with a Behemoth-level sense of grandiosity. The ferocious roar of Jami Morgan, now unshackled from his drumkit, is flanked by keyboardist Shade’s death metal growl and the scruffy drawl of guitarist Reba Meyers. With Joe Goldman’s hulking basslines and the bruising riffs of Dominic Landolina backing them up, Code Orange feel like a real gang, each distinct personality interlocking to build something greater than the sum of its parts.
Like any gang, there is always an overachiever who stands out from the pack. Code Orange’s not-so-secret weapon is guitarist-vocalist Reba, whose alt-rock anthem ‘Bleeding Into The Blur’ became the unexpected highlight of ‘Forever’. Here her presence is increased to the point that her and Jami are co-frontpeople. It’s across her showcases – ‘Who I Am’, ‘Autumn and Carbine’, ‘Underneath’ and standout track ‘Sulfur Surrounding’ (all of which should be snapped up by EA Sports to soundtrack every game they release this year) – that the album’s core theme about identity in a digital landscape, is most clearly articulated, her voice cutting through the surrounding brutality to connect with the listener on a human level. Code Orange understand that the only clear path that leads towards their ridiculous, yet admirable, goal of becoming the biggest band on the planet lies through her.
As self-described ‘thinners of the heard’, Code Orange’s aim is not to upset the status quo but to rob it. Are they delusional? Absolutely, but the sheer, clear-eyed ambition they exhibit in pursuing the impossible is compelling enough to make ‘Underneath’ an absolute must-hear for anyone who dares to dream differently.
Words: Josh Gray
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