ALBUM REVIEW: Code Orange – Underneath

Release Date: March 13th 2020
Label: Roadrunner Records


Summing up the impact of Code Orange‘s last album, ‘Forever’, in both its sonic trail of devastation and its subsequent influence on heavy music would warrant an entirely different article.

Following up a record that gets such an unexpected level of acclaim and attention has proven to be a bridge too far for many, but given that they’ve cancelled festival appearances to make this the best that it can possibly be, Code Orange have arrived with one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Whipping up extreme fervour as much they polarise, Pittsburgh’s white-hot, larger-than-life thinners of the herd are back with their fourth album, ‘Underneath’.

Opener ‘(deeperthanbefore)’ feels like a dramatic unveiling of their new era, with some synth-led soundscapes setting the scene, and a whispered “Let’s take a good look at you”, which will reappear later.

‘Swallowing The Rabbit Whole’ showcases plenty of tension, but the complete and utter savagery of the song’s ending breakdown will make you sit up and take notice. There’s also the machine-gun sounds and their trademark stop-start sections that may make you think something’s wrong with the device you’re listening to this on.

‘In Fear’ is as immediate it gets, with a simple-but-effective chant-along refrain and a bone crushing riff, but not without a cacophony of noise panned to the far left and right of your speakers or headphones, that’ll leave you squirming every time. And, in this moment, you realise that Code Orange can more than put their money where their mouth is. It’s easier to create an industrial hellscape than ever, with technology becoming more and more available, but only they can do it in such a way that leaves you hearing new things every time. Their influences may be on their sleeve at times, for sure, but in today’s landscape, it’s crystal clear that Code Orange are their own entity; from their sound to their limitless ambitions.

They’ve not only upped their game of making you feel uncomfortably claustrophobic, there’s also a handful of new radio-ready bangers in their arsenal. ‘Who I Am’ has a range of atmospherics, before an immediate chorus comes in. Guitarist/vocalist Reba Meyers will continue to lead many songs on this album with her inimitable curled-lip, snarled deliver, and when Jami Morgan isn’t screaming his head off, his Trent Reznor-esque clean vocals have become more apparent and act as one of many layers of character.

‘Cold.Metal.Place’ offers a complete head-fuck in its middle section with a barrage of noises, but the biggest surprise is ‘Sulfur Surrounding’, which the closest thing you get to – brace yourself – a Code Orange ballad. It’s got another sing-along chorus, but it still manages to go to various territories.

Meyers continues to put her stamp all over ‘The Easy Way’, the best song Nine Inch Nails never wrote, and ‘Erasure Scan’ is the best heavier offering on here, with Morgan‘s signature guttural shout sitting perfectly over the song’s Sepultura-esque riff, inducing tonnes and tonnes of aggression.

Another highlight comes in the form of the grunge-leaning ‘Autumn And Carbine’. This is Meyers‘ finest moment on the record, and is an anger-filled tirade against those who abuse their positions of power in their entertainment industry. And with ‘A Sliver’ bringing their barbs at shallow, over-hyped bands to audio as well as print, the fact that Code Orange are a band with something to say arguably gets lost at times.

But with the title-track being the lead single, there’s a nice feeling of familiarity to close things out. There’s a similarity to Bring Me The Horizon‘s standard-bearing tracks, like ‘Happy Song’ and ‘Mantra’, but this song utterly smokes both of them; thudding electronics precede a monstrous chorus which will ring around your head for days on end.

Whilst Code Orange‘s occasionally-bordering-on-violent array of noise continues to split people right down the middle, you know instinctively that they wouldn’t have it any other way. The fact of the matter is that we’re currently witnessing a band at the peak of their powers.

‘Underneath’ is an album that the impact of which will never leave you, and will continue to be spoken about for a long time. Rest assured, you’ll be hearing much, much more from Code Orange for years to come.

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