Code Orange brings the ruckus.
In October of 1998, a virtually-unknown, politically-charged, hardcore punk band from Sweden by the name of Refused released an album to very little acknowledgement from the outside world. A couple of months later and the band was no more, but the quality of that record endured, garnering increasingly fervent reactions as the years went on until, eventually, the band reformed to unrelenting excitement from their heaps of new fans. That album is, of course, The Shape of Punk To Come; an album that decimated what it meant to be a hardcore band in the years approaching the millennium. Fast-forward almost two decades and we may well have reached another turning point for the genre, because Forever, the new album from Pittsburgh's Code Orange, in many places not only shreds the rulebook, but kicks in the doors of every library containing the rulebook's source material and shreds those bastards too. Simply put, this album is flat-out astonishing.
On their previous outing, I Am King, Code Orange explored doom-infused passages and a reduction in pace to excellent effect. On Forever, this willingness for experimentation is again clear for all to see, but this time even more brilliantly executed. When the band lock into their distinctive half time groove, as guitarists Reba Myers and Eric Balderose lay down those dense, gargantuan riffs over the top, there are really few more exciting bands in heavy music, and few more liable to make you want to throw things out of windows with every passing second. However, this album is so much more than all of that. Here, it is where the band dabble with grunge, electronics and, shock horror, more melody (there were indicators on I Am King), that we see Code Orange for that which they truly are; a group of artists dedicated to not only flaying the flesh from your bones, but challenging the listener wherever possible, pushing at the door to the wider world, leaving behind the confinement which contained solely the basics for what is considered obligatory to making music in this genre. We dare to utter it in hushed tones: could this record push Code Orange, unmistakably a hardcore band, into the big leagues?
By now you should have heard the album's title track; built around a planet-sized riff equipped with Gojira-esque pick slides and a vocal performance in the verses that, almost like rapping, flows poly-rhythmically all over the 4/4 groove. As contained on virtually every track on this record, here we get the first smattering of unsettling electronics that regularly feel as though the listener is being plugged into a totalitarian state's media network against their will, with creepy, distorted vocals crawling down your ear canals and spreading, virus-like, through your central nervous system. Kill The Creator and Real provide more of the same furious punk ethos with a hardcore execution, upping the beat-down and riff ante even further, with the latter containing both a midsection reminiscent of NAILS at their furious best, and the record's first perfectly administered dalliance with Nine Inch Nails inspired electronics.
However, it's as the final glitches ring out on Real and the opening, reverberating tones of the guitar line on Bleeding In The Blur come oozing out of the speakers that this record takes a giant stride into the top tier. There are very few, if any, bands around right now which would dare to throw what is ostensibly an alternative rock and grunge hybrid track into an album of such ferocity at this point, let alone one with the haunting vocals of guitarist Reba over the top. Reba's powerful, melodic performance is as agonising as the most outright brutal moments on this album, embodied in the wonderfully-evocative phrase "the line between art and pain no longer exists". As with Ugly later down the line, these are genuine jaw-dropping moments in an album of such high quality unrelenting aggression. The fact that Code Orange also have the audacity to throw in a guitar solo straight out of 90s-era Seattle at the end of Bleeding In The Blur just demonstrates what level this band will go to in order to break out in new directions.
On top of these expeditions into uncharted territory, it must not be forgotten how uncompromisingly heavy this record is in places. If you like Code Orange at their rowdiest, then fear not my friend, for that is here in colossal proportions. Forever is an uncomfortable, painful and unrelenting experience, but, like the first time you tried that excessively spicy curry because you thought you were a badass, one that you will just want to immerse yourself in again and again. As well as those first three bruisers, the energetic vocal trade off between Jami and Eric on The New Reality and the downright savage No One Is Untouchable will leave you reaching for those sleeping pills to bring your heart rate down; again not afraid to push boundaries, the latter contains a passage of downtempo swing (seriously).
By this point in the proceedings, the listener will doubtless have discovered that 'surprise' is the order of the day here, but even the most unflappable individual will be thrown off course by the final two tracks, dished up as they are in the form of a brace of gloomy, unnerving, horror movie soundtracks replete with synths, hushed vocals, distortion and just straight up electrical interference. A more unconventional, and yet in this case completely appropriate, end to a record by a hardcore band you simply couldn't conceive.
"It's just not you anymore, I'm in a different place" laments Reba at the end of the closing track dream2. This is hardly surprising since Forever has just put Code Orange in a completely separate galaxy.