ALBUM REVIEW: Code Orange – The Above
Photo Credit: Tim Saccenti
Readers may recall the global events of March 2020 with all the joy of a root canal procedure and a car breakdown on the way home. One particular hardcore (although that seems so limiting a label for them these days) band who probably curse that time more than some of us are Pittsburgh’s Code Orange, who after being ruthlessly shafted by international shithouse COVID-19 mere days before the release of their previous record Underneath, have returned with their newest statement of intent, The Above.
This record, by the band’s own admission, is a somewhat more analogue counterpart to the digital destruction of Underneath. Working with underground production and engineering legend Steve Albini rather than any of their previous collaborators feels like a typically confrontational move against their own past, and it pays more dividends than any British water company could dream of.
Opening with the menacing Never Far Apart, with it’s creepy, menacing “do it” accompanied by a crushing riff. The push and pull dynamic of the piano led sections with Reba Meyers on vocals, the kaiju level riffs from Dominic Landolina and Meyers, and the fearsome vocals from the Phil Collins of hardcore himself, Jami Morgan is immediately intoxicating and starts the journey off incredibly strong. Theatre Of Cruelty combines the shoegaze stylings of a Deftones with the sound of getting steamrolled by your own face being swung by someone with a big mallet.
Now reader, there are some sounds in life that are just pleasing to the ear. Doesn’t matter where you hear it, or how. Joe Goldman’s bass guitar on Take Shape is a glorious sound, so thick like a good gravy. Mirror is another string in the Code Orange bow, a gorgeous trip-hop inspired piece anchored around a searching vocal performance from Meyers. Her vocals are the secret weapon of this album, and she’s really added extra steel and grit to her skills across The Above. The influences on Mirror are very Bristolian, in that it harkens to Massive Attack and Portishead. There are so many subtle touches here and Shade Balderose’s electronic textures really shine, adding a hauntingly beautiful effect to the music. A Drone Opting Out Of The Hive is the lovechild of Code and Death Grips, and keeping a sample of the gorgeous strings from Mirror is a vicious move. It also has a lovely ticking moment that fans of cult talking mollusc movie and certified tearjerker Marcel The Shell With Shoes On will love, only here it leads to a crushing breakdown instead of a charming site gag. This song is almost comically menacing and aggressive, and if you aren’t charged up by the chorus, seek medical attention immediately.
There are multiple songs that feature some of the best harmonies in this genre not written by Jerry Cantrell, the chorus of I Fly being a prime example, and the post-chorus harmony is sublime. Circle Through has this on the chorus, which might be the most melodic on the record, and the guitar work all over this one feels like a giant flexing of the musical muscles. But A Dream… keeps up the insanely good streak of incredibly memorable choruses and dual vocal interplay. Splinter The Soul might just be the champion on that front, and will probably sound absolutely massive live, and yes, the chorus is huge and will have you.
Grooming My Replacement confirms that Morgan has truly levelled up his vocal abilities, and he sounds absolutely livid. If you need the sound of someone telling you to “show some gall, and be mean” in as aggressive a manner as possible, this is the song for you. Absolutely the song you should play before you go into a job interview too.
The title track brings it home with yet another awesome dual vocal chorus and ends with a delicious callback to I Am King, that made this reviewer flip a table with joy. (No tables were harmed in the writing of this review). The song has a similar energy to previous tracks like the Hurt Goes On from Forever, and the closing minute or so with the enormous hook from Meyers’ “acceptance is a far away place,” accompanied by gorgeous strings and huge guitars, is almost overwhelming in its gargantuaness. A massive way to end this wonderful record.
The production by Morgan and Balderose has a considerably more organic feel to it than Underneath, which makes the heavier moments hit like about seven freight trains at once, all of them running a red signal without care for railway rules and regulations. Albini’s guiding hand has had a wonderful effect here.
This is an album that takes a bit of everything the band has done since I Am King and brings them together like a nicely tied pair of shoes. Don’t take our word for it, the final few seconds of the album make this incredibly clear. New elements are here too, like the aforementioned Mirror and the use of strings. If you haven’t been convinced before, then maybe this won’t bring you over, but you won’t hear many records in heavy music that are this bold with their songwriting choices and packed with memorable hooks. There are lots of other bands that use electronic elements without any of the craft or attention that Code Orange does, none of the basic synth lines that plague modern metalcore can be found here.
Now if that all still hasn’t got you intrigued, let us leave you with this. Code Orange have achieved that thing that everyone says in interviews but rarely do, only this is arguably the third time in a row they’ve managed this: It really is both heavier and more melodic than its predecessor. What a remarkable band! Code Orange is forever.
Standout Tracks: Never Far Apart, Mirror, Splinter The Soul, The Above
For Fans Of: Alice In Chains, Deftones, Type O Negative, Pantera, Death Grips
Written by: Louis Tsangarides