Music Reviews

Code Orange Underneath

(Roadrunner Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Since the release of 2017’s Forever, Code Orange have been on quite a journey. The Pittsburgh group’s breakthrough album was received with smashing appraisal for their crunching metalcore, which led to a Grammy nomination. The band brought a palpable level of angst and intensity to a genre that often feels too dry or lacking in real strength in tone and production. They were willing to mix glitchy electronics with the trademarks of the genre to create a vaguely industrial influenced sound, one that put them on top. When gearing up for their latest, Underneath, the five-piece have had their victory lap somewhat interrupted. With the effects of COVID-19 taking havoc on their touring schedule and their ability to push the new material to a crowd, it'll be more difficult to promote than 2017's Forever.

Underneath can be easy to reduce as more of a good thing, but it's also sneakily different. Here, the focus is thematically sharper, where the band talks about social media and what it can do to one’s mental health (referred to as “The glass shell of technology” by lead vocalist/drummer Jami Morgan in a recent Consequence of Sound interview). For the most part, Code Orange leans upon evocative writing that pairs heaviness to thoughtful lyricism. While there are a handful of phrases that feel sloppy or obvious (“The digital knife's edge that cuts us all”  on In Fear, or Cold.Metal.Place’s “The fire burns down our 3D world”), Code Orange’s self-seriousness almost entirely works because of how badass they are.

Code Orange provides the force that would be needed to sell a line like “You're staring into your new god's soul” with the guitar work alone on Swallowing the Rabbit Hole. It’s partially why a tune like Sulfur Surrounding doesn’t work as well, with the more typical post-grunge tones and cleaner vocals. Without the shifting groove throughout, or sheer vigor behind the production, a song like You and You Alone would feel edgy, but it thankfully exemplifies the entire album. If any of this was done with any less care, it would feel ridiculous. Code Orange knows better than that, and that’s why Underneath succeeds.