Hardcore music is about power. It’s a conductor for anger, pain, and negative emotions that are better expressed through music. “Forever”, the latest exercise in audio barbarism from Pittsburgh four-piece Code Orange, is a supreme lightning rod in this respect. While the biggest pitfall in the genre tends to be a uniformity of sound, Code Orange prove their commitment to taking musical risks and standing out in the crowd. Hardcore can be an uncomplicated stump with little room for expansion, but Code Orange introduced numerous new branches to their tree over the years with little concern for remaining bound to roots. This is not to say that they don’t have one foot firmly planted in O.G. hardcore. On the contrary. The band cemented themselves as unrelentingly heavy newcomers, breathing new life into a genre that tends toward staleness.
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“Forever” is further proof of their growth as artists. They’ve taken their mastery of skull-crushing, iron-clad hardcore and expanded upon it to allow the seamless integration of decidedly nontraditional elements. Clean singing, which they’ve toyed with in the past on 2014’s highly lauded “I Am King”, makes a resurgence with renewed vigour, along with newer experimental elements like schizophrenic noise and electronics. “Forever”, Code Orange’s Roadrunner Records debut, carries the thousand-pound weight of their sound into surprising new territory, one that is notably more abstract and sinister.
Hardcore insulates itself from other sub-genres that the uninitiated might all lump together as “screamo” or just simply “metal”. The camaraderie and community inextricably bound to the music can force its participants to shy away from incorporating elements from neighbouring forms of heavy music. But on “Forever”, Code Orange concern themselves solely with accenting their own artistic integrity and hands a stiff middle finger to purists who may be inclined to poo-poo their progression. The opening title track and lead single “Forever” is a scattered whole, a Jackson Pollock painting done entirely in black with effects-laden electronics and background vocal stings to compliment the sneering assertion that Code Orange will not follow a traditional path in life. While society may demand a passive shamble to the inevitable, “The freaks will finally have their say / There is nothing you can do to take it / Code Orange is forever”.
“Kill the Creator” continues the brutality of the lead-off track, but with a twist. The song unexpectedly interrupts itself with miniature interludes, noise, and looping effects that conjure apocalyptic and nightmarish imagery, emphasising the dire tone of the body of the song. “Real” begins with a spastic intro led by drums and backed by calamitous noise. It deconstructs the traditional hardcore song, dissecting it into pieces that are at times hardcore, and at others, more nebulous. One might expect these guitar tones in a Slipknot or Mudvayne song. Try not to roll your eyes at the line “This is real now, motherfucker” before the song digests itself in the final seconds.
“Bleeding in the Blur” is one of Code Orange’s first big departures from convention as guitarist Reba Myers shows off her formidable clean vocal chops that range from snarling to delicate falsetto over watery clean guitar leads. It’s one of the more laid back moments on a record that clearly prides itself on its darkness. And is that a guitar solo?
Leapfrogging off the relatively rock-and-roll “Bleeding in the Blur” is “The Mud”. True to its namesake, “The Mud” starts off mired in cyberpunk sludge before raging its way to a cataleptic interlude that drops abruptly off a cliff into one of the most terrifying breakdowns on the album.
By midway through the record, Code Orange make their intent to break away from form crystal clear. “The New Reality” is borderline deathcore for most of its abbreviated run. The cadence carries over into “Spy”, hearkening back to the brash and sometimes dissonant moments of “I Am King”.
While the aforementioned tracks have featured Code Orange’s brand of gory and pitch-black hardcore with technical experimentation in a supporting role, “Ugly” flips the script entirely. “Ugly” sounds like having a conversation with a demon while drowning in a well. The initial verses are throaty, melodic, and dripping wet with effects, and gradually give way to excursions into nu-metal territory with heavy but straightforward malaise.
“No One Is Untouchable” offers a brief reprise of more traditional hardcore formula that hits hard before a deconstructed outro bordered by swirling electronic noise. This is where convention ends on “Forever”, as the remaining two tracks offer no sympathy to genre hardliners. “Hurt Goes On” excises and discards the heaviness that Code Orange have made themselves known for in favor of whispering threatening, infernal nothings over dark, deconstructed electronic instrumentation (“I wanna hurt you mentally / When your roaches scatter / when it’s just you and me”). This song is pure atmosphere until the bridge, when the industrial influences briefly break the surface to tear you apart in an abandoned factory that apparently manufactures nightmares. Trent Reznor would be proud.
“Forever” concludes on a thoroughly and intentionally unsettling note with “dream2”, which one can only assume is what sleep paralysis sounds like (“Suck the soul right through the mouth / My family needs to feast”). Reba Meyers’ vocals are on top once again, crooning and soothing, creeping and crawling over ethereal guitar work to an abrupt end.
Code Orange prove with “Forever” that they have no desire to be chained down by the conventions of hardcore and metal. They have uprooted themselves from genre tropes to build something entirely original, backed by the formidable production power of Converge veteran Kurt Ballou and mix master Will Yip (who, between the two of them, have produced or engineered nearly every notable hardcore and pop-punk release in the last decade.) “Forever” dissects itself at every turn, and throughout its 34-minute run, consistently knocks the listener off balance to perpetuate its air of panic and mania with delightful results, akin to a bizarre art-house horror movie. Despite occasionally trite lyrical content, Code Orange have built a grim, melodic atmosphere around their hardcore foundation. In a genre bloated with congruous tough-guy bands, Code Orange’s “Forever” strives for and achieves bold, imaginative identity.
“Forever” is available now on Roadrunner Records.