One of the benefits of writing reviews for Treble is that you don’t have to assign an album a numbered rating. Appreciation of music is complicated, riddled with contradictions and two things can often be true at the same time. For this writer, Code Orange are a prime example of this paradoxical appreciation. I love the band’s intensity, ambition and live show (their set at Outbreak Festival this year blew my head off) but also find their straight-faced posturing extremely amusing in a way I’m not sure they’re also aware of.
These polarities course through the band’s latest full-length, along with more than a few other quirks and unorthodox choices. Say what you want about the Pittsburgh metalcore five-piece (and across the last decade, many have) but they possess a restless creative drive and a determination to shatter their artistic comfort zones. Not every move they make works. For example, they have an odd tendency to channel retro aesthetics (like this uninspired MTV Unplugged pastiche) that stands in contrast to their often-futuristic sound and cocky sloganeering about how they’re “the new reality.”
The Above is their first studio album released via Blue Grape Music; a new label founded by ex-Roadrunner employees. Its 14 tracks were recorded in Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studios, though production credits go to band members Jami Morgan and Eric “Shade” Balderose. The result is a much rawer album than its astonishing predecessor Underneath. This occasionally feels refreshing, but often means it fails in comparison to its Will Yip-produced predecessor. The sonics here are less sharply-arranged and more dry, particularly evident in the flat drums that make “I Fly” sound like a demo and the otherwise-brilliant “Grooming My Replacement” lack depth and atmosphere.
The relentlessly-intense “Grooming My Replacement” is one of several career-best tracks on The Above. Others include the Billy Corgan-featuring industrial anthem “Take Shape,” the glitch-strewn sludgecore monster “A Drone Operating Out Of A Hive” and the strange blend of dreamy alt rock and menacing metalcore that is “Theatre Of Cruelty.” All these high points are ambitious and unpredictable and prove that Code Orange have the ability to back the bravado that they’re sometimes ridiculed for. Annoyingly, this excellence is undercut by several weak tracks that close the album, following the stellar carnage of “Grooming My Replacement.” All four feel like they belong on a different, less successful record and should have been cut in favor of a more pointed kick to the head.
An album rife with contradictions, The Above is best exemplified by its cover art. One minute you look at it and think it looks dated and cheap, the next that it looks kind of cool and in keeping with Code Orange’s transhumanist aesthetic. It’s nearly-impossible to sum up the album, besides by saying that it’s both exactly what you thought Code Orange would do next as well as not at all what you’d have expected. Contradictions rule, embrace them and ascend to The Above.
Label: Blue Grape