I was listening to this new Code Orange album when I was stuck in traffic earlier today, and I got to thinking about how my taste in heavy music has changed over the last year or so. Right around this time last January, I was a total dyed in the wool trad-metal fan. Despite my love for more experimental metal bands like Meshuggah, if it didn’t sound like Iron Maiden or Megadeth, I generally wasn’t interested. But over the past couple of months, I’ve sort of been turned off of the really widdly lead guitar heavy stuff and towards the punkier end of the spectrum. In fact, I’ve gained a massive appreciation for metalcore, a genre that I never cared for before relatively recently. Now, when I say metalcore, I’m not talking about nutless Warped Tour glam-core bands like Asking Alexandria. I’m talking about bands that legitimately mesh heavy metal and hardcore punk. Among my favorite albums of 2016 were albums from Every Time I Die, Hatebreed, and Nails.
Forever, the new record from Code Orange, is an album that I have been anticipating for several months at this point. The band’s 2014 album I Am King was among the records that I really fell in love with as I really dove into this subgenre, and the first two early teaser tracks really got me excited for what the band were gonna bring forward with their new project. I felt that the band were gonna add some new elements to their admittedly blunt sound. But had I knew the extent to which they were going to experiment, I might have approached this a bit more cautiously. Forever goes off in some pretty bizarre directions for a hardcore band, but through all of it, one fact tends to stick in your face, that even when the band go off in more melodic directions, Code Orange are committed to making swampy, almost suffocatingly sludgy music.
Take for instance “Bleeding In The Blur” a song that, with a certain production, wouldn’t be surprising to hear on FM Rock radio. But the band, along with the oft-mentioned-by-me production wizard Kurt Ballou are dedicated to keeping things from getting to accessible. This track instrumentally, is just as oppressive as the others, it just has a catchy melodic chorus to ride the instrumental. But “Bleeding In The Blur” isn’t really the most significant way Code Orange experiment on Forever. In fact, it’s almost like a red herring, making you think you have a more melodic record on your hands, when in reality, the rest of the album is stuffed with atmospheric industrial textures and little flashes of electronics to further add to the sludge. The instrumental texture of this album can be likened to wading hip-deep through molasses in the Everglades. In addition to how metallic it is sonically, there’s an element of ambience that gives the impression of a dark, moss covered cave. The overall experience is humid, sweaty, and emotionally draining, and there aren’t many rays of light on this one.
Despite how sonically brutal Nails’ most recent record was, there was an element of fun and groove in that record’s bounce and it did get up there in tempo when it wanted to. Forever is relatively stiff by comparison, preferring to chug forward at mid-to-slow tempos for the majority of the track list, taking occasional breaks for ambient synth interludes in the middle of songs. Even the aforementioned “Bleeding In The Blur”, despite how melodic and catchy it is compared to the rest of the album, is brooding and swampy. “Hurt Goes On” is another drastic turn from the band’s usual sound, being mostly made up of electronics and industrial synths. It sounds like something you might hear in a videogame like Doom. But the real standout as far as experimentation goes is album closer “Dream2”. Driven entirely by a spooky dissonant clean guitar that echoes around the soundscape and an ethereal vocal melody above, it’s the perfect way to end such a domineering set of tracks without allowing you to let your guard down completely.
I’ll be honest, I was a little conflicted about how I felt about this record the first time I heard it. It was mostly a case of getting something very different from what I was expecting. But, after adjusting to what I was supposed to be listening for, this album is a prime example of how a metal band can grow and expand their sound without sacrificing an ounce of their heaviness. If you’re into loud, harsh, and dark music like I am, you should really give this album a shot, and it’ll probably be one of the projects that I compare other heavy releases of 2017 to from here on out.