The wait is over. Expectations could not be any higher. The band best placed to replace Dillinger Escape Plan as the world’s most important and genre-pushing metal outfit managed to release their latest offering just days before the world descended into a Covid-19 lockdown. Jami Morgan promised a hard and heavy album, but with a relentless effort to keep evolving a sound that started as hardcore back in 2008 and now embraces a monstrous assault of industrial metallic groove with traces of punk confrontation.
The first thing you’ll notice on Underneath is how much time the band have invested in their production. Reba Meyer’s guitars bite with a vicious Machine Head-like distortion, but the glitch effects are now ubiquitous throughout. Indeed, the power electronics are straight out of the Nine Inch Nails studio logbook and processed through a soundscape best compared to the nervous unease of a horror film. Recent live performances suggest they might even pull it off on stage with all the electronic beeps and blips from the studio adding another layer to the mix.
Bangers like ‘Swallowing the Rabbit Whole’, ‘In Fear’ and ‘Last Ones Left’ will keep the loyalists happy with their nod to the early 90s mid-tempo thrash sound so iconic of the era. Riffs from the repertoire of Rob Flynn, Max Cavalera and Tommy Victor of Prong are all over this record. Bassist Joe Goldman’s effervescent basslines bubble under the surface like a dormant volcano. Jami Morgan barks like a POW injected with steroids through the first three songs as if his veins are about to explode. Meanwhile, programming wizard, Shade, provides the sonic backdrop aiming to capture the sound of technological implosion. Fear Factory might have their successors to chart the coming decades when the machines take over and become self-aware.
But the strongest card Code Orange play is their breathtaking determination to capture as many sounds across the music spectrum as possible. Reba Meyer’s vocal melodies and guitar work on ‘Who I Am’ are reminiscent of Shirley Manson and vintage Garbage. Her efforts on ‘Sulfur Surrounding’ and ‘Autumn and Carbine’ invite you to contemplate a lovechild of Hole and Vision of Disorder. Elements as diverse as Björk and Ministry are never far away.
Closer and lead single, ‘Underneath’, is a dystopian masterpiece of industrial snares and a snarling vocal interplay between Meyers and Morgan. A breakdown riff kicks in at the end to balance the urge to dance with the will to mosh. It’s a brave song and a hint at where they might direct their imagination on the next album.
The only criticism you can level at Underneath is its infatuation with all things metal and industrial from the 1990s. Any hardcore roots they once had have now evaporated in a cacophony of glitch effects. The band also cite contemporary hip-hop as an influence on their spectral wave, but you’ll find only faint traces on this opus. Yet it’d be a mistake to see this as weakness. Code Orange are ramping up the juggernaut by drawing upon the past as inspiration for the future. Join them on the journey before they leave you behind.
Release Date: 13/03/2020
Record Label: Roadrunner Records
Standout tracks: You and You Alone, Who I am, Back Inside the Glass
Suggested Further Listening: Machine Head – The More Things Change (1997), Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero (2006), Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works (2007)