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Code Orange - Underneath (Album Review)

Monday, 23 March 2020 Written by Huw Baines

Every so often an album comes along that changes the conversation. Code Orange’s ‘Underneath’ is one of them. It’s a modern metal classic that reshapes what it means to be inventive within the realms of commercially-attuned heavy music, trading in unbridled power and complex, head-spinning electronics.

The Pittsburgh band have long been capable of turning in work that walks a vanishing line between outright ferocity and subtle, decidedly creepy atmospheric passages, but here they have melded everything into a hulking whole. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering, with programmer Eric ‘Shade’ Balderose taking Reba Meyers and Dom Landolina’s serrated riffs and the pummelling rhythm section of Jami Morgan and Joe Goldman and running them through a digital filter.

It’s a seamless patch added to their existing strengths, with chugging guitar lines being answered by stabs of industrial keys or, in the case of Swallowing The Rabbit Whole, hyper-manipulated stop-starts.

It’s disorienting and disconcerting, keeping the listener looking over their shoulder and allowing the breakdowns to slam into their chests with the element of surprise intact.

There is also a fascinating dynamic at play between Balderose’s electronic meddling and a paranoid lyric sheet that betrays desperation in its bid to avoid being swallowed by the machine. On In Fear there is mention of digital knives and “a life in the box”, while both Who I Am and the title track are preoccupied with peeling back skin to reveal the truth of what’s beneath. 

But all of this mayhem plays out against the backdrop of some of Code Orange’s most accessible music to date. There are harsh melodies dotted in unlikely places throughout, while songs like Who I Am and Sulfur Surrounding ride Meyers’ clean vocals into rich ‘90s alt-rock territory. It works because the band attacks these moments of relative calm with the same intensity that they do each pile driving riff.

‘Underneath’ is not an easy record to get along with, but once it batters through your defences it’s all over. You’ll keep coming back for more just to feel your hackles rising again. This is exciting, forward-thinking heavy music by a band who are capable of doing anything they want in the future.

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