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Code Orange - The Above (Album Review)

Thursday, 05 October 2023 Written by Emma Wilkes

Photo: Tim Saccenti

If any one feeling defined Code Orange’s landmark 2020 album ‘Underneath’, it was a sense of impending doom. Landing just as the world began to shut down thanks to COVID-19, its ugly industrial discordance and hulking dread-laced noise made it a fitting soundtrack for a terrifying time.

As a result, the Pittsburgh noisemakers came out the other side of the pandemic as a bigger prospect than they’d ever been. But now that their fingertips have brushed the edges of the mainstream the question remains: where do they fit?

With ‘The Above’ they seem to acknowledge the complexity of the situation, entering into a curious push-pull relationship with the notion of songwriting for the masses.

Sometimes they embrace it, while at others they sneer in its face. The result is eclectic and occasionally odd, but more often it’s brilliant. 

Opener Never Far Apart is an eyebrow-raiser, with harsh, noisy verses that jerk into an bright piano-led chorus. Maybe it’s genius, maybe it’s a complete misstep. Then again, maybe keeping the listener off-balance is the point. Elsewhere, things are a little more straightforward, but equally creative, especially when the results sound almost like Code Orange’s own version of grunge. 

The monstrous Take Shape swaggers with an abyssal yet clean groove, with a guest turn from Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan the icing on the cake, while The Mask Of Sanity Slips contorts the genre into something positively evil. They also display a surprising mastery of stadium-sized bangers. The muscular I Fly somehow manages to sound both demonic and accessible without sacrificing Code Orange’s essence, while the churning Splinter The Soul’s heaviness is diffused briefly, yet expertly, by an infectious hook. 

Meanwhile, the title track’s initial eeriness blossoms into a cinematic finale that is perhaps the most immediate thing the band has ever done, yet it doesn’t sound out of place. If this is what Code Orange being “mainstream” sounds like, it’s still murderous and multi-faceted, and above all, brushed with genius. 


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