Album Review: Code Orange – The Above

Album Review: Code Orange - The Above
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

The transition from Code Orange Kids to just Code Orange in 2014 apprears to coincide with the beginning of a fertile period for the band, one that has been steadily blowing catastrophic holes in the very fabric of the extreme music scene since.

The band seem to be in the habit of issuing new studio albums on a three-year cycle and, with 2020’s Underneath now able to fend for itself, it’s time for the Pittsburgh sextet to birth another progeny. The Above is album number five and feels even more inventive, even more wide-ranging than anything Code Orange have released to date.

Perhaps because it is solely produced by vocalist Jami and multi-instrumentalist, Eric, that The Above comes across as a wild and unfettered ride through the creative process. If you’ll indulge me the simile, The Above is like a collection of HP Lovecraft short stories: you have merely the idea of what lurks within and could, at any time, be confronted by something you did not envisage meeting.

If Code Orange have a core sound it can be heard scattered across the fourteen tracks. Opener Never Far Apart blends dark, pulsing bass with delicate keys and grindingly heavy guitars; A Drone Opting Out of the Hive – the best song title since KEN Mode’s He Was a Good Man, He Was a Taxpayer – adds concussive percussive bombs and crunching riffs, with both having a King 810 infusion in their vitriolic vocals.

Album Review: Code Orange – The Above

The first part of an inner narrative can be heard on Grooming My Replacement, which takes elements of Thrash and turns them up to eleven. Perhaps the purest song is The Game, a heavy, metallic hardcore stomp, built around off-kilter drums.

The mini narrative started on Grooming My Replacement is concluded on Take Shape, which features a contribution by Smashing Pumpkins’ mainstay, Billy Corgan. Half a dozen of The Above’s tracks have a distinctly Nineties flavour of them; Theatre of Cruelty suggests this way before Mr Corgan makes his appearance, as it mixes an alternative vocal style with abrutally raw and gravelly one; it’s as though the Smashing Pumpkins and Suffocation had collaborated.

I Fly takes the idea and distils it down to the bare essence, relying only on a big chorus and the minor additional embellishment. Circle Through goes the more simplistic path too but does so while still showing its hereditary traits. There are Marilyn Manson-like industrial vibes to the Nu rhythms of Splinter the Soul and the Grunge-infused The Mask of Sanity Slips, which carries a Nirvana-motif through its central themes.

Oddly enough, it’s when the songs don’t divert into flights of fancy that The Above is at it’s most unnerving. Mirror’s acoustic intro carries with it the expectation of a fully-fledged turn and you find yourself counting beats to ready yourself for a shift that never comes. Instead, we’re left with proof that sometimes less is more and that Code Orange are acutely aware of their creative process.

Snapshot and But a Dream… take inspiration from Trip-Hop artists, with the latter having a Portishead thing going on. Both wear their extreme colours proudly on their sleeves, with some fat low end bass and heavy electronics, all the while never losing the inherent danceable aesthetic. The title track closes out the fifty-plus minute running time with a trippy, aquatic pulse, growing to a full-blooded climax.

For all the sleight of hand and juxtaposition of styles and tempo, The Above does not once feel over-blown or indulgent. Rather it comes across as a work of creators who have a vision and a road-map – all be it off-the-beaten-path – of how to reach that destination. Another triumph from Code Orange, and an album that will surrender its secrets slowly.

For all the latest news, reviews, interviews across the heavy metal spectrum follow THE RAZORS'S EDGE on facebook, twitter and instagram.