Album review: Code Orange – The Above

Code Orange go even further down their rabbit hole to ensure they stand nowhere near anyone else on challenging and brilliant fifth album…

Album review: Code Orange – The Above
Nick Ruskell

And you may ask yourself: what the hell has happened to Code Orange? These are not the kids we used to know. This is not the violence we used to feel. This isn’t even as chest-beatingly and knowingly cocky as you might have come to delight in from the Pittsburgh heavyists.

If the digital aggression and industrial spikes of 2020’s masterful fourth album Underneath – a record with a powerful sense of dominance and ‘Come at me, bro’ approach to creativity – were too much of a step for some, it was at least a step that took things to an extreme. More aggro, more darkness, more hurt, more noise, more, more, more. Here, even knowing how much Code Orange wilfully set themselves apart, nobody could honestly say this is where we expected to end up.

The Above is an album that frequently goes the opposite way than you’d expect. Opener Never Fall Apart begins with a threatening, murky industrial malice, but then flips on its head and introduces piano, a quiet, sort-of-grungy chorus sung by guitarist Reba Myers, before a lightning bolt of screaming hits, and it yanks itself back into the pianos. From there, you're disoriented beyond all sense of direction.

Likewise, Theatre Of Cruelty starts in familiar, beefy hardcore territory, but where it goes in between the boiling aggro is a jarring, Radiohead-y zone. And just as you think you’ve got Take Shape all figured out, with its vocal-perfect Linkin Park-y chorus, up pops Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan – a man no stranger to refusing to play ball normally himself. Nor, come to mention, is engineer Steve Albini (the man behind, among many others, Nirvana’s spiky, wilfully uncommercial In Utero).

The Mask Of Sanity Slips is an odd, industrial stomp that leaks menace. A Drone Opting Out Of The Hive is more familiar, modem-glitching metal, but still jaggedly slaloms in and out of something opposite. I Fly sits somewhere between the most bottom-heavy grunge and nu-metal. It’s not all so wilfully different – The Game and Splinter The Soul are relatively straight-up bangers, but in context they act more like anchors or test subjects, familiar structures around which everything else busies itself.

It’s in the staggering breadth of what Code Orange dare to do here that’s as striking as how much they want you to break your neck from turning your head every time they dart around a corner. At one end, you have a song like Grooming My Own Replacement, where the aggression sounds like it’s going to pop the wheels off and collapse the whole thing at any moment. At the other, there’s Mirror, an alt.rock anthem in different clothes, a quiet, reflective thing built of moody melody and with a certain brightness to it. It's one of the best things this band have ever done.

That Code Orange have gone so bold is to be credited. That they’ve made such a huge range of stuff work together so well even more so. That none of this feels like a loss to what Code Orange once were once you take it in and digest it is to be given standing ovation.

What the hell has happened to Code Orange? They’ve continued to be Code Orange. That we didn’t see results like we have here coming is only the failure of our own imaginations.

Verdict: 5/5

For fans of: Nine Inch Nails, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Smashing Pumpkins

The Above is released on September 29 via Blue Grape Music

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?