Overall Score: 10/10 atmosphere: 10/10 Songs: 10/10 replay value: 10/10 Pros: Another masterful work from a band lightyears ahead of their peers Cons: Nothing
It’s been 3 years since Code Orange torched the heavy music scene with their spectacular Underneath album. The world and indeed the musical landscape have changed a lot in that time, but so has Code Orange. Far more than a band, they are a seemingly ever evolving entity that goes wherever the art takes them next. Visually, Musically & Aesthetically. Nothing they do is by accident, everything is painstakingly put together in service of something bigger.
I’ll admit, I still haven’t fully gotten my head around all the intricacies of Underneath and honestly I’m not sure I ever will. So I’d be lying if I said I was even remotely prepared for what The Above was going to throw at me. The singles from the album ranged from violently nihilistic (The Game & Grooming my replacement) to the 90s alt rock worship of Take Shape, and perhaps most shockingly the trip hop inspired acoustic melancholy of Mirror. So, when it came to press play on the full album, all bets were very much off.
The Above is a much more varied album than the band’s previous two. Feeling very much like a musical mood board, it ebbs and flows with so many different influences, moods and sonic textures. There are probably more ideas in any one single song on this album than most bands can hope to have in their whole catalog. The dingy dirge of album opener Never Far Apart sets the album off on the most sinister of tones, and even though Reba Meyers cuts the relentless bleakness with a gorgeous vocal hook in the chorus, the ending distorted chant of “Do It!, Do It'” brings the creep factor back up to almost unbearable levels. It puts you immediately back into this world and sets you up for what is to come.
Theatre of Cruelty is a crunchy, riff laden banger designed for mosh pits and breaking bones. The Mask of Sanity Slips feels like the kind of song Patrick Bateman would write if he was into Hatebreed instead of Phil Collins.
A Drone Opting Out of the Hive feels like a panic attack at an Industrial club night. With different layers of distorted vocals and a bevy of processed and glitched beats being thrown at you while you try to catch your breath. It’s one of the album’s most punishing & visceral moments.
I Fly has a grungy alt rock vibe to it. Sounding very much like it came from the heyday of 90s MTV. As the song title might suggest it absolutely soars when the chorus hits. Snapshot & Circle Through are two of the catchiest and most melodic songs that Code Orange has ever written. Snapshot is a dancey, garage tinged rager that takes a very disturbing turn in the middle, before unleashing a gigantic hook towards the end. This will go off live. Circle Through is my personal favourite track on the album. It feels like The Smashing Pumpkins at their most anthemic and radio friendly. It’s another showcase for Reba who absolutely shines as she unleashes some Melissa Auf Der Maur like banshee wails during its half way point. Insanely good stuff.
But A Dream… interpolates the beat from Mirror for another moment of trip hop inspired perfection. It builds to a huge crescendo as Reba & Jami vocally duel while postulating the notion of freedom and free will. Is it an illusion or not?
The title track closes the album out in a dream-like fashion. It’s sparse, vivid and instantly captures the imagination. Employing a droning guitar riff, tribal drums, a choir and haunted whispered/shouted vocals over mild electronics. It all comes together at the end to see the album out on a more hopeful note than it started. The nightmare is over and we can once again feel the sun on our face.
The Above is another expansive and challenging addition to Code Orange’s ever evolving expanding universe. Building upon everything they have crafted up until this point and pushing it even further. There are callbacks and easter eggs to their previous works littered throughout. It once again tackles themes of existence, reality and perception. What is real? What isn’t? How do we know which is which? It feels a lot more personal and grounded in places, with a more hopeful undercurrent running throughout. At this stage anyone expecting Code Orange to make the same album twice or return to being strictly a brutal hardcore band is surely setting themselves up for disappointment.
With all that said Code Orange has once again crafted something uniquely them while also further continuing to challenge themselves and their audience. The Above is a masterful album by a band that is fully in control of their own destiny and has a complete handle on their artistry. While it might divide some opinion, for the initiated and those who have been paying attention this whole time, this is about to become your new favourite album.
The Above is out via Blue Grape Music on September 29th