Code Orange Indulge in Industrial Grime and Sheen with Underneath
With Code Orange, you have to experience the grime and grit along with the industrial sheen. To overlook one for the other is to miss out on this most intriguing and captivating band.
Photos by Jimmy Warsham
It could be considered cliched, if not outright lazy, to begin any examination of Code Orange’s new album Underneath by generally linking its sound to the industrial background of the region the group hails from. Nevertheless, growing up in a small steel mill town located just outside of Pittsburgh Pa., I cannot help but draw a highly personal and visceral connection between their heavy metal industrial sound and where Code Orange’s members are from. I don’t know if any of the members of Code Orange, as young children, ever had the experience of lying awake in bed on a mild, late spring night listening, through an open window, to the rhythmic hammering of a steel mill in full operation. I have no idea if they ever stood in their front yard and sprayed water on the side of their parent’s vinyl siding covered home and watched the grime run down the side of it in dark greasy streaks. The grime emitted daily from the aforementioned steel mill’s stacks. I can only confirm that I personally hear an aural manifestation of all of that in Underneath, a manifestation of sounds, feelings, fears, and even the comforts that continually hummed underneath life in a small industrial town. I can also only think of one other album that conjures similar grimy steel mill byproduct images in my mind: Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. I don’t make the comparison lightly.
The Downward Spiral, while it helped define a genre, more importantly, brought that genre to a larger audience. Trent Reznor’s masterwork streamlined and packaged industrial music in a more commercial and viable way than anyone else had ever done. Underneath does much the same thing for industrial metal. Code Orange mines decades of groundbreaking industrial music (much of which bears chemical compound similarities to much of Reznor’s work) and infuses it with an instantly recognizable metal guitar and vocal edge. The result is a work that smelts the two genres together in a way that makes for not only compelling but inspired listening.
Listening to Underneath isn’t for the faint of heart though (talking about speaking in cliches). Several of the songs on the album flirt with complete collapse into industrial ruin, only to be rescued by powerful rhythms that just as equally weld, as hammer, the song structures back into place. This is particularly the case with tracks “In Fear” and “Cold.Metal.Place.” Sometimes it’s the sheer volume that sustains the track. Underneath is nothing if not loud. “You and You Alone” makes particularly strong use of loud/quiet dynamics to create a near overpowering experience. This is not a bad thing. It is part of what makes Underneath so unsettling, yet addictive.
During the album’s more conventional moments, like “Who I Am,” Code Orange demonstrates that they can sound almost vulnerable when necessary, as well as conventional in a completely uncommercial way. The heavy guitar chorus is no less as strong as anything else on the album, but here the heaviness of the guitar lines feel like a warm enveloping comfort as compared to the harsh auricular assault that the rest of the album is. It is nothing short of a major feat of compositional genius that one of the heaviest guitar riffs on the album is also one of the most comforting. Underneath is full of these types of unusual moments.
Code Orange puts it all together best though on “The Easy Way” and title track “Underneath” (which was the album’s lead single). While these tracks are less experimental, and therefore less exciting in a certain sense, they are easily the most approachable and palatable songs on the album to new listeners. If you are just getting into Code Orange though, stopping there is nothing short of unacceptable. With Code Orange you have to experience the grime and grit along with the industrial sheen. To overlook one for the other is to miss out on this most intriguing and captivating band. Like steel mill rhythms on a mild spring night that eventually lull you to sleep and the streaky grime that slides down the side of your vinyl siding, Underneath both lulls you and scares you at the same time.