For nearly a decade, Code Orange has been pushing the boundaries of hardcore and metal music. Dating back to their debut EP Cycles in 2011, and even when they were still going by Code Orange Kids, the Pittsburgh band has held only one mission: to let people know they’re going to do whatever they want to do. 2014’s I Am King, released under the Deathwish Inc. imprint, was a huge milestone in the band’s career and in the modern pantheon of metallic hardcore albums. It brought together crushing riffs, earth-rumbling production, and varying vocal styles that kept the album captivating from front to back. As that album expanded upon the sounds that the band was experimenting with on 2012’s Love Is Love // Return To Dust, their third album Forever picks up where I Am King left off and brings even more to the table.
While Code Orange transitioned to longstanding metal label Roadrunner Records for this release, they worked again with Converge guitarist and extreme music engineer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou, and his presence is definitely noticeable within the album’s initial tracks. The titular ‘Forever’ kicks the record off with pitch-shifted and distorted vocals, and immediately bursts into an absolute sonic onslaught similar to how ‘I Am King’ opened the group’s last record. ‘Kill the Creator’ and ‘Real’ are the first songs on the album to really showcase Code Orange’s experimentation. Incorporating elements of industrial and electronic music interweaved throughout the metallic hardcore chaos, both tracks are examples of how diverse the band can be even within a single song.
The most notable sonic advancements the band tries out start on ‘Bleeding in the Blur,’ which takes a more melodic approach and contains almost exclusively clean vocals, handled by guitarist Reba Meyers who also sings in the band Adventures with other members of Code Orange. The track has a bit of a heavy alternative leaning to it in structure, but doesn’t shy away from the massive guitar sound the band uses throughout the duration of the album. Even towards the end, ‘Bleeding in the Blur’ is far from a conventional pop track, but gives the album a breather from the in-your-face madness that takes up most of the track listing.
For any skeptics, it should be noted that much of Forever doesn’t shy too far away from the style that Code Orange perfected so well on I Am King. Tracks like ‘The New Reality’ and ‘Spy’ are just as aggressive and pummeling as tracks like ‘My World’ and ‘Slowburn’ were on that record. What makes the band so unique is that they stay true to their insanely heavy metalcore roots while still being able to try out new things. The aforementioned ‘Kill the Creator’ and other songs like ‘The Mud’ and ‘No One is Untouchable’ find the band blending new ideas with old ones together in the highest tier of ways.
As ‘Bleeding in the Blur’ did on the album’s first half, Side B’s ‘Ugly’ is another attempt at the more accessible and melodic approach by the band. Regarding this change of pace, drummer and vocalist Jami Morgan stated in an interview with the Chicago Reader that, “[producer Will Yip’s] skill set is in layering music and vocals. We wanted this record to be layered in a different way than our past albums… We wanted to build on the last record but implement a new sound.” Aside from the odd-sounding vocals on the chorus, ‘Ugly’ is easily the band’s most accessible track. It barely borders on an inconsistency from the rest of the record, but the instrumental portion of the song and the production tie it all together nicely.
The album closes out with the two most avant-garde pieces of music of the bunch. ‘Hurt Goes On’ is mainly driven by low, brooding vocals and electronic passages, save for when it breaks into a pounding metal crescendo towards the end and wrapping up with repetitive, jittery analogue synths. ‘dream2’ is another track led vocally by Meyers, and is very sparse in composition, relying on just the singing, clean guitar passages, some drums, and sounds of rainfall (and other effects somewhat indiscernible). I appreciate the risk that Code Orange took with putting this track together, however I personally don’t see it as the best ending to the album. The track ends abruptly mid-lyric in a very Type O Negative fashion, and I understand what they were trying to accomplish with the placement and arrangement. To me, it would have maybe felt more natural as an interlude track between ‘The Mud’ and ‘The New Reality,’ and if it was about half as long. ‘Hurt Goes On’ ends so triumphantly that it almost seems tailor-made for the end of a record.
Forever is easily Code Orange’s most experimental and conceptual release to date. For a band with only three albums and a few EPs under their belts, they really showcased just how standout they can be. Aside from the somewhat lackluster ending, Forever takes risks that not many other metal or hardcore albums will take, and it will certainly warrant repeat listens throughout the year. Code Orange is on tour with Youth Code through February 11th, alongside Nicole Dollanganger, Lifeless, Disgrace, and Gatecreeper on select dates.
Written by L. Mounts