ALBUM REVIEW: Code Orange – Underneath

By: James Rivers

ARTIST: Code Orange

ALBUM: Underneath

GENRE: Metalcore/Industrial Hardcore

RELEASE DATE: 3/13/2020

RATING: 8.5/10


The Pittsburgh metalcore band Code Orange had a tough challenge ahead of them.  In 2017, they released their album, “Forever,” to critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for best metal performance.  They now had to try and follow it up and outdo it.  

Forever saw a metalcore band experimenting with industrial elements and testing their waters a bit.  It still sounded metalcore, but it had a little something extra. They won numerous opening slots from this heavy and experimental sound.  This album was really the first in what will probably be their classic albums. So, it’s only fitting that their new album, “Underneath,” starts with the familiar musical motif that was on Forever.  This is sure to send chills up the listener’s spine before the synth gets even more distorted and dramatic.  

This eventually leads into the track, “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole.”  This song kicks off with the band exploring more of their industrial side before launching into a signature Code Orange heavy groove.  This song melds the heavy and the industrial flawlessly and explores more of the industrial elements from Forever, such as killing the track mid groove.  This was the second single, but it really deserved to be first. Not only is this a fantastic first track, but it gives you a taste of everything that’s to come.  

If you thought that was heavy, wait until “In Fear” comes to kick your teeth down your throat.  This is one of the heaviest songs on the album and is the first to feature Reba’s vocals leading.  The band messes more with distorting not only the sound, but also their voices as some vocal spots may be compressed.  This song is followed up by another heavy hitter in, “You and You Alone.” This song features some of the good ol’ signature Code Orange sound dating back to “I Am King.”  It’s hardcore and it’s got the added industrial element to make something heavier than both. It’s abrasive, unrelenting, and features a really cool industrial middle section with Reba’s vocals hauntingly calling out.

Another of the standout tracks is “Cold.Metal.Place.”  This song features a type of heavy djent riff sprinkled onto a hardcore song.  This song emphasizes some of the more dissonant elements on the album and really is a great industrial hardcore song.  It features some more of the abundant industrial samples and effects without overdoing it. The reason it does is because this has been adopted into the sound.  It accounts for the fact that there’s going to be all this craziness going with it. The following track, “Sulfur Surrounding,” is more of a straightforward clean-cut song.  Reba is on lead vocals here and does a fantastic job of matching the tone of the somber, haunting melody. While it is less experimental than some of the other songs, it does still bring up some of the industrial elements for a dramatic, intense breakdown.  It sounds like a more heavy, experimental “Bleeding in the Blur,” which seems to be what the band is going for on the album. It takes Forever and pushes it further. This song is one of the best examples of that.

But the band doesn’t abandon their hardcore roots in search of a totally original sound.  “Erasure Scan” is a great example of this. It’s very hardcore and reminiscent of “Kill the Creator” without being self-plagiarizing.  It later seamlessly slows into a nice sludgy groove. This is probably the most hardcore sounding song on the album and doesn’t feel out of place because the band knows not to dial the industrial parts up too much or too little.  It’s just right so that it’s still cohesive.  

“Last Ones Left” is sure to make any metalhead lose their minds.  This is another of the more straightforward songs on the record and it’s got an absolutely anthemic chorus that anyone can shout at the top of their lungs.  This song is heavy all the way throughout before launching into a sort of half-time slow groove. People can accuse metalcore bands of getting into breakdowns too much.  But this song goes with the old, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. The breakdown makes the song that much more fun to go crazy on and is sure to be a staple for pits, should we ever have them again.

Along with Last Ones Left, “Autumn and Carbine” is another personal favorite.  This song features Reba with some of her most slick, punk sounding vocals. The chorus is infectious and is chock full of attitude.  There’s a really nice dreamy, distorted section before getting into an almost stoner-esque solo. This is definitely a song you can blast while driving around.

On this album, some people may get turned off by the use of industrial elements.  While there is a lot there, it doesn’t really take away from the actual music. With that being said, killing the music mid groove is sure to piss off some listeners.  I would understand getting mad at it if it was in a kind of sloppy or transitional place. But the band is aware of the fact that killing the music could turn some people off.  So, they usually kill the song in these places mid-groove where you know what’s coming next based on what was before. It’s something that’s done on a couple of songs, but nowhere where it’s a mystery what’s coming next after the song comes back in.  It’s a very calculated place to kill the music so that it doesn’t totally derail the song.

It’s clear that some of the more 2000s rock was an influence on this record.  Especially on a song like, “The Easy Way.” It’s definitely one of the weaker songs on the record but the infectious chorus and double bass definitely make up for it.  Also, this song displays the biggest influence on this record: Nine Inch Nails.

Throughout the whole album, it’s clear that the band is taking inspiration from Nine Inch Nails.  Some songs more than others, the band walks a fine line between ripping off and being inspired by.  The Easy Way is a song where the band clearly has that influence but still makes it out sounding like themselves.  “Who I Am” is another great song, but it also walks this very fine line as well. They come dangerously close to sounding too much like Nine Inch Nails.  They eventually cross this line on the final track, “Underneath.” Jami and Reba take turns trading off on vocals and the song just sounds too much like Nine Inch Nails.  It sounds like the kind of song a Trent Reznor cover band would have made. It’s a shame that they named the album after this track and made it the first single because it’s probably the worst track.  If you took this track off the album, it would be a stellar, damn-near perfect album. But it leaves a sour taste in your mouth in spite of some of the greatness that preceded it.  

Nevertheless, this is still a great album.  I highly recommend this album for any Code Orange or metalcore fans looking for some groundbreaking sound.  Did Code Orange manage to outdo Forever? I think they matched it but it’s debatable whether they beat it or not.  One thing’s for sure, this is definitely one of their best albums to date.