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Code Orange’s ‘The Above’ Is 2023’s Most Ambitious Hardcore Album

On The Above, Code Orange merge hardcore, metal, and every rock and electronic genre they can think of to make 2023’s most ambitious heavy album.

The Above
Code Orange
Blue Grape Music
29 September 2023

In the decade and a half that Code Orange have been together, they’ve always been blazing their own trail. Making a name for themselves as Code Orange kids, their pummelling take on metallic hardcore, indebted to 1990s bands like Integrity and Converge, always had some softer leanings. In 2014, they dropped the “Kids” from their name and released their second album, I Am King, the debut of their incorporation of industrial elements, which they mastered in 2017’s Forever. If they weren’t the band who ushered in metallic hardcore’s takeover of the hardcore scene in the mid-2010s, overthrowing Trapped Under Ice worshippers and “HM2 hardcore” acts, they were at least the ones who brought it to most people’s attention.

Code Orange’s influence could not be ignored; in their wake, a whole host of bands gained popularity for their revivals of 1990s hardcore (Knocked Loose, Jesus Piece, Kublai Khan), and many too began incorporating elements of industrial and nu-metal (Harm’s Way’s Post-Human, Vein FM’s Errorzone, and the White Noise’s AM/PM). On 2020’s Underneath, Code Orange stripped most of the hardcore from their sound and dedicated wholly to industrial, which saw them become music critic darlings and hardcore kids’ worst enemies.

Now, on their fifth album, The Above, they are even more ambitious than before. Code Orange have long embraced a myriad of musical styles, but nowhere is that as apparent as in The Above. It embraces brutal metallic hardcore (“A Drone Opting Out of the Hive”), Korn-worshipping nu-metal (“Splinter the Soul”), glitch and shoegaze (“Theatre of Cruelty”), emotional power ballads and indie folk (“Mirror”), breakbeat and horror movie soundtracks (“Snapshot”), industrial rock (“Take Shape”), alternative rock (“Circle Through”) and lots of noise, feedback, and effects. It almost feels like switching back and forth between different radio stations, although that isn’t done as effectively here as it is on other similar albums like The Shape of Punk to Come or I Let It In and It Took Everything.

If you only listen to this record, there is no clear foundation for Code Orange’s sound in how jazz-infused post-hardcore is for Refused or djenty nu metalcore is for Loathe. It isn’t an experimental metalcore album because “The Above”, “Mirror”, and “I Fly” don’t include any metalcore elements, and it isn’t an experimental industrial metal LP because “But a Dream…” and “Mirror” don’t have any industrial metal elements. If you want to know if you will like this album, the opener, “Never Far Apart”, summarizes it entirely. It switches from a 1990s industrial verse to a pop piano ballad chorus to a vocal-splicing bridge before concluding with a metallic hardcore breakdown, panic chords, and all. It is varied; it is discordant, but it serves its purpose.

This album is clearly where Code Orange’s writing skills have caught up with this ambition. On previous releases, they occasionally had an issue where a track would sound like one song, and then everything cuts out, the Inception bass sound plays, and once it picks back up, it sounds like a different song. That doesn’t happen on The Above. Neither do the awkward cuts to total silence that plagued Underneath. Its songwriting is much more realized and cohesive. “Snapshot”, “Splinter the Soul”, and “But a Dream…” are composed with a pop sensibility and have beautiful, ear-worm chorus melodies that could fit on any modern rock radio station while also having songs that don’t abandon their heavy roots (“The Game”, “Grooming My Replacement”). The prominence of lead vocalist Jami Morgan’s clean singing can get grating. His voice is shrill, especially compared to Reba Meyers’s fuller, more powerful singing voice. However, this works very well when they harmonize in the chorus of “But a Dream…” and “Circle Through”.

While the current level of attention that hardcore is receiving is unprecedented, Code Orange’s The Above proves why that’s the case. Its genre-fluidity and accessibility, while at times being as heavy as any of their old material, portrays much of what makes the genre so thriving even outside the mainstream eye.

RATING 8 / 10