At first it can seem like Code Orange make messy music. They are sold as a metalcore band, but rarely do they manage to stay within the confines of that genre for more than a minute at a time. What makes the band special and unique is that they take a style and sound that by all accounts, should seem extremely unfocussed and confusing, and instead make it seem ruthlessly efficient and electrifying.
2014’s I Am King was a huge step forward for the band, as they weaved ambient electronics and shoegaze effects into their metalcore sound, and then wrapped it in an ever-changing, stop-start dynamic that managed to always keep a listener on their toes. It was a fairly manic album, and at time it could seem over the top, but it was an invigorating listen nonetheless. What makes their new release, Forever special is that it peels away that element of constant change that sometimes made I Am King tiring. The band still changes tempo and sound on a dime, but it somehow always sounds more considered on Forever. Each change is either a natural evolution of what’s come before it, or a dramatic pivot used for effect, and the resulting structure feels much more deliberate, whilst still remaining dynamic and exciting.
That sense of excitement is aided by the newly pared back production of Kurt Ballou (who also produced I Am King) and Will Yip. The soundscape now features fewer instruments and layers, and in turn, each sound has become much more vividly realised and aggressive. The guitars in particular, benefit enormously, sounding both heavier and more skeletal simultaneously. The industrial-styled electronics now blend much more elegantly with the guitar textures, whereas on I Am King they sometimes overwhelmed the soundscape. Jami Morgan’s lyrics are still near-incomprehensible, but that doesn’t really matter when his guttural timbre is so striking. Like the drums he also plays, he uses his voice as a rhythmic tool as much as a melodic one, letting the vocals be a grounding presence amongst the cacophonous sounds.
Forever represents another leap forward in a career so far full of them. Code Orange have smartly managed to take a style which once could have seemed like a structural gimmick, and turn it something genuinely affecting. The album feels like riding a rollercoaster, but one that knows exactly when to give you what you want, and exactly when to surprise you. Forever is not just a great metal album, it’s a phenomenal piece of composition and discipline in its own right, and it marks a wonderful introduction to the musical creativity 2017 will hopefully bring.