Code Orange - Underneath
Roadrunner Records
Industrial Metalcore
14 songs (47:26)
Release year: 2020
Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Goat

Starting life as a hardcore band under the name of Code Orange Kids, this bunch of Pittsburghians dropped the 'Kids' and added plenty of industrial influence, from more straightforward clanging and banging to more experimental glitch elements, resulting in a controversial yet critically-acclaimed blend that's actually quite original. It's not the bleepy thrash of Fear Factory nor the keyboard-enhanced Bleeding Through, but an often quite weird mixture of Converge-esque hardcore and more adventurous, experimental electronic elements that are often infused so well into the music that it's hard to imagine the band without them. 2017's Forever brought the band most attention, placing a lot of pressure on Underneath in a way that's reminiscent of the 'difficult second album' cliché without this actually being a second album.

Code Orange haven't helped their perception here with the addition of more melodic and almost nu-metal-ish elements, the worst example being intro (deeperthanbefore) with its almost too edgy to be comfortable blasts of noise and child's voice. Yet all in all the mixture is still unique and compelling enough to make Underneath worthy of examination, particularly in the heavier moments. First track proper Swallowing the Rabbit Whole is a chuggy hardcore piece dominated by layered electronics, the closest thing coming to mind being (sadly single-album) gabba/death metal wonders Ted Maul, although Code Orange are more self-consciously experimental and even avant-garde with some of the sudden changes, not to mention the glitchy stops and starts that make you think you've paused the song accidentally. Another obvious comparison is Slipknot, Code Orange being heavier and darker (and better) than the masked Iowans, not least for the fact that the vocalist(s) here have a harsher bark and far less poppy songwriting - Erasure Scan alone, for example, is far heavier and harder than Slipknot have been in years.

Sure, Who I Am and The Easy Way are closer to Faith No More and Nine Inch Nails respectively with the complex electronic backing beneath the clean singing but it is interesting that the more melodic aspects to the album aren't remotely as bad as you might expect, and the album keeps things moving quickly enough that it stays entertaining. As mentioned, the best moments are generally the heaviest, the driving hardcore of In Fear given an extra blunt impact with the underlying beats and glitches, and the clean-sung moments utilised well as contrasts rather than feeling poppy. You and You Alone's percussive chugging works effectively, too, not least for being built around solid groovy riffing, and Cold.Metal.Place's embracing of industrial elements is weirdly like Red Harvest despite those metalcore-y riffs that pop up in the latter half. Autumn and Carbine has an interesting latter-day Dillinger Escape Plan vibe, and although Sulphur Surrounding is driven by vocal hooks and does feel very 90s even drowned as it is with all the electronic elements, there's more than enough songwriting meat on the bone to warrant its inclusion.

These two aspects of the band's sound, clean-sung melodic metal and hardcore heaviness, are combined well enough thanks to the industrial elements to stop Underneath from feeling too schizophrenic, especially on the closing title track which mixes lighter female vocals and heavier male to terrific effect. For a popular metal album in 2020 to be this messy and weird shows that the kids are doing far more alright than you might have expected from back in the day when Evanescence were the mainstream-but-edgy choice! Kudos to Code Orange for that, at least; this is hardly commercial and is good enough to be recommended to those underground types who like industrial music and don't mind metalcore.

Killing Songs :
In Fear, You and You Alone, Cold.Metal.Place, The Easy Way, Underneath
Goat quoted 75 / 100
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