“We’re just writing music that we love and we want it to all make sense together. We’re trying to not just be a one colour band”
“Took the crown and now we break it” – a particularly powerful line from the title track of ‘Forever’, the breakthrough album from Pittsburgh hardcore rule breakers Code Orange. Already a frontrunner for album of the year, it’s a chilling, exhilarating experience that takes the metallic hardcore blueprint established on earlier releases ‘Love Is Love/Return To Dust’ and ‘I Am King’, and distorts in in increasingly imaginative ways, bringing in dark ambience, pulsing synthesisers and even elements of grunge. The result is an almost cinematic experience, standing at the forefront of hardcore, and taking a huge step to the left.
Indeed, this new record is taking Code Orange into new territories, and after a US headline tour, the first step of bringing their sound to new places begins with a European run with Roadrunner label mates Gojira. On paper, it might seem like a bit of an odd couple, but both bands are expanding their audiences and moving further and further away from the genres that spawned them. Sitting down with guitarist/vocalist Reba Meyers, she muses on the tour thus far.
“It’s been good, I love Gojira… they’ve worked super hard and that’s the exact kind [of band we want to work with]. They reach a lot of metal fans that don’t know who we are, but I think we’ve been able to get to some of them at least, it’s always hard to tell right when you’re in it. We knew when they offered us this tour it would be good for us, we click with them I think and in a way that makes sense.”
Although the band share values on paper, one of the biggest talking points of this tour is Code Orange’s ability to win over such this new audience, and indeed, how ‘Forever’’s more challenging material would translate live. With many stop/start moments to keep the listener on their toes, making these moments work in a live environment was key for the band. “We practised every day after recording,” explains Myers. “We were thinking about that the whole time like ‘ok this will be really hard, how do we figure out?’ Sometimes you have to figure out different ways of doing things but, we always make sure the way we figure it out is if not cooler, just as cool as the record.”
‘Forever’ marks a dramatic sonic shift in the band’s live operation, and has resulted in a slight personnel change as a result. With such a dramatic expansion to their sound, Eric ‘Shade’ Balderose’s [guitar/vocals/synths] role became less guitar focussed and more about making the new electronic elements present on the album just as big a part of their live show. As a result, guitarist Dominic Landolina of Code Orange alt-rock side project Adventures (of which Meyers performs lead vocals) came in to fill in the gaps; with the band being such a tight unit, it was only logical to bring in someone so close to home.
“He’s been our friend since forever, I’ve known him since I was 4 years old,“ Meyers tells us. "We weren’t sure how we wanted to go down with it, but it just happened. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, who knows what will change. We change things all the time and do whatever we want basically, but he’s in it right now and he’s killing it.”
Lending a hand with the writing process, Landolina’s inclusion in the band’s touring line-up made perfect sense. “It’s been awesome,” continues Meyers. “We didn’t want there to be any teething process. We knew if there was one it wouldn’t work, we never want to go up there with it half figured out.”
‘Half figured out’ isn’t a phrase Code Orange have associated with for some time. On previous record ‘I Am King’, Meyers showed plenty of melodic vocal potential, as the creepy, dirgey chorus of ‘Dreams In Inertia’ amply displayed. As great as this record is though, the dramatic leap in quality in ‘Forever’ displays enormous personal improvement for each member. “I think every person in the band had things [they wanted to improve on], which is why everything got better. Jami [Morgan, drums, vocals] has a big vision for the band, it’s always been his thing but every person has their part. For me, I wanted to sing and for it to be powerful, much more powerful than on ‘I Am King’, and I think with ‘Bleeding In The Blur’ it was like ‘now’s my chance to do this right’, it wasn’t just some little weird parts. Everyone had their piece and I think that’s what makes it all fit together well.”
Undoubtedly a standout moment on the record, ‘Bleeding In The Blur’ best represents the grungier side of Code Orange’s sound, and for that reason alone, it’s the most likely to really cut into the mainstream. Meyers’ powerful but vulnerable vocal performance sees the band take a shot at processed, industry darlings who are there for no other reason to “fill the void” and “oil the machine”. Yes, the chorus is one of the biggest you’re likely to hear on a heavy record this year, but when layered with the odd death growl, feedback and a gnarly hardcore guitar tone, it’s apparent that this is less about shooting for the mainstream and more about corrupting as much ground with their sonic darkness as possible.
“We’ve had that in our sound for a long time, we’ve always had songs like that. You could even say we practised that with ‘Adventures’ in a different way, just writing more of a ‘song’ that’s a standard structure. The vibe of the song fits with the record and we’ve always tried to fit that in with Code Orange too. It’s just another part of us and people can say what they want about what we’re ‘trying’ to do, but we’re just writing music that we love and we want it to all make sense together. We’re trying to not just be a one colour band.”
While it’s true you can’t be all things to all people (and albums that attempt to, usually fail miserably), one can’t help but feel Code Orange have a little something for everyone, while maintaining their distinct attitude and presence. Despite this, being as musically challenging as they are, saying ‘see this band now before they blow up’ would be overly optimistic. This summer however, the band will embark on a European arena run with System Of A Down, a band who were once just as much the outsiders, if not more so. Just like Code Orange themselves, you can count on what happens from here on out to be nothing, if not fascinating, to watch.
‘Forever’ by Code Orange is out now on Roadrunner Records.
Words by Josh Graham (@jollyboyjosh_)