ALBUM REVIEW – “I Am King” by Code Orange

Absolutely no one in the known universe does hardcore like Code Orange. Few bands have gone to such lengths to cultivate the oppressive image that the Pittsburgh quintet have. With just handful of demos and a single legitimate full length under their belt, CO has become *the* up and coming band in modern hardcore, with a fan base (the “Thinners of the Herd”) sweeping the nation like a bona fide cult. Their 2012 release Love Is Love//Return To Dust established the group as a violent, raw, doom obsessed, punk band with absolutely nothing to lose. After a name change in 2014 (The band was known as Code Orange Kids), the band claimed that it marked a “new era for the band” and thus set the world up for what would become the I Am King hype train.

This is a bleeping colossal record. Oozing and crashing through 11 tracks, the band explores a host of new ideas left mostly untouched on previous outings. Fret not, much of what fans loved about Code Orange Kids has made the transition, there is no lack of ambition or fear on to be found here, even if I Am King is a much much darker and more drudging affair than Love Is Love. The traditional multimeter d-beat and blast sections appear and vanish in spastic flourishes in an effort to give needed space to the album’s main sonic textures: relentless chugging and dissonant atmospheres, wrapped in a disturbing grunge wrapper. There are zero punches pulled on I Am King, as it moves beyond the more “beatdown” style of Love Is Love, to something more sinister.

Code Orange vent their ambitions for a new musical direction by scattering various non-genre elements all over King. Sure this sort of mixture of styles showed itself on Love Is Love, but King boldly steps on hardcore toes in several locations. The psuedo choir section of “Starve” being the best example. There is an obvious love of genres like shoegaze and even post punk (sometimes the same thing but oh well) and it adds a really special element to the album. CO don’t depend on sheer volume to do their work for them, at least not as much as one may think. It certainly helps, but sometimes the group pulls back and heads elsewhere, and this is what makes Code Orange a standout band, a willingness to mix and express.

Legendary producer Kurt Ballou leaves his mark on the record with all sorts of nifty tricks and ideas. The production and mixing lets CO be chaotic without stepping outside too many boundaries to be nigh ineffective. The music gets busy, but there is always a purpose, an underlying culture that CO have created and permeate. There are odds and ends throughout where Kurt obviously took full creative reign, to help extend the band’s sound beyond the member’s mental walls. Example: recording an opening to a song in a “room” for effect is no secret, but whatever room the very beginning of “Starve” was tracked in has a very distinct character, it’s metallic, bitter and almost claustrophobic. It’s a tiny detail, but it shows the sort of art listeners are dealing with.

Then there are the atmospheric sounds scattered throughout. It isn’t even necessary to pay attention because each sound is extremely unique and makes itself known. The opening title track kicks off with a scorching wall of noise, “Mercy” closes with a brooding transmission of sorts, “Your Body Is Ready…” has an odd distorted synth in its final moments, etcetc. Whether these sounds came from Kurt or Code Orange is irrelevant, because they are the icing on the cake and add an almost sense of maturity to the band’s sound.

All in all, If Love Is Love was meant to be the Code Orange manifesto, and King is supposedly the revolution itself, there are still a few pieces missing. It’s bloody, oppressive, terrifying, but to put it next to Love Is Love and call it a successor isn’t exactly the smartest move. An incredible record to be sure, but it just feels a little dull at times, and doesn’t live up as much hype as some may claim. Maybe a little energy should have been taken from hyping I Am King up and put into truly foolproof writing.

There just some moments when Code Orange slips too far into being breakdown happy, or into-dare I say it-riff happy. The ending of “Starve” may be the best example of this, and it makes I Am King just a shade too accessible (read: catchy) and prevents it from quite living in the shadow of its benchmark setting predecessor. There are so many great things going on with King, and it gets away from CO once or twice, when an album really needed to be perfect, a record that is slightly less than perfection seems to feel like failure.

 

 

8/10

Max Robison

 

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