“Technology is something that I really appreciate, but being someone who comes from hardcore, metal and punk, you’re fighting it at the same time,” says Code Orange’s Jami Morgan about his band’s unforgiving new record, Forever. “It’s almost like the bridge between those two ideas.” That portion from a late 2016 Rolling Stone interview comes to mind every time I listen to Forever (Code Orange’s third full length and major label debut for Roadrunner Records) – a record that embraces technology as much as it wants to destroy it, resulting in a near perfect modern hardcore classic.
The fearlessness that was touched on 2014’s I Am King is fully realized on Forever, as Code Orange take more risks and incorporate more experimental ideas throughout the album’s eleven terror-inducing tracks. That same fearlessness expands to how the band, especially Morgan, unapologetically views the current state of heavy music, with Morgan calling out some bands as “bargain bin fucking deathcore bands.” He isn’t wrong and that’s why it is so important that Forever tears down the machine that is modern day metal in the most exhilarating and challenging ways possible.
While I Am King was deliciously sludgy, Forever blends Code Orange’s brand of hardcore with bleak electronic glitches, industrial flourishes, and grunge-tinged melody. Basically there is no stone left unturned during the album’s 35 minute run time. For evidence that Code Orange won’t be resting its laurels on I Am King’s past success, check the video for the album opening title track showcasing the demise of the head that wears that crown. It’s a crushing, visceral reintroduction to a band that doesn’t follow the path of hardcore past but instead creates new ones. Its harrowing beatdown is just the tip of the iceberg that this album plows through – “Kill The Creator” is unrelenting while “Real” begins with one of the most intense, knee-buckling breakdowns in recent memory. But beneath all that are the album’s industrial undercurrents that cut in and out, giving the listener a false sense of security before coming back to kick the chair out from underneath them. “The Mud” is the best example of that style as it bridges the sludge and droning scare tactics brilliantly, as the booming electronic beginning transitions into caustic thudding of chords before dropping out into a deafening silence only to lead into the song’s crushing finale. It’s an breathtaking, jarring track that shows the growth the band has made since 2012’s Love is Love/Return To Dust.
Forever still features tracks that will ignite the pit into bonafide danger zone, as “The New Reality” and “Spy” form a double dosage of absolutely crushing hardcore. The latter is prime example of how the trio of vocals from Morgan, Reba Meyers, and Eric Balderose feel like a modern day Ghidorah, each unique vocal style giving Forever a dizzying array of diversity. And a lot of that can be attested to the co-production styles of Kurt Ballou and Will Yip, as both styles work together to create a seamless, ultrasonic listening experience.
But what sets apart Forever from its predecessors and peers is its fearless leap outside genre norms. Songs like “Bleeding In The Blur” and “Ugly” are modern rock songs meant to make radio listeners uneasy. as a tool to push Code Orange’s sound to different heights. “Blur” features Meyers taking over lead vocals as her melodic range is meshed with Soundgarden-tinged guitar tones, turning into one of the catchiest things Code Orange has ever written. Then there’s the glitchy flourishes that put the exclamation point on the vicious “No One Is Untouchable” while the hushed horror vibes of “Hurt Goes On” is Reznor-esque until it explodes into full nightmare mode. And album closer “dream2” is a hazy, Meyers-led haunt that ends Forever abruptly. Even at the very end, Code Orange wants to make you uncomfortable.
When I was fifteen years old I heard Converge’s Jane Doe for the first time. It was an album that completely changed my idea of what heavy music was and how heavy music could be created. Roughly 16 years later and Forever gives me those same feelings. It’s savage, unpredictable, and genuine – nothing feels gimmicky as each glitch, breakdown, and silent intrusion lead to massive payoffs. Another thing Morgan brought up in the aforementioned Rolling Stone interview was the idea that “there’s a lot of bands about fun, especially in hardcore. Our band is not about fun. It’s never fun, but it’s rewarding.” And that’s the perfect way to describe Forever – a genre-defying, boundary-pushing, incredibly rewarding album that just put the rest of 2017 on notice.