Code Orange emerges with a blistering third album on Roadrunner
January 12, 2017 12:00 AM
Code Orange: Jami Morgan, Reba Meyers, Joe Goldman and Eric Balderose.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It’s hard to describe the new offering from Code Orange without tossing around words like “sick,” “brutal,” “punishing,” “extreme.”
Such adjectives fill the lively and argumentative comments section under the violent, blood-soaked video for the title track to “Forever,” the Pittsburgh hardcore band’s third album.
With: Incendiary, Wisdom in Chains, Eternal Sleep, Enemy Mind, Drawing Last Breath.
Where: Rex Theater, South Side.
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Tickets: $11-$15; ticketfly.com
“We want to make it all feel intense,” says drummer/singer Jami Morgan, understating the case just a fraction.
When Code Orange was just forming, back in 2008 at Pittsburgh CAPA, as Code Orange Kids, the mission was full-on hardcore chaos. Now, the quartet tinkers more with the dynamics, employing more breakdowns, tempo changes, textures and electronic elements.
“In the past [intensity] kind of meant making it all feel chaotic, but this has a lot of dips and high points and low points,” he says of the new album. “It happens in 35 minutes. I kind of wanted to make a big record through the eyes of hardcore and through the attention span of hardcore, but that has more ambition than that. To me a lot of post-[hardcore] records and art records, they go on and on. What I always loved about hardcore is that it was brief — get in, get out and put it on again. I wanted to mix those two worlds.”
Code Orange has been the biggest success story in Pittsburgh’s heavy crossover scene, originally forming as 14-year-olds and signing to Deathwish at 18 for the 2012 debut “Love Is Love/Return to Dust,” produced by mentor/hero Kurt Ballou of Converge. It gained them national attention and put them on the road with bands like [F-ed] Up and Every Time I Die.
Dropping “Kids” from the name, they went to the next level with “I Am King,” a second Ballou production that Pitchfork hailed as “the most forward-thinking post-hardcore record of 2014.” The touring cycle found Code Orange (with guitarists Eric Balderose and Reba Meyers and bassist Joe Goldman) on the road with Killswitch Engage in the summer of 2014, on the Mayhem Festival in 2015 and with the Deftones last May. It all drew more label attention to the band, which chose, to the dismay of some of those commenters, to sign with Roadrunner/Atlantic, home to Korn, Slipknot, Killswitch, even Rush.
“We wanted to go somewhere where we had a bigger platform and really be able to do what we wanted with the visuals and the promo and the art,” the drummer says. “We’ve designed every T-shirt we’ve ever done. A lot of these bigger labels want a bigger chunk of that control, or they give you the control and they don’t want to put the investment into it. They kind of did both. And there were a lot of bands that were on Roadrunner in the ’80s and ’90s that we really like a lot. It seemed like the best move for us overall.”
Having crafted the songs at their Mount Oliver rehearsal space (the members live in Squirrel Hill, Braddock and North Side), they laid down the tracks with Converge guitarist Ballou at his GodCity Studios in Salem, Mass., and had Will Yip (Lauryn Hill, Circa Survive) do the vocals and other touches at Studio 4, near Philadelphia.
“We could have gone to someone who was a big producer,” the drummer says, “but I think the whole basis for what we want is we want to do something new, and these two guys are the new.”
They also went back to their same video director, Max Moore in Louisville, Ky., for his terrifying interpretations of their songs.
On the overall approach to “Forever,” Mr. Morgan says, “We want to carve out our own unique spot not just in hardcore and metal, but in heavy music in general. We had these ideas to incorporate more electronics and just use these different kind of tools. I think our goal is to make records that people will say are us, that they’re not derivative. I want people to be derivative of us in the future.”
Code Orange unloads the hardcore essentials — lurching, pile-driving beats, grinding guitars, screaming and growling vocals — while also changing the pace with subtler, gloomier moments and a few songs where guitarist Meyers takes the vocal reins with an indie-rock aesthetic.
“It’s not all the same stroke,” the drummer says, “but we’ve always done that in some kind of way. I just think we’re getting a lot better at it. That side of the band [songs like the slower, gloomier ‘Bleeding in the Blur’] almost comes easier to us than the other side. We understand how to write a song like that and make it cool. The other is even more uncharted, so it’s kind of like finding the bridge to all of that and making it our [stuff]. At the end of the day, it ain’t about hardcore or metalcore or anything like that, it’s just about what we’re doing. It might not be this record or the next record, but people are going to know about it.”
The full Code Orange experience (and message) is going to require a lyric sheet, as most of it is delivered in a roar of aggression, but for those interested in what’s happening lyrically, Mr. Morgan says, “The last record was about coming into your own and trying to be better than what you’ve been summed up as or what you summed yourself up as. This record is more about dealing with that and learning how to wield that power.”
Code Orange hasn’t been the most visible band in its hometown, and asked about the support the band gets here, Mr. Morgan says, “I don’t think we get that shine. We have a couple rappers who are doing awesome. Who else is doing anything, especially at this age? There’s Anti-Flag, and they’re still kicking, and Mac and Wiz. It will happen when it happens, but I definitely don’t think we get that shine. And I do believe we’re killing it and putting Pittsburgh on the map in a different kind of world.”
He’s happy to do be doing it with his high school mates.
“We’re straight best friends and we go through ups and down, and we’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s a steady thing. The thing to remember is we’re still very, very young. We started this we were like 14 years old. We’re going to hit 10 years at age 24. It’s definitely weird, but I’m glad we started so early ’cause I think we got a leg up on everybody.”
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: scottmervis_pg.
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