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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Code Orange’s ‘I Am King’ lacks creativity

Published: September 19, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories

Code Orange (formerly Code Orange Kids) is a band that wants to be taken seriously. It has toured relentlessly over the two years since the release of its first album “Love is Love/Return to Dust,” its name change and recruitment of Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou to produce its new record. It is also signed to Deathwish, one of the best modern labels for new bands in heavy music, and they proudly refuse to be classified in any genre ending with the suffix “core.” I am a fan of most of those things, so I was expecting their aforementioned new album, “I Am King,” to make me a fan of Code Orange.

Unfortunately, “I Am King” is a 37-minute example of style over substance. Its 11 songs feature downtuned guitars lathered in distortion, drums smashed like there’s no tomorrow and bass that goes “chug-chug-chug.” There are two layers of shrieked vocals, pounding riffs and droning feedback. The band also explores outside of its typical metalcore sound, integrating elements of sludge metal, classic hardcore punk and even some dreamy indie-rock stuff.

None of this is particularly effective, though. All the songs sound the same, and the album quickly becomes a bit of a chore. More than anything, would-be misfit rage anthems like “Slowburn,” “Alone in a Room” and “My World” sound like they’re trying too hard. There’s just no real feeling behind much of the musicianship, and even though Code Orange tries new sounds, it doesn’t take any of them far enough to be interesting. Also, while the screamed vocals are fine, they’re always backed up by deeper death growls, and those vocals are so overwrought and silly, they sound like what a teenager thinks death growls sound like.

If nothing else, “I Am King” portrays a band that takes itself too seriously. The album cover features the title carved into someone’s forehead, and every promo picture of the band has them in a line crossing their arms solemnly, because they’re real super hardcore. This is not to say Code Orange doesn’t honestly believe in the hardness of the core they are exuding.

Look at another Deathwish band that just released a new album: San Francisco quintet Punch. Every song Punch plays is ferocious, but it also goes with new ideas, no matter how crazy or a-melodic, and it adds to the atmosphere. On the flip side, Code Orange plays scary, heavy songs that go “chug-a-chug-a-chug” and aren’t much more than just kind of there. The best songs on the album, “Starve” and “Bind You,” are more straight metalcore, and are packaged into the end like afterthoughts. At the end of the day, Code Orange doesn’t seem to have the musical ability to match its creativity, and this holds them and “I Am King” back. I’m sure Code Orange has great songs in them, but they aren’t at the level they need to be as a band to express them properly.