I’ve been a fan of horrible abrasive music for quite a while now, ever since my mam got me a copy of Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, delving from there into all facets of the strange and aggressive side of music. This could be the abstract Japanese noise of the Gerogerigegege, the soul crushing brutality of Nails, the sweeping beauty matched with searing noise that is Oathbreaker, the more accessible though no less intense likes of Slipknot, metal, punk, hardcore, noise, industrial, I wanted to consume it all.
Alongside that I delved so heavily into the history of that music, the media surrounding it, the discourse in Facebook groups and message boards and even YouTube comments. Through all that I’ve realised something, something that’s taken me a while to get to grips with, but something that’s very important for understanding what makes this record here as special as it is.
I’ve little to no sympathy or time for the “rock’s dead now” crowd. Whether you’re the grumpy dad who wishes we all still sounded like Credence Clearwater Revival, or the hipster who grew tired of jocking indie-folk bands and has now decided to write off guitar music in its entirety in favour of swapping out whatever’s on your iPod every month in favour of whatever producer is cool enough to like this month with a stash of memes prepared for when the tide turns, I’ve no time for yis.
There’s always gonna be great vital bands out there making challenging music, and if you wanna sit with your fingers in your ears chanting about how much better it was when dying at a hardcore show was a very real risk, all you’re doing is holding us back. At the same time however I do recognize that while I can sit here and feel all superior by putting bands like Heaven In Her Arms, a Japanese band with a beautiful mixture of shoegze, black metal and screamo, and Helpless, a grindcore band with a deep love of noise rock that sets them apart from all the brilliant new grind/powerviolence bands, in my end of year lists, I wouldn’t know who they were if my mam didn’t get me that NIN album.
If I didn’t hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio, if the CD of huge singles in the UK in 1979 didn’t have “Ace of Spades,” if I didn’t see lads in Slipknot hoodies around town. We may not like the bands in question, indeed we may be very protective of our own little subgenres of choice and want to guard them from the “wrong people.”
When the mainstream slags off heavy music as being artless, talentless, incapable of eliciting any real emotion, and you actually try it and have the truth uncovered, it creates a powerful bond with you, and people coming into that space who don’t understand its history can be a pain. But let’s be real here lads, we all had to start somewhere with this music, we all need our gateway bands, we all need bands to get to a certain level so the underground still has a chance to prosper outside of bands doing an album and a couple split EPs then breaking up.
Though there had been a number of great albums, as both a commercial and an artistic force at large, heavy music could be argued to have been in a grim place for the last wee while. The bands who headline big festivals aren’t gonna be around forever, a number of bands who seemed primed to make that leap fucked it and stagnated, and it seemed for a while that heavy music was content to just stagnate in its own filth.
That stagnation is understandable, the music industry just isn’t built to facilitate huge bands making billions the same way it was for the longest while, pre digital downloads and Napster and streaming and all of that. Additionally bands playing the mainstream game very seldom goes well, the initial rush of success doomed by the fact the lifers have largely jumped ship. However that doesn’t mean bands can’t threaten to take on the mainstream, or at least make an impact outside of a few blogs and magazines, without compromising their identity.
Deafheaven dropped Sunbather in 2013, a phenomenal album that would make waves far outside of the post rock-black metal scene, becoming the best reviewed album of that year on Metacritic. Behemoth, ferocious Polish extreme metal warriors came back in 2014 with The Satanist, an album that would again go on to dominate end of year lists across the board. 2017 gave us Code Orange’s Forever, an album that would be far more than a critically adored interesting hardcore album, it would be a game changer, and it would launch them even further into the spotlight while they still remained that furious, nasty, complex band they were playing basement shows in Pittsburgh.
The reasons why Forever is such a great album musically have already been covered to death by music writers across the board with far greater writing skill than I, but I’ll do my best here. Code Orange are a band with a deep knowledge of not only hardcore and all its tropes, but also more melodic indie bands, the groovy 90’s Roadrunner Records bands, industrial metal bands.
They take all these tropes and ideas and they not only execute them to the nth degree, the way they weave all these disparate ideas together manages to be both breath-taking in how it catches you off guard, but still fitting within the framework of an accessible hardcore album. Sure it might be extraordinarily brutal, crushingly dark, but it achieves all of its experimentation without disappearing into an abstract ether. You have an absolutely monstrous anthem in “Bleeding In The Blur”, who knew Code Orange could do soaring choruses and sick, metallic yet grungy riffage at the same time (well I didn’t doubt em but this still took me by surprise)?
You’ve got the brutality we know and love ‘em for in the title track, “Kill The Creator” and “Real” to name just three songs that follow one another. You’ve got a stone cold modern classic of an album on your hands, and like all classic albums, its not just the music that’s significant with this album, but the role it plays in the greater rock landscape.
With Forever, Code Orange have broken out of the hardcore underground, though this album lives there, it really does exist in a class of its own. They’ve secured touring slots with the likes of Trivium, Gojira, even the mighty Deftones. They’ve graced the covers of major magazines, a feat previously unimaginable when those mags were keen on wringing every last cover out of Metallica and Iron Maiden despite a lack of activity on their front. They’ve even gotten a nod in Rolling Stone, making it into their end of year album list. They’ve soundtracked a wrestler’s entrance at an NXT Event.
They’ve gotten a fucking Grammy nomination lads. All while being firmly themselves, refusing to play the game, dragging the mainstream to them. Their confrontational attitude is one that could be poked fun at, but it has taken them from the basements to the stage to the Grammys. This isn’t just a brilliant series of events for a band who deserve every ounce of this success, it’s a call to arms for every band in the underground to step their game up. It’s showing the mainstream who might sneer at us that we’re making challenging, artistically brilliant music that deserves to be taken seriously, and we’re not gonna settle for just playing a few basement shows or a grudging positive review laced with snark, like how the NME did Converge on All We Love We Leave Behind.
For me it’s validation of the fact that I shite on about these kinds of bands all the time isn’t for nothing, that they’re gonna go out there and do things and force the world to pay attention to them as they’re burning hotter than that coal fire under that abandoned Pennsylvania town. It’s creating a world where former scene kid snark bait mags like Kerrang will give a band as brilliant and destructive as British mathcore heroes Employed To Serve album of the year. It’s creating a world where all the exciting underground bands like Power Trip's brilliantly timeless modern thrash, or Jesus Piece's all out violent attack, or Black Peaks' unusual yet uttterly compelling take on progressive rock, or Venom Prison's filthy, furiously feminist take on death metal are gonna get their chance to shine, not just because the media need more bands to shift copies, but because the floodgates are opened.
I’ve had to deal with brilliant bands like Brotherhood Of The Lake, Bastions, Trap Them, Dead Swans, getting overlooked and splitting up when they had the chance to do so much more while absolute dreck that does a few numbers n drops off the earth and ancient bands phoning it in for the 100th time have their arses licked, and those dark times are coming to an end. Maybe this album will be as significant as Slipknot’s debut in terms of numbers, I certainly hope it’s not a Relationship Of Command where the band implode afterwards, but we’ve got a modern classic here from a genre that very rarely gets the respect it deserves for just how brilliant it can be at its best, and we need to cherish that.