Music has always existed as one of the greatest methods of conjuring a particular feeling within the mind. And the forefront of these conjured feelings lies happiness, sadness, and anger. A wide variety of commonly recalled emotions is made through the musical craft and vision that a particular artist shapes. But there is one emotion that is particularly a rarity to find within popular music these days: that emotion is fear. When was the last time that a tension filled silence accompanied by abrasive, crude midi sound clips sent shivers down your spine? When was the last time that horrendously low-tuned, chugged chords echoed their way into your very mind to invoke trepidation within the heart that beats your blood? And when was the last time that a chorus of sinister voices ringing in perfect technical unison perpetuated that feeling of fear into the depths of very bones? Because I can seldom say that I have never seen a band that has been able to invoke one’s mind into a realm of fear like Code Orange can and has. Through their unique songwriting structure, their unique instrumentation, and their fearfully menacing live presence, Code Orange establishes themselves as innovators and goliaths within whatever genre you consider they truly fit in. Code Orange establishes themselves as a band of their own, and frankly doesn’t really mind whatever image or label anyone but themselves equates them with.
Code Orange has returned with the release of Forever (2017), an 11-track technically constructed abomination with enough hostile animosity to quickly establish the diverse musical work as the band’s best album to date. Forever quickly grounds itself as a mentally menacing album from the get go. Through cryptic sound voice clips, face ripping breakdowns, painful industrial sounding noises, sudden breaks to silence, and motifs that differ from Code Orange’s typical sound, Forever stands alone as an incredibly unique and cohesive album.
Code Orange’s last run through California was with hardcore band Terror back in December of 2015. After an elongated break from touring to record Forever, which was released on January 13th through Roadrunner Records, Code Orange returned to a full US tour promoting the recent release. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to photograph Code Orange at their sold-out San Francisco date of the tour located at Thee Parkside. The bill consisted of all California-based opening acts, including Youth Code, Disgrace, and Mara. And I’m not entirely sure if it was intentional, but each opener on the bill seemed to really represent a specific part of Code Orange’s sound musically. From Youth Code’s EBM sound that paralleled Code Orange’s usage of electronic noises in their last two albums, to Disgrace’s heavy and quick ripping rhythmical pace, to Mara’s excessive breakdowns, parts of Code Orange’s unique sound were able to be heard within the music of each opening act.
When Code Orange took the stage at roughly midnight, the mood instantly started to darken as the room became progressively quieter. Vocalist/drummer Jami Morgan said the words, “No fights” before guitarist Eric Balderose cued the hellishly cryptic vocal line at the start of the self-titled opening track off Forever. And from the second Code Orange began their set to the second it ended, fear was the feeling that resonated throughout that hellish packed room. Their 38-minute setlist consisted primarily of material off of Forever and their previously released album entitled I Am King (2014). I personally was extremely impressed with their addition of 3rd guitarist Dominic Landolina; the addition of a third guitarist made their sound heavier while seamlessly filling out any holes that might have been caused by guitarist/synth player Eric Balderose’s increased necessity to manage his synth and midi controllers while playing songs off the new album. This addition also added another animated member to add to Code Orange’s captivating stage presence despite their lack of a true frontman, an aspect about Code Orange that really differentiates from similar bands. Vocals are primarily done by drummer Jami Morgan, while bassist Joe Goldman fulfills that aggressive in your face stage presence that you would expect a frontman of their genre to accomplish.
This powerful ten song setlist included a few surprising tracks such as VI (Worms Fear God // God Fears Youth) off of their 4-way split released in 2013. Code Orange evoked a feeling of emotion that almost felt primitive in a sense. It was a feeling that felt extremely different from the vast majority of other modern hardcore bands; I would largely attribute this to the unique, primal feeling of fear that they manage to create through their music. Code Orange establishes themselves as a band that is largely unparalleled from both a musical and emotional aspect within whatever genre you deem they fit in. And in a sense, it is really spectacular how through and arrangement of notes, rhythms, and words, Code Orange is able to create such an altered realm of reality through their music. Code Orange consistently brings an aggressive and fear inducing attitude each time they take the stage, and there is nothing you can do to take it away.
Included below is a gallery featuring shots from Code Orange’s California dates taken by some of California’s best hardcore photographers, as well as video links to both of these sets taken by some extremely hard working and talented videographers within the hardcore community. Additionally included are images from supporting acts Youth Code, Disgrace, Momentum, and Mara. Please continue to support these artists as they strive to develop and share their art. A very special thanks to Gabe Becerra, Kiabad Meza (Modern Vision Fanzine), Steven Grise (197 Media) and Atrocious Works Productions for their contributions to this article.
Additionally, a young woman by the name of Emily Hoffman suffered a fairly severe injury at a recent show last week. I’m not going to delve into the situation considering the ambiguities surrounding it, but what should not be ambiguous is the fact that we have a responsibility to help support other individuals in our scene both physically, emotionally and financially when they are not in a position to help themselves. Aggression is and will always be an integral part of this genre of music, but let this serve as a reminder. We constantly need to be aware of the space which we inhabit and how our actions and motions affect the people around us. Please consider donating a few dollars towards Emily or even sending her an email to wish her well and help aid her during her recovery process. Here is a link to her Gofundme page – Emily’s Gofundme