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Review: Code Orange - I Am King

Picture via Stereogum
By Megan Fair, Copy Chief

[Deathwish; 2014]

Rating: 7/10

Key Tracks: “Slowburn,” “Mercy”

Over the past summer Code Orange dropped the "Kids" from their band name. Maybe it's because these young musicians are maturing and entering their twenties or maybe it's because "kids" sounds way too friendly to fit the tone of their latest effort, I Am King. The record is a culmination of utter rage, dissonance and bitter fury, and most certainly not for the faint of heart.

The album induces an absolutely homicidal rage; anyone itching to see Code Orange perform live in the near future should get used to being hit and/or pitting so hard you nearly die. If you don’t feel like taking my word for how heavy this record is, just check out the album art. A man with ‘I AM KING’ literally carved into his forehead. Brutal.

I Am King may be the most important hardcore record to be delivered this year. It's clear Code Orange is aware of what came before, nodding to many influential sounds and styles within the death metal, metal and hardcore communities. Although its influences are apparent, this record is all Code Orange.

The way the band delivers music is haunting, with usually indiscernible lyrics and thick guitars, fuzz and distortion and echoing effects, all making the record seem massive. Code Orange is known for mixing in other styles, like elements of indie and grunge as evidenced by “Dreams In Inertia,” but the record makes the varied styles feel cohesive.

It's important to mention that although Code Orange wrote a killer record, Kurt Ballou of God City Studios and Brad Boatright did an amazing job on the recording, engineering and mastering end. The record is impeccably produced, capturing an enormous sonic wall. Production on heavy albums can sometimes turn hardness into hokeyness, but not with I Am King; this was engineered to instill fear in the meek of heart (and basically anyone capable of fear, for that matter).

The album begins with the title track, announcing itself with wailing distortion cutting in and out. The silence jars listeners into an eerie weariness, anticipating the arrival of the song’s structure. It feels a little "Inception"-y, inducing the same level of confused stress as the film's trademark horns. This cutting occurs throughout the record, tying a lot of the sound and concepts together. The song’s aggression is just a sneak peek into the relentless madness of I Am King.

“Slowburn,” a sludgy tune, commands respect and fear with guttural screaming and rhythm section-centric verses. A metallic bell helps create the distinct frightening tilt of the track. The final breakdown of this song will make you bang your fuckin’ head or fist fight the person in closest proximity. Either way, something’s about to get hella violent and you’ll be feeling it the next day.

“Mercy” concludes the record, and what a conclusion! The ominous central section of the song is driven by an omnipresent metallic tinging. It all flows together perfectly, the fairly diverse sections tying together to form one carefully crafted warning of who is king. The musical section fades out into a distortion-laden soundscape under which the ominous, whispered declaration of epiphany occurs: “I am finally alive / I am King.”

The record uses certain themes such as spoken vocals, metallic sounding percussion, electronic effects and consistently scary tones to make for a unified experience which will transport the listener to a nightmarish land of terror.

Although I Am King is undoubtedly a masterpiece, it contains some flaws. “Dreams In Inertia” and “Starve” both feature disjointed, echo-laden vocals that, while not exactly awkward, seem to detract from the energy that makes Code Orange so distinct.

These oddball moments and other isolated, softer and grungier bits of songs seem not quite perfectly seamless, but are much more cohesive than the movements on Love Is Love//Return To Dust. This is only Code Orange’s sophomore full-length, so the group certainly has room to grow. Only Code Orange know what nightmarish worlds await on the next full-length.

#albumreview #codeorange #meganfair #iamking

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