Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is known for being a haven for one of the hardest jobs in the world, bending and manipulating steel for practical use. The city homes one of the toughest sports franchises of all-time, The Pittsburgh Steelers. The picture I am trying to paint is that Pittsburgh is a manly town that is built upon roots of hard work and tough work professions. To think that growing up in an area like that would not affect the types of sound a band creates is foolish, especially since Code Orange have been creating some of the heaviest and noisy hardcore music since their inception in 2008. The band mostly made waves after signing to Deathwish Inc. when the median age of all four members was a tender 18 years old. Few people are able to pass high school with flying colors by that age, yet Code Orange were busy signing to a massive record label and embarking on a revival for the hardcore genre. Despite some flaws of short song lengths and slightly boring writing, Code Orange can make an argument as one of the heaviest bands out there. I Am King tells no different of a story and is easily one of the hardest punk-inspired albums released in a long time.
The overall sound of Code Orange has not changed in a drastic manner, but there are some notable differences. While Love Is Love // Return To Dust was a pretty mammoth album for the genre in devastating sound, I Am King makes it look weak in comparison. Every song on this album is massively dissonant and heavy from beginning to end, and finesse is clearly some something Code Orange have no interest in changing, unlike their band name. The guitar riffs and dark nature of the song structures are where the album soars to the highest of quality and every riff is fat and cuts to the bone, being the cleaner segment of the recording for good reason. While there are few solos, the breakdowns present always leave a mark on the listener. Drums and bass are mixed much lighter in the walls of sound, but each get their chances to shine, but the real downfall in the sound mixing of I Am King is the vocals. If the vocals are not poorly delivered or uneven, they are poorly mixed and washed out by the heavier sound of the guitars. The vast array of delivery styles are interesting in theory, but the execution is poor. There are typical screams, discernable but harsh growls, and some mumbling to add variety.
Most of the 11 songs on the track listing have enough going on for the positive side of the ledger, and the first four songs of I Am King are nearly masterful in a hardcore sense. The title track leads off the assault with a massive drone cutting throughout, creating one of the more interesting rhythms of the rooted genre. The riffs present throughout are heavy and loud to a nearly unbearable level, along with booming drums and a beautiful breakdown in the middle. “Slowburn” follows it up with a more traditional track, featuring equally heavy riffs and clean, yet still harsh, vocal deliveries. The long-held reverberated notes to end riffs and a late solo throw a wrench in the simplistic track though. “Dreams In Inertia” comes in to give the record a small semblance of finesse, incorporating various starts-and-stops that disjoint the song well, and the vocal harmony on the chorus is strong, while solidifying one of the few truly interesting moments in that aspect on the record. “Unclean Spirit” is a shorter sprint at under three minutes, but the crunchy riffs and breakdowns create some truly nasty tones. The last 30 seconds of “Unclean Spirit” are excellent, being the best sequence of the whole record.
I would be lying if there were not any problems throughout the 32 minute album. The whole second half of the record aside from the brooding “My World” is a little dull. By this time, the heavy riffs start to become a bit predictable and less interesting as a result. Their aesthetic to create some truly powerful and bone crushing music only works when the sound mixing is truly perfect. The gamble to add some electronics near the end takes away from the harshness, only to add a layer of weakness. The vocals as spoken to above are the lowlight of the record, specifically the second half where the songs are much leaner and harder to read into thematically. “Alone In a Room” is a fine track to head bang to, but there is too little meat on the bone to bite into. “Thinners of the Herd” features some truly annoying feedback from the guitar lines and has too much heavy without enough finesse to seal the deal. As a matter of fact, the whole record could us some finesse to make the harsher moments even more heavy in the second half.
Code Orange show off all of the promise that earned them a record deal at such a young age, however, I Am King also features some of the youthful mistakes such as not bringing enough writing chops to the table along with the harsh and heavy tones. There are still some great tracks on the record and plenty of solid musicianship for any hardcore fan to enjoy though. I highly recommend any fan of noisy music to give this record a listen, even with the rough edges awaiting them.
1. I Am King
3. Dreams In Inertia
4. Unclean Spirit
5. Alone In A Room
6. My World
8. Your Body Is Ready…
9. Thinners of the Herd
10. Bind You