If you had asked me what I thought of Code Orange two months ago, I would have told you that Love is Love//Return to Dust cured my insomnia for a month or two (then under the name Code Orange Kids). The band came across as droll and boring; everything built up to just another breakdown, but the speed and punk moments were tasty, albeit way too sparse. So, what the hell does the above have to do with third album Forever, aside from being one of hardcore/punk’s favorite word for kids under twenty-five? And the answer is two-fold: one is that hype is a curious thing, and Code Orange has had some hype surrounding their name in the same sense that Florida in the 1980s had some cocaine. And that has fed factor two: the need to check out each release, at least once, to set about finally peeling away the layers and attempt to see what others see.
Forever is an album of many faces and colors. If you’ve become too acclimated with the ebb and flow of I Am King, and are expecting another skull-smashing, mosh-heavy, mostly breakdowns album, you’ll get your fill to an extent. On top of that, what Code Orange actually have here is something a little more sinister and admirable. Where they previously inspired comparisons to mid-2000s hardcore/punk like Violence Violence-era Ceremony with the fast/S L O W approach – with adagio tempo to fill the in-betweens – there’s a hodgepodge of things glued together. It’s erratic, fevered, abrupt, experimental and…it works.
It’s easy to be lured into this album and think you’re in for I Am King part two, even though the music video for ‘Forever’ was less than subtle about this not being that. The opening title track is a heavy-as-carpenter-nails burner that will lure old listeners into a familiar mosh frenzy. After all, Code Orange has a reputation for the heavy, practically on the verge of becoming a beatdown band. And the song is crushing. The breakdowns are as dense as you’ve come to expect, with plenty of fight in their one-beat-per-hour speed. It’s also one of the only albums in history to state its band name and album title as a full lyric line. Anyway, the erratic, abrupt nature of the band isn’t anything new. Ever since Love Is Love cut it short at the end, the band has expressed a need to turn things on a dime rather in an almost Dillinger Escape Plan fashion. Full sections will simply cut out and switch for something else. It has a way of grabbing you by the face and staring you down. And to say Code Orange (finally) play a good game of intimidation would be an understatement; it’s you versus them surrounding you, and these sudden shifts are akin to shivs being stuck in your side.
There’s another angle to the record, though. A part of me had been sitting back and tapping its foot, wondering when the band was finally going to bring a post-punk/no wave vibe to the band. Their cover of Archers of Loaf‘s ‘Web in Front’ for Casa de Diversion  was what really got the suspicion going, as though the Love American EP by American Nightmare was spun one too many times in between rehearsals. And a Sonic Youth influence comes through after a few songs – ‘Bleeding in the Blur’ might even have had its place on Dirty, with a stronger, more aggressive edge à la ‘Youth Against Fascism’ spliced with ‘Mildred Pierce’.
These moods and sounds become cohesive to an extent, where the aggression works its way into the calm rather than the other way around. But it’s hard to shake the feeling like you’re listening to two different albums that only loosely connect. The last two tracks feel the most disconnected, and perhaps that’s due to their succession. ‘Hurt Goes On’ is slow and quiet for most of its duration, increasing in volume near the end as industrial sounds creep in, but it keeps the pace. It’s actually a great build, possibly the best the band has written. Meanwhile, ‘dream2’ concludes the album on a quiet note, keeping things melodic and droning – almost shoegaze-y. But it cuts off abruptly and everything ends, because old habits die hard.
In the end, when Code Orange are being erratic, they sound like a minimalist Dillinger, but it doesn’t always play in their favor, and seldom do they play it up. And the interest that these sections could serve feel more like wasted potential. Then again, what’s punk without minimalizing something and cutting the bullshit? The band are metaphorically suddenly standing up and saying, “I have a really great idea!” over and over again, and sometimes cutting themselves off mid-thought. When they’re being heavy…it’s just what you’d expect from listening to previous albums. Slow strumming, kickboxing tempo…whatever, sometimes it’s passé and feels like it won’t die. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing (see: ‘The New Reality’). When they’re branching out though, there is real interest. The sudden blast and tempo-shit stabs (sometimes infused with a noisy or industrial angle) help to add that threat level, though it never elevates to orange. But there’s enough here to hold attention and enough lyrical chants to connect with the kids (see: ‘Ugly’, one of the best on the album).
Code Orange are a polarizing prospect. Personally, I can scratch my name off the haters list but I remain skeptical on their future. Maybe there’s something really epic and moving in the future. Maybe not. One thing seems certain: evolution is imminent and the past is not to be worshipped (see: the ‘Forever’ music video). Until then, we have the fleeting present.