Code Orange returns, though not as kids, but rather as a furious, new entity with its older, familiar parts grafted on seamlessly. 2012’s Love is Love/Return to Dust was explosive and strange, a strong debut from a band whose sound has no immediate peers. That album was easily segmented, each of its parts discernible while contributing to the greater work. Their second album, I Am King, is a thirty-minute blur of savagery, unrestrained with an unquenchable thirst for human blood. Like an autonomous corpse, I Am King can be dismembered, though its parts will keep fighting, tooth and nail, blood and spit. Despite its monstrous facade, the collection is underscored by a human heart that beats deeply and resoundingly.
The album’s release was prefaced by an odd marketing campaign with cult-like mantras replacing typical pitches. This approach was surprising and admittedly frustrating, considering the campaign’s oblique approach. As more of the actual record began to be unveiled, starting with the title track, it became clear that this campaign was a foray into shadowy, hardly-surveyed territory, inducting recruits for what felt like an impending event, rather than an album. Code Orange shed their sinewy adolescence in favor of a muscle-bound sledgehammer of a second outing. I Am King is reminiscent of 90s hardcore while staying true to that chaotic strangeness that allowed Love is Love/Return to Dust to stand tall. Here, Code Orange combines the emotive bombast of Converge with the lurking darkness of Disembodied, birthing something truly heavy, rather than a chugging, hulking mass. The Pittsburgh quartet operates as such a cohesive unit it can be felt and heard throughout the collection’s entirety. “Dreams in Inertia” is a standout track, halting the blitzkrieg two tracks in to demonstrate the many ways I Am King is schooled in bone-breaking. Quiet and measured in its dosage, “Dreams in Inertia” quakes by its end, culminating in a breakdown that is a slow head bang rather than a pit-churner. Tracks like “Unclean Spirit” and “My World,” on the other hand, are made for live brutalizing, as evidenced by a casual watch of Code Orange’s recent This Is Hardcore set, specifically during “My World.” These songs were crafted with violence and heartache, showing it with every shriek, drum flurry and flaying riff. From the distorted roar that opens “I Am King” and closes “Mercy,” the album comes full circle, as if in an infinite downward spiral that repeatedly, fatally ascends.
Lyrically, I Am King is hardly audible, though further inspection of the vinyl release’s sleeve reveals much of the message behind Code Orange’s anti-second album slump. When approached by the uninitiated based on its sound alone, I Am King is likely to be interpreted as nothing but spite, rather than the monument to self-betterment that it is. The album reaches out with bloodied knuckles to an ideal self and to those capable of assisting in raising the person to higher echelons. “Starve” is cathartic and rife with empathy, triumphant yet cautious with its glory: “I’ve never felt what you feel / But I know we feel together / When you starve I starve / We starve no more.” “Dreams In Inertia” starts out in a fetal position that slowly blooms into a person scorned with longing and burgeoning passion: “Lay your head down / Stay at rest / Never let me down again.” Above all, final track “Mercy” is a death threat to all that must be extirpated within, filled with a desire to be improved and armed with thoughtful progression: “I am finally alive / I have swallowed the sun / The machine is one with the cog / We are taught to pity and pry from the cradle / I will find the mercy in me / To kill the way I used to think.”
I Am King is one of the better hardcore releases so far this decade, an album that refuses to go through the motions, existing as something truly special. Code Orange maintain the approach that was so successful on their debut while tailoring it in a new, darkly vibrant way. Remote yet personal, feral yet beautiful, carve the hype into your skull.
Code Orange’s I Am King is available now from Deathwish Inc.