Code Orange 3:16 Says, ‘Kill the Creator’
Today, Code Orange is premiering their new song off their upcoming album Forever, 'Kill The Creator.' The song is one of the record's most relentless tacks, highlighted in a new 'visualizer' made for the album, which looks like a crude, repurposed video game possessed by some deranged techno-demon. The band promises the end of your bullshit mentalities and hypocrisy, another member of the herd to be trimmed.
On June 27, 2011, disgruntled wrestler Phil Brooks, a.k.a. CM Punk, picked up a microphone in front of a hot, confused Las Vegas crowd, and delivered the speech of his lifetime. He signed with the company in 2005, a hotshot independent darling from his days with small-time promotion Ring of Honor. He entered the big leagues in what could unequivocally be called one of the worst times for the sport, ever. The company became obsessed with image, the roster was heavily padded with NFL rejects and dime-a-dozen bodybuilders. Matches became stale — flexfests for men who were only involved based on circumstance The staleness wore on fans and Brooks alike. With a contract tying up in a few short weeks, the writers of Monday Night Raw gave him the opportunity he’d been salivating for: an open mic. He went out and listed every grievance he had accumulated in his six years with the company — notably about how stale and tired the program had become. He announced that he was the best in the world, not John Cena or anyone else in the company. It became canonized in wrestling lore as his "pipe bomb" promo, his frustrations igniting a new wave of energy for the company.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Pittsburgh, Pa., hardcore band Code Orange walk a similar path that Brooks did in his days of being a professional wrestler. This January, the band will release their Roadrunner Records debut, Forever. In the lead-up to the album's release, the band has been dropping their own "pipe bombs." They've set their sights on the likes of Asking Alexandria, calling out the metalcore band's "fake rock star mentality," assuring them they would be "the first to go." Few artists as young as Code Orange have called out the "bargain bin deathcore bands," which has inspired both backlash and respect from prominent contemporaries. Like CM Punk, the band makes these statements because they believe in their art, that it's worth every ounce of energy to become the best in the world at what they do.
One need look no further than their 2014 sophomore LP, I Am King, to see their boisterous attitude in effect. In several interviews, lead singer and drummer Jami Morgan referred to their debut record as "obsolete," as though they had undergone an upgrade in hardware. It wouldn’t be ridiculous to say they did. Back when their moniker still ended with "Kids," debut Love Is Love / Return to Dust was ambitious and thoughtful. The problem was, it came at a time when forward-thinking hardcore seemed to hit a peak, especially on then-label Deathwish, Inc. In the same year Love Is Love came out, the label released music from Loma Prieta, Birds in Row, Touche Amore and Deathwish forerunners themselves, Converge. It did give them an identity, members of a new breed of extreme punk that didn’t mind showing melody in the midst of madness, but it also placed them square in the middle of the pack, rather than leading the charge.
“When I was 15, I had a vision for what [the band] was, and then when I hit 17, it was over,” Morgan admits. “We wrote that record, and afterwards it felt like, 'This is done — there’s nowhere to go with this.' But we could take a lot of aspects and make it better, so we decided to rebuild the house. It became more concentrated, which is why a lot more people got into [I Am King], but that’s why we made the subsequent records and built on it. It’s a lot better, and I think we had to do it to get there. The idea was done!”
Rebuilding the house meant solidifying the band's sound and imagery. They decided to chop off the "Kids," signaling that they were starting anew. The artsy look of both Love Is Love and their Cycles EP was tossed in exchange for a bold, simpler image: bright green lettering and symbols of panthers. Sonically, they dropped most pretenses of melody in exchange for more aggression, deconstructed breakdowns and a tighter focus on heaviness, resulting in surreal moments sprinkled throughout I Am King. It was a good baseline album to build Forever on.
Not long ago, I meet up with Morgan and multi-instrumentalist Reba Meyers to attend a WWE NXT event, essentially the company’s farm league, with independent favorites sprinkled in. Beforehand, we hook up at a Korean barbecue spot not far from Madison Square Garden. Morgan is a surprisingly towering figure, unexpected given his position behind the kit (he would later laugh that night at the event, “We’re the two tallest dudes in this whole fuckin’ place, huh?”). His energy dominates the table — he's excited to chit-chat about everything related to hardcore, how much he loves Pittsburgh’s scene, the early days of the band when older punks didn’t want to deal with them. When the conversation moves to his band and the new record, the excitement turns to intensity. He doesn't break eye contact, and it feels as though he might be kind of yelling, but not in a negative way.
The band’s drive and hunger is hard to deny. At the core of all those shots at other bands is Code Orange’s unified belief in their strength, that their material stands head and shoulders above the rest. “I think it’s literally the only thing I’ve ever done, the only thing we’ve ever done,” he says. “We all 100 percent fully believe in it. It’s different to me when I see these other bands and the way that they operate; it’s not really just a band to us in a lot of ways. We’re all super close, been doing this for a really long time, so I think we’re just fully confident in what we’re doing, and we’ve been through a lot, different incarnations, and there’s a lot of growing to what we are now. I think people will get what our band is about, whether they like it or not.”
The band's touring history — with the likes of Every Time I Die, Terror and Twitching Tongues, as well as support slots on more mainstream fare like 2015's Mayhem Fest and a run with Deftones — is a testament to their ironclad desire regarding who they want to associate with. " We try to play with only bands we respect in some kind of way or appreciate in some kind of way," Morgan says. "We’ve been asked to do things with bands I don’t have respect for, and even if it would help our career, it’s not worth it to me or what I want the band to be." This flexibility lets the band dive into different genres without there being some kind of break in logic.
Forever is venomous, uncomfortable. Hardcore conventions like breakdowns are subverted, trails of disruptive electronic noise cutting in right when a satisfying riff would normally arrive. It's hard to tell what's coming next. The record often feels closer to Nine Inch Nails at their most chaotic — or even Oneohtrix Point Never — rather than a standard hardcore album. That's not to say the band isn't delivering tracks to satisfy the pit. There's plenty of slow, loud riffs brought to their peak, thanks to production from Kurt Ballou. This time, the breakdowns are accompanied by layers of noise to make everything boom even more. When the band isn't trying to murder you, they try their hand at expanding their rock repertoire, taking the lead of I Am King joint "Dreams in Inertia."
Achieving the sound took a lot of struggle, mentally and physically — Morgan mentions that he'd engage in straight-up fistfights with bassist Joe Goldman during writing sessions. It was all a result of "having things we want to accomplish and not being good enough. We worked very, very hard. None of us are naturally anything, naturally good, naturally cool. So, we’re trying our best to make the best thing there is. We’re all 100 percent on the same page — I kind of hatch the idea and everyone adds on. For us, there’s a lot of bands right now I like, and what they represent seems like a real positive, fun thing, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It comes in waves — there’s times when shit gets really negative, and then things get really positive, but that’s not what we’re representing. We have tons of fun doing all kinds of shit, but our music isn’t about everyone having a good time. There’s enough bands that have that covered; it just ain’t about that for us in any way." All of this results in the album's final message, which Morgan says is "pain, in all forms."
The appreciation of rock sounds also brings to mind Code Orange's new spot with Roadrunner. They're joined at the label by probably the other hottest band in hardcore, Turnstile. In the '90s, the label achieved its legendary status for being at the crossroads of all types of metal, hardcore and rock, groups like Life of Agony, Type O Negative, Sepultura and Biohazard all showing how these different sounds can work together. Hardcore intersects with rock in various forms on Forever. The song "Bleeding in the Blur" calls to mind Alice in Chains at their grittiest, with Meyers' voice sounding more commanding than ever, over an array of different guitar sounds. "Ulgy" makes for a strange opening, reverbed guitars expanding before tightening into an unpredictable chorus filled with static-laden starts and stops. Morgan views the possibility of a new renaissance for the label with excitement.
"I think if anyone was going to do it, why the fuck not us?" he ponders. "I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks. Turnstile is great and do a different thing than us. To be straight up, [their signing] played a role with me being in a comfortable situation, this being something we wanted to do. They’re completely different human beings than us. I think on Roadrunner, us and Turnstile, that’s a good way to start." He adds that, regardless of label, "This is the record we were going to make on Deathwish or wherever we ended up. There were going to be rock parts, like last time — we’re just better."
Morgan doesn't mince words when it comes to the current state of popular rock ("I think it fucking sucks — it’s horrible"), but instead of bemoaning the death of rock's visibility and ability to sell out arenas, he sees an opportunity for his band to strike a claim. “That’s enough motivation to me, not to want to [sell out arenas], but just make some different kind of music for whoever. It’s just a lot of the same shit everywhere. And it sucks — it just different names on it.”
Hanging out with Morgan for the night, a small part of me is convinced that the only two things he really gives a shit about are wrestling and hardcore. It turns out I'm mistaken. On the way to the arena, we stop in front of a department store, a Christmas tree covered in various ornaments towering inside its glass confines. Morgan pauses and looks at it, eyeing it up and down. He smiles and nods as though it's complimenting him.
“Man, that’s a really nice tree,” he says, grinning and walking away.
“You a big fan of Christmas?” I ask. The thought rolls around in his head, and he nods again.
“Definitely. I don’t know — it’s just nice seeing everyone all happy and shit, all the streets lit up. It’s a good time.”
We arrive at the arena, hordes of other wrestling fans milling through the lifted halls to get into where the matches would be held. The energy spreads to Morgan, his excitement rising. “I’ve been a fan of this stuff forever,” he says, mentioning that his first show was 14 years ago in Chicago: John Cena’s debut when he was a nobody. “I think it works its way into the music in some way.” Moments on Forever seem like they’d fit perfectly in the context of a wrestling event. On the title track, Morgan shouts out his own band before the breakdown, the yell and intensity of “Code Orange is forever” not seeming too far off from WWE’s most famous catchphrase, “That’s the bottom line, 'cause Stone Cold said so.” Parts feel as though they’re written for crowd participation and activation, lines like, “This is real now, motherfucker” working much like taunts before a finishing move — in this case a mosh call before a guttural breakdown.
“Wrestling definitely impacts me,” I tell Morgan. “This Stone Cold quote he said in an interview a while back has always stuck with me. He says what made him and guys like the Rock so popular is that it was just their personalities and selves cranked up to 11. I try to apply that to as many aspects of creative life I can.”
“A hundred percent,” Jami agrees. “Yeah, I feel that. Although, honestly, I’m probably at an eight or nine all the time. I am, a fucking lot.”
We make our way to the seats, chatting about how it's bullshit Daniel Bryan can't wrestle anymore, that CM Punk's MMA debut was more soul-crushing than what was fathomable. The show kicked off, the crowd's energy soaring in the night's opening match, until it nosedives during a shitty tag-team match. The rest of the night is kind of a letdown. Being a non-televised house show for the newer talent to work, most of the performers are either still learning their stuff or completely phoning it in. It droops into embarrassing territory, the faction Sanity looking like the lowest hanging fruit of nu-metal hanger-ons. We both end up on our phones through a lot of it, scrolling through Facebook posts.
"You ever into video games?" I ask. He scoffs.
"Nah, fuck that shit. Never got into it. Eric [Balderose, Code Orange guitarist] loves that stuff, though."
"I liked the anime shirt he wore in your promo pic."
"Motherfucker thinks he lives in an anime, I swear," he laughs.
The show soon comes to a close. The best match of the night happens when former ROH wrestler Cedric Alexander meets former TNA wrestler Bobby Roode in a pretty exciting match. The main event everyone is looking forward to — the promised confrontation between Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura — ends up being a gimmicky six-man tag match. The night ends, Jami giving it a thumbs down: "Two stars at best. Just a typical house show. Oh well."
I think about wrestling as it relates to Code Orange, where they would stand if bands were wrestlers, where they would be on the card. Forever grants them a shot at the big belt at the very least. Whether or not they can snatch the title — and hold onto it — remains a question for later as they continue on in their career. Near the end of the night, in between two of the matches, Morgan turns to me. “Were there any other questions you had? Anything related to the show tonight?”
I smile, thinking about all the trash talk from the band. I say I think it would be funny if he keeps it going. “Yeah man, wanna cut a promo on a band? You wanna shoot on someone?”
He laughs, thinks for a moment and turns back to me, shaking his head. “Nah. As [Floyd] Mayweather said to [Conor] McGregor, ‘Elephants don’t beef with ants.’”
Pre-order 'Forever' from Code Orange.
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