The mighty Code Or­ange make their K! cover de­but in stun­ning style, throw­ing us – via the deep end – into their elec­tri­fy­ing world

No band has re­de­fined heavy mu­sic in 2017 quite like CODE OR­ANGE. but if you think the Pitts­burgh quin­tet have reached the limit of their ex­trem­ity, you’re in for one hell of a scare. sam law braves 48 hours in the Pit with the most dan­ger­ous band on the

Kerrang! (UK) - - Contents -

There’s a thin line be­tween ex­hil­a­ra­tion and peril. It’s the thrilling truth that’s fu­elled a mil­lion reck­less mosh-pit two-steps; the painful les­son etched across ev­ery blood­ied face that’s ever spilled from the front-row fray. For Code Or­ange, it’s a fact of life that’s in­fil­trated ev­ery as­pect of their art, in­grained by nine years of the chaos and hard­ship of life on the road. It’s be­come their mis­sion to con­sol­i­date a fan­base of like minds and drive them to – and oc­ca­sion­ally across – that thresh­old.

Rolling up to NY’S Up­state Con­cert Hall in Clifton Park, it seems there’s some­times a thin line be­tween throw­ing down and go­ing shop­ping, too. An anony­mous unit, wedged be­tween a dis­count gro­cery out­let and credit union in one of Amer­ica’s count­less sprawl­ing strip malls, tonight’s venue has a blank-can­vas qual­ity, per­fect for the im­print of vi­o­lent art. Open­ing for Florid­ian sludge-masters Torche and French metal ti­tans Go­jira, the Pitts­burgh quin­tet are last to sound­check, but in­ter­rupt a ren­di­tion of Bleed­ing In The Blur that tugs up goose­bumps, even be­hind closed doors, to wel­come Ker­rang! in.

“Hey,” waves Joe Gold­man, the band’s bald, bearded, badass bassist and cur­rent tour man­ager, ush­er­ing us to­wards a side en­trance. “This way.” A well-worn Cro-mags shirt and deep gouge over his left brow – smashed with his bass, then again with his fist – re­in­force a manic on­stage im­age, but there’s warmth in his hand­shake and ex­cite­ment in his aura.

In­side, gui­tarist and new­est re­cruit Do­minic Lan­dolina paces the front of the cor­ner stage with ner­vous en­ergy, sport­ing a crew cut as se­vere as his gaze, and grey com­bats tucked into army boots. Gui­tar and synth-specialist Eric Balderose nods la­con­i­cally from be­hind his set-up, bright eyes be­hind pitch-black, poker-straight hair. Reba Mey­ers – gui­tarist, singer and sec­ondary ‘face’ of the band – shakes our hand en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

The ar­chi­tect be­hind the kit, Jami Mor­gan – drum­mer, vo­cal­ist and de-facto front­man – watches ev­ery­thing from be­neath the brim of a Nine Inch Nails trucker cap, be­fore ex­tend­ing his tall, mus­cled frame off the stool and strid­ing over to talk.

He’s check­ing Ker­rang! hasn’t come all this way sim­ply for a fluff piece, plainly sick of an­swer­ing ques­tions about favourite foods and the in­side of his house.“ev­ery­thing nowa­days seems to be over­ex­posed to the fur­thest de­gree,” he glow­ers.“i don’t want this to be about all the things around the band and in our lives.this is about our mu­sic; what we’re putting for­ward ar­tis­ti­cally.we’re about creative con­trol: real, raw per­for­mance.”

Two hours later, we get to see that re­al­ity in full flight. It talks plenty for it­self.

“Wake the fuck up, Newyork!” screams the drum­mer, goug­ing into the un­set­tling My World.

For a Thurs­day night crowd who’ve thus far con­fined them­selves to a lit­tle blood­less push-and­shove, it’s the in­vi­ta­tion to vi­o­lence they’ve been wait­ing for – a scoop of chum to trig­ger stir­ring sharks.

Limbs spin. Skulls clash.a force-five cir­cle-pit ful­fils the fore­cast of head­bang-hur­ri­canes and scat­tered bleed­ing. Busi­ness as usual, then.and still pick­ing up as Kill The Cre­ator spills through Spy and into a cat­a­clysmic, shit-your­self I Am King, Ker­rang! takes four knuck­les to the base of the skull from one en­thu­si­as­tic late­comer, drawn from en­trance to obliv­ion in four sec­onds flat.we’re prac­ti­cally un­scathed, though, com­pared to the punter who’s flipped head­first into the con­crete and dragged un­con­scious from the melee, or the bloke re­tired to the bath­room with head pressed against crim­son-drenched towel.all the while, broad-chested, well-versed se­cu­rity staff keep watch, arms crossed, wait­ing for shit to get re­ally out of hand.

“Hard­core’s not sup­posed to be the safest thing in the world,” grins Jami in the elec­tric af­ter­glow.“it should be scary.that’s what we like.that’s what gets us out of bed. Our live show is con­trolled, pre­med­i­tated, un­fil­tered chaos: raw en­ergy chan­nelled through a new lens.” An evan­ge­list for ex­trem­ity, his eyes widen as his fer­vour grows.“we’ve got this lyric:‘the line be­tween art and pain no longer ex­ists.’ The world is get­ting scarier.we’ve got to get scarier with it…”

“It wasn’t al­ways like this,” smiles Reba – as im­por­tant an as­sua­sive cen­tre­point for her band­mates as she is an ag­gra­vated per­former – sur­vey­ing the post-show wreck­age and rolling back the years to the band’s high school beginnings as Code Or­ange Kids.“i re­mem­ber start­ing off in Pitts­burgh, where we had our own lit­tle scene. We’d play places like Hel­ter Shel­ter – this old, bro­k­endown house with wash­ing ma­chines up on the wall – or friends’ base­ments that were barely the size of our dress­ing rooms now.there’s al­ways sep­a­ra­tion in the hard­core scene, but we brought peo­ple to­gether. Nat­u­rally, we got the young kids out, but the older crowd re­spected us, too.”

Ex­pand­ing scope early, the then-quartet’s first for­ays out of their home­town in­cluded shows in nearby Ohio – many booked by Homewrecker gui­tarist Matt Bar­num: the band’s cur­rent merch-hand and only on­tour sup­port­though loaded with ex­cite­ment, those first miles weren’t over­flow­ing with glam­our.

“It was hor­ri­ble,” laughs Eric, nos­tal­gi­cally dis­gusted.“tour­ing in a pick-up truck with a cab on the back.we’d be play­ing un­der­ground spa­ces where peo­ple didn’t even know there was a band on, par­ties where we’d just get a por­tion of the beer money. It was ab­so­lute hell.

“I’ll never for­get rolling up to this show in Mil­wau­kee while we were still in high school, where the first thing we saw was this bunch of kids around a com­puter watch­ing porn. We told them,‘we’re play­ing in the base­ment…’ and they were like,‘news to us!’ We loaded in any­way, but there was this funny smell. It turned out that that was the smell of crack. There was this whole crack party go­ing on – hang­ing out, watch­ing porn, do­ing all the things young crack­heads do.

“Joe wasn’t in the band back then, but he was on tour with us.we had him stand at the bot­tom of the base­ment stair­well and ask for money. I think the av­er­age he got was about $3 per per­ one point, I jumped up and landed [awk­wardly], break­ing one of my metatarsals and had to fin­ish the show standing still. after­wards, we gave our­selves stick-and-poke tat­toos in the park­ing lot, then it was like,‘let’s get the fuck out of here!’”

“We’d play any­where,” chimes Reba.“we didn’t care if it was shit.we didn’t care if there were five peo­ple there. They’d re­mem­ber us.and next time, there’d be 10 peo­ple.”

High school’s end her­alded a se­mes­ter at col­lege in Philadel­phia for most of the band. Eric – pre-empt­ing drop-out and debt – trav­elled with them, but pur­sued em­ploy­ment in po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism. Reba re­mem­bers a pe­riod of un­cer­tainty and de­pres­sion – the lin­ger­ing feel­ing they’d taken a wrong turn.when the of­fer of a na­tion­wide tour with genre over­lords Ter­ror pre­sented a route back on track, not much thought was re­quired.“we didn’t have to have a dis­cus­sion,” Reba re­calls.“the only ques­tion [Reba hav­ing re­cently mi­grated from four strings to six] was, ‘Who’s gonna play bass?’ That’s when Joe joined.” And so, an abrupt plunge into hard­core’s deep end. “We had to get out there and put our­selves in un­com­fort­able po­si­tions,” Reba con­tin­ues.“we had

to play shows where no-one liked us. I was 18 on that first Ter­ror tour; we were the odd­balls.was it a strug­gle? Sure.we didn’t know any­one and we were shelling maybe 50 dol­lars a night. But, hav­ing done that, you feel like you can do any­thing.a huge mo­ment was hav­ing [Ter­ror vo­cal­ist] Scottvo­gel and [This Is Hard­core pro­moter] Joe Hard­core pay at­ten­tion – prov­ing to them that they should show us some re­spect.”

Hard­core, of course, doesn’t do overnight suc­cess. “This band raised us all,” re­flects Joe.“but it took years more of play­ing bunkers and weird, sketchy places; putting a lot of emo­tion and en­ergy into it and the peo­ple lit­er­ally not be­ing there. I re­mem­ber play­ing this DIY spot in Fresno, Cal­i­for­nia to lit­er­ally two peo­ple.”

Such out­ings, how­ever, gen­er­ated vi­tal fuel for launch­ing a jug­ger­naut into mo­tion.

Pil­ing our bags into a bulging trailer and hop­ping aboard the band’s low-key white Ford van (in which they split the driv­ing, Joe tells us, with some­thing like 200,000 miles al­ready on the clock), we hit the I-90.the lat­est Cur­by­our En­thu­si­asm is heat­edly dis­sected. Eric’s in­sis­tence that Rick and Morty is high-iq pro­gram­ming gets roasted. Game Of Thrones spoil­ers are skirted around. Jami con­tends that Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story’s scary clowns are all “bait’n’switch” – no com­pe­ti­tion for Stephen King’s It.

“We’re hard­core out­siders,” smiles Reba, beg­ging com­par­i­son with Derry, Maine’s coul­ro­pho­bic finest. “Four skinny kids and a girl.” Code Or­ange, though, is no Losers’ Club. “Other bands want mu­sic to be fun. I don’t care about mu­sic be­ing fun,” stresses Jami.“for a lot of bands, be­ing hard­core means be­ing sloppy or un­con­trolled.we’re dif­fer­ent.we want to cre­ate a three-di­men­sional ex­pe­ri­ence of the vary­ing, dy­namic lev­els and lay­ers of ag­gres­sion.”

The first real bench­mark of that dy­namism came with Novem­ber 2012’s Love Is Love // Re­turn To Dust LP. Recorded with the leg­endary Kurt Bal­lou [see side­bar, over the page] and re­leased through the ven­er­a­ble Death­wish Inc., it was as much a state­ment of am­bi­tion – grounded but fast-grow­ing – as creative dar­ing.“we had chances to sign with big la­bels and by­pass all the shit,” Jami re­flects,“but we made the de­ci­sion to go with Death­wish be­cause we wanted that cul­ture. It’s harder, but that’s what lasts.”

By the time work on 2014 fol­low-up I Am King – a record themed, ap­pro­pri­ately, around self­em­pow­er­ment – hit pace, a restart was re­quired. June saw the ‘Kids’ dropped from Code Or­ange ahead of an earth-shat­ter­ing Septem­ber re­lease.“it was time for a change, to shake the snow globe and see what hap­pens,” Jami jus­ti­fies.“we didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to join a bunch of bands when we were teenagers, so this was our abil­ity to be in a new band.” So def­i­nite was the restart in the front­man’s mind, he even hounded Spo­tify to en­sure the pre-ex­ist­ing ma­te­rial was cat­a­logued, sep­a­rately, as that of the ear­lier band.

“I Am King was the start of the era that’s go­ing to last.we saw what wasn’t work­ing and wanted to re-tool the whole set-up.we built the Thin­ners Of The Herd web­site – this weird cryptic thing with ideas learned from movies and video games. It was a de­lib­er­ate at­ten­tion-grab, about cre­at­ing some­thing that re­ally mat­tered.” The gam­bit, of course, paid off. “At our first I Am King show, in Indianapolis, we sold eight times more merch than we’d sold be­fore, ever. The crowds were dou­bled.we went from not mean­ing shit to mean­ing some­thing.”

A jar­ring van stereo shift, from Dying Fe­tus to Liam Gal­lagher, as Reba guns the throt­tle, fa­cil­i­tates Jami’s

segue onto the wor­ship of creative dar­ing that fu­elled those records’ pro­gres­sion.“i love Liam,” he grins, en­joy­ing our sur­prise.“i love Kanye, too. I love peo­ple who can be so un­fil­tered but still cre­ate beau­ti­ful things – ec­centrics who’ve ac­com­plished a lot.”

A fight fan also, Jami cites MMA’S Conor Mc­gre­gor and the Diaz broth­ers as role mod­els. He and Joe have even started train­ing in jiu-jitsu.“i’ve been told our shows can feel like a fight.that’s the en­ergy I want to ap­ply. I want it to be vi­o­lent – not in the crowd, per se. It’s about us giv­ing ev­ery­thing to win.the on­stage adren­a­line dump can be sim­i­lar [to be­ing in the ring]. Like­wise, the need for prac­tice – you can’t ap­ply a dis­ci­pline you’ve learned the day be­fore and ex­pect suc­cess.”

Joe con­tem­plates that in­trin­sic vi­o­lence with mea­sured ness .“hard­core’ snot al­ways pos­i­tiv­ity; it’s not al­ways [per­formed] with the best in­ten­tions. Some peo­ple can con­vert neg­a­tiv­ity into pos­i­tiv­ity, but some use it to fuel self-de­struc­tion.” Un­squeamish about bru­tal­ity, the bassist per­ceives it as a bond.“we played Buf­falo a few years ago, when I was in a place of real neg­a­tiv­ity. I smacked my bass off my head hard.then I kept do­ing it.” He fum­bles to find an ugly scar on his shaved scalp.“i kept do­ing it be­cause that’s what I was feel­ing. I don’t know if it [in­voked vi­o­lence] in the crowd, but it def­i­nitely in­ten­si­fied the con­nec­tion.the re­al­ness – that in­ten­sity – was ob­vi­ous.there was blood all over me, and peo­ple were com­ing up so I could smear it over them, too.

“That’s the way I want it. If I’m in the au­di­ence, I’m with the guy on­stage. If I’m the guy on­stage, I’m with the au­di­ence. It’s an ex­change of en­ergy be­tween peo­ple on the same fuck­ing page.”

Ar­riv­ing at East Hart­ford’s Web­ster The­ater – a grand, old, re­pur­posed cin­ema in a neigh­bour­hood that’s seen bet­ter days – it’s easy to ap­pre­ci­ate the ap­peal of a band to be­lieve in.

“I don’t think it’s as sim­ple as the fact that a cer­tain per­son is pres­i­dent and ev­ery­one lis­tens to crazy mu­sic now,” says Reba, mulling the ques­tion of why an or­gan­i­sa­tion built on such undi­luted, avant garde ex­trem­ity have found such ac­claim – and why now.

“Ex­treme ag­gres­sion has been build­ing in mu­sic since the birth of hard­core – and far be­fore that,” rea­sons Jami.“we just want to put a dif­fer­ent form of ag­gres­sion through our own fil­ter.we make the mu­sic we’d want to lis­ten to; the shirts we’d want to look at. Why are peo­ple re­spond­ing to us? It’s our hon­esty; our in­vest­ment; our un­der­stand­ing.we know we’ve got to work harder than any­body else – and we do. We be­lieve in this. Is there any­thing more au­then­tic than do­ing the thing you love?”

That said, there’s still an ex­cep­tional, clear-eyed con­nec­tion to the mu­sic here that th­ese in­su­lar play­ers per­haps can’t quite com­pre­hend.the strict straight-edge ethos to which Reba, Jami and Joe sub­scribe (Eric and Dom also, when tour­ing) re­moves any buf­fer from that con­nec­tion.

“I’ll have mo­ments where I’ve snapped and can’t con­trol my­self,” agrees Reba.“part of that is be­cause I am straight-edge and don’t have that loose­ness other

peo­ple have. I don’t feel com­fort­able hand­ing over my con­trol to any­thing else in my own head. I don’t want to chill out. If I want to get through some­thing, I want to know that I got through it with­out some­thing else help­ing me.”

“Maybe I feel a lit­tle rawer,” nods Eric,“maybe the nerve is lit­tle more open. But this is about the peo­ple in­volved, not what they put in their bod­ies.”

“We’re five weirdo kids who play weird mu­sic that doesn’t make any sense,” ex­pands Reba.“we are where we are be­cause we’re real and pas­sion­ate.that’s what fu­els me.that’s what mo­ti­vates me. If I didn’t think we had that, I wouldn’t have the con­fi­dence to go up there and play a show. I don’t want to be here be­cause I got lucky. I want to have earned it.”

“Peo­ple ask if I’m sur­prised at our suc­cess,” as­serts Jami.“i’m not sur­prised.this was all part of the plan.”

Un­load­ing amongst the boarded win­dows and col­lapsed roofs so in­dica­tive of deep-set ur­ban de­cay, how­ever, in a scene sound­tracked by screech­ing tyres and (not so) dis­tant sirens, with a back­ground cast of ex­tras shuf­fling shadily in the cor­ner of our eye, there’s some­thing more: the re­fresh­ing sight of a suc­cess­ful out­fit tour­ing from friends’ floors to ’roach mo­tels, liv­ing and work­ing out in the same down­trod­den spa­ces as their fan­base.“it all comes down to feel­ing real,” nods Jami,“to touch­ing that nerve in a dif­fer­ent kind of way.”

If out­side rep­re­sents grim re­al­ity, in­side is a war­zone cast in shadow; red and blue search­lights pick­ing out pun­ters clasp­ing in­juries and beat­ing their re­treat or dance­floor war­riors punch-drunk only a cou­ple of songs in. Con­necti­cut has turned out for a Bat­tle Royale: bulging vet­er­ans scat­ter­ing flail­ing new­com­ers like skit­tles on a bowl­ing al­ley.with a sound­track like tonight’s, it’s im­pos­si­ble to re­sist the pull to­wards the fray.

Ring­ing ears and bloody teeth never get old, nor round­house kicks swing­ing past our tem­ples and el­bows land­ing in our ribs.we’ve barely got our wind back when an el­der trou­ble­maker un­der a War­zone shirt jabs us again, glee­fully point­ing to a sign over the stage. ‘No mosh­ing. No crowd­surf­ing. No stage-div­ing.’ “Well,” he grins, a droop­ing mous­tache un­able to dis­guise his de­light,“that went out the win­dow fast.”

With this year’s For­ever LP – the band’s third al­bum and Road­run­ner Records de­but – the pa­ram­e­ters were pushed far­ther than ever be­fore. Dom’s ad­di­tion – an­other layer of gui­tar – shored the foun­da­tions, be­fore Eric’s ex­panded, elec­tronic tex­ture daubed on the colour.“we don’t have a sound guy,” Eric ex­plains. “I’m the sonic en­gi­neer. It’s on my shoul­ders to make things as abra­sive or as calm­ing as pos­si­ble – to con­trol ex­actly what the crowd feels.we’ll go to hard­core shows now and ask for some­thing in the mon­i­tors. They’ll say,‘it’s a hard­core show; it’s never go­ing to be per­fect!’ That’s my least favourite re­sponse of all time.”

Eric points, too, to the meld of metal and hard­core crowds – some­thing that be­came bla­tantly ap­par­ent fol­low­ing 2015’s May­hem tour along­side Slayer and King Di­a­mond – as es­sen­tial to that live fric­tion.“it’s def­i­nitely got­ten more in­tense,” says Dom.“some­times I think that’s in my head, but then I’ll watch a Youtube video from three years ago and see it.”

“That first For­ever head­line run was in­sane,” con­curs Eric,“peo­ple jump­ing off shit and get­ting their faces smashed open.there was an am­bu­lance at the show al­most ev­ery night.”

Par­al­lel to that height­ened sense of chaos, Code Or­ange’s ris­ing star has at­tracted heavy­weight tour­mates: Kill­switch En­gage; Deftones; tonight’s head­lin­ers, mul­ti­ple times. Noth­ing has af­fected them more, how­ever, than this sum­mer’s Euro­pean arena shows with Sys­tem Of A Down. It’s a work­ing re­la­tion­ship that Reba re­calls be­gin­ning with SOAD gui­tarist Daron Malakian chastis­ing a sound-en­gi­neer from side-stage at their last, grem­lin-plagued, LA head­liner, and peaked with per­for­mances to tens of thou­sands.“if For­ever was the point we re­alised we could re­ally do this,” she grins,“soad was the point we knew we could reach any­one…”

Those sprawl­ing oc­ca­sions pre­sented fresh chal­lenges and per­spec­tive, too.“we’re tak­ing you through our gallery of hor­rors: build­ing a mo­ment, giv­ing it, then tak­ing it away,” ex­plains Jami.“a hard­core show is like a haunted house where you’ve signed a waiver that al­lows you to be touched. Th­ese big­ger shows are like where we’re not al­lowed to ac­tu­ally grab you, but we have to de­liver that same im­pact and some­how am­plify it times 1,000.When you’re the big band, you can give noth­ing and get ev­ery­thing.when you’re in our po­si­tion, it’s still pos­si­ble to give ev­ery­thing and get noth­ing.”

Load­ing up for an­other long night-drive, re­cently-re­tired Bane gui­tarist Zach Jor­dan springs from the venue to ask the band for a photo. It’s a poignant in­ver­sion of cir­cum­stance, a touch­ing show of fan­dom from one of the past masters re­spon­si­ble for thrust­ing Code Or­ange down their path.

They’re un­com­fort­able, how­ever, with the idea of them­selves as fu­ture fig­ure­heads.

“We want to write our own story,” Reba says.“we want to – and al­ready do – work harder than any­one else. If we’re part of a scene, we’ll use it to roadmap out the direc­tion no-one else is trav­el­ling in.”

“We don’t want any­one else’s two-cents,” Eric nods.“metal and rock are dying on the vine,” adds Jami.“we’ve got to take it in a new direc­tion.”

“This is the only thing I’ve ever truly cared about,” Joe adds, look­ing us straight in the eye.“i’m in, 24/7. I’ll leave fam­ily gath­er­ings for my broth­ers and sis­ter. I’ll walk out on a date.”

“Real­is­ti­cally, this doesn’t end un­til one of us dies,” stresses Eric.“it’s not about num­bers or so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing, ei­ther. It’s about peo­ple truly un­der­stand­ing our mis­sion.”

“I walked into Road­run­ner and said,‘we need to be the num­ber one band on this la­bel,’” spills Jami.“that’s what we’re gonna do.we’ll work our asses off.we’ll tour all year.we can al­ready go toe-to-toe with any band head­lin­ing any stage any­where in the world – and we don’t have shit: no pro­duc­tion, no sound guy, noth­ing.

“We can stand out any­where,” he con­cludes.“we can rock any venue.we can scare any crowd. If we get in front of Slip­knot’s au­di­ence, or Nine Inch Nails’…” That be­lief shud­ders from the ground up.“man, I get chills think­ing about how hard we’d smash that shit.”

They’ve rode this far on un­yield­ing ef­fort and raw un­com­pro­mise. It’s only a mat­ter of time un­til Code Or­ange’s mer­ci­less blud­geon strikes pay­dirt.we can’t wait to see their New Re­al­ity: fully-re­alised, unabridged, in the bruised and bat­tered flesh.

It’s go­ing to be bloody beau­ti­ful.


PHO­TOS: An­gela Owens

Code Or­ange: patent­ing their own pedal for start­ing car­nage Yeah, we might dodge this dude in the pit, to be hon­est You’ve got red on you, Joe

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