Born from Pittsburgh, PA, Code Orange have morphed from a chaotic power-violence/punk-inspired high-school group to a dark, industrial, sludgy – even gothic – metallic hardcore juggernaut. With mainstream festival appearances and multiple WWE collaborations under their belts, the five piece are one of the biggest underground acts of this generation to grab the proverbial brass ring.
On the back of their recently dropped What Is Really Underneath? remix album, Metal Injection figured it's the perfect time to comb through the Code Orange catalogue and deep out their 10 most underrated gems. With their first six years of existence under the Code Orange Kids banner, we of course had to pull tracks from that era. Add in a further three full lengths and a host of EPs and standalone singles in over the last near-decade, there is plenty of fantastic Code Orange material that has become a little too dusty – so what made the cut? Read on and find out…
Coupled with (and overshadowed) by "The Hunt" – featuring some guy called Corey Taylor – the crazed and underrated "3 Knives" is a perfect middle ground between Code Orange of both old and new. With fast moving guitars and drums flying by next to glitching electronics, the tune from The Hurt Will Go On EP is two minutes of pure power. Closing with one of their best riffs and a lurching breakdown – as well as a distorted Duran Duran sample – the heavy as hell two minute tune deserves a tonne more recognition as one of their best latter day tunes.
"Choices (Love Is Love)"
Our first trip into the Code Orange Kids period of the band, their debut full length – produced by Converge's Kurt Ballou and released on Deathwish – Love Is Love/Return to Dust sees the act at their most primal and raw. "Choices (Love Is Love)" is an example of how they have evolved since their early years, yet a clear indicator of where their heaviest elements have come from. Frontman Jami Morgan sounds possessed on the doom-y number, with the crushing song on par with the group's best early days tracks – and a must listen for any newer Code Orange fans.
"Down In A Hole"
As Code Orange's only recorded cover to date, their take on Alice In Chains' classic "Down In A Hole" definitely deserves a spot on our list. Featured on their 2020 live/acoustic album Under The Skin, their cover of the grunge perfectly fits into the Unplugged/90s aesthetic on the release. Though once known solely for the moments of chaos, this well done cover shows the musical growth of the group – pulling off the air-tight Staley/Cantrell harmonies is no easy feat, yet Morgan and guitarist Reba Meyers deliver a performance almost on par with the original.
"Hurt Goes On"
Taken from the massive Forever, the late-album cut Hurt Goes On is a haunting, underrated gem. After a lengthy mood-building intro, we’re expectably launched into a marching, Nine Inch Nails like industrial wall of noise. With lots of synths and samples, Hurt Goes On shows Code Orange at their most experimental and forward thinking. No doubt creatively driven by member Eric Balderose – who’s transition from guitar player to the synths/keys role would continue even further on their next LP – “Hurt Goes On” is a killer piece that ends a fantastic release on a dread-filled note.
III (Erase Me)
Another selection from the start of the Code Orange/Code Orange Kids story, “III (Erase Me)” is a primal slab of apocalyptic metallic hardcore. Certainly a big Converge influence going on here, the feedback drenched track has that manic live energy that’s so hard to capture on record. The tune’s amazing outro is worthy of admission alone, and the brief 2011 release Embrace Me // Erase Me – which isn’t on streaming services – clearly shows that even as up-and-comers Code Orange had a mack-truck of energy under their sleeves.
Having last seen the bright stage lights in 2015, the bezerk closer of I Am King "Mercy" deserves to be on this list without a doubt. The finale of their first album as just Code Orange, the punishing tune is as heavy as any of their Philly hardcore peers. What separates them from the pack is obvious – the moody electronic section, to the titanic outro that collapses into a wall of feedback and glitching out. A great tune that clearly has been composed to close the record, "Mercy" has probably been cursed to live on an LP packed with lots of strong brethren, but definitely deserves a revisit by those who neglected the tail end of I Am King.
"IV (My Mind Is Prison)"
A choice from the seemingly forgotten Code Orange (Kids)/Full of Hell split EP from 2012, "IV: My Mind Is A Prison" is one of most progressive songs of the group’s pre-name shortening period. Though starting off fast and maniacally, the whole middle is built upon Meyer’s haunting clean vocals, building drums and dissonant guitar parts. Of course, the levee eventually breaks and the listener is hammered for the last 30 seconds with a heavy beatdown to close the tune. "IV My Mind Is A Prison" and the Full of Hell split – released the same year that Code Orange dropped the ‘Kids’ from their name – is a critical stepping stone in their history.
With the band far from being an hidden underground darling by the time 2020’s Underneath dropped, you could argue that almost all of that huge album is amongst Code Orange’s most well known material. One number that has been overlooked – barely played live too – is the Reba Meyer’s-led "A Sliver". Definitely one of more alternative/hard rock styled songs on the record, the creeping guitars and restrained rhythm section keeps the mood tense. After a beat driven break, the pace picks up with driving power chords, before diving back into a nightmarish electronic passage.
"Take (The Soil Is Calling)"
Easily the longest track on the Code Orange Kids EP Cycles – the four minute long "Take (The Soil Is Calling)" – an epic by the band’s early standards – is arguably the most interesting and experimental cut of their formative years. Though bookended with huge slabs of primal hardcore, the emotional clean guitar/harsh vocal driven bridge – though far from any electronic stylings – is clear signs of the more left-of-centre Code Orange that we would come to know. As for it’s thunderous climax; best just to listen to it and experience the sheer energy on display.
"(VI) Worms Fear God // God Fears Youth"
From the four-way split EP, "(VI) Worms Fear God // God Fears Youth" starts as an almost-ambient piece with much room, restraint and dynamics. On top of that, it’s a look into the act beginning to embrace alternative rock and even grunge influences into their sound. While Code Orange (Kids) were best known during this time for being at their most intense and raw, "Worms Fear God // God Fears Youth" shows a young collective already pushing out their boundaries. If there’s any take away from this list, it’s that more people need to be hip to the band’s earliest days.
As one of the biggest recent underground heavy artists to make a serious dent in the mainstream music world, we know that Code Orange have an ardent fanbase of both new and old fans. So, with our list pulling the most obscure tracks of their whole career, what did we miss? Sound off below!