Code Orange’s Under The Skin: modern metal visionaries redraw the boundaries again

Code Orange’s stripped-down new live album Under The Skin is MTV Unplugged for the lockdown era

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

Of all the bands that have cause to be deflated by the COVID19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown of the planet it’s Code Orange. Having sat on one of the most unique and revolutionary records in a very long time in Underneath, the Pittsburgh hardcore crew had the rug swiped away from them in the cruelest way as the world collapsed around them literally days after the album dropped.

Rather than sulk, Code Orange have used this period to prove exactly why so many people were tipping them to be the greatest band of their generation; streaming their album launch party online after finding out fans weren’t permitted to attend a mere 48 hours before the show; endless Twitch streams that have rearranged and reimaging their material; and, finally, their MudTV live stream, which has now been released in audio format as Under The Skin.

The idea is genius in its simplicity. The Pittsburgh band have taken inspiration from MTV’s long-established Unplugged format and recreated it in their own twisted image. The live stream was superbly evocative of that time, but the real test of Under The Skin is whether the acoustic performance on the night can translate to audio alone. Unsurpsingly, considering their current run of form, this is another win for Code Orange.

There are few hardcore bands that you can imagine being able to pull off a fully acoustic set (Hatebreed Unplugged? Lo-fi Agnostic Front? We're good thanks), so it’s testament to Code Orange’s ability to craft actual songs that the approach taken on Under The Skin fits them like a glove. Opening with Bleeding In The Blur, a track that seems like one of their most obvious fits for this format, the band ease themselves in, not changing the song particularly from its recorded incarnation, before they truly begin to take the real risks. Autumn + Carbine and Ugly are also slower and more brooding numbers, but the latter, stripped of the huge slabs of electronic noise of the original, sounds even more quietly menacing and haunting than ever before.

You can feel the momentum building as the band reach the real talking point of the set, a cover of Alice In Chains’ classic Down In A Hole. The version of the song from AIC’s own MTV Unplugged show was a pivotal moment in their career, so it’s testament to Code Orange’s balls that they even attempt it. They just about pull it off, even if doesn’t truly get within touching distance of the original, but it’s still mightily impressive.

After that the band begin to bring more elements of electronic ambience, and even some strings during a fantastic Sulfur Surrounding, continuing to build to the crescendo of the closing one-two punch of Under The Skin and Hurt Goes On. By this point Code Orange are as loud and as feral as we all know they can be, before, just like the recorded version, everything cuts out and the band are gone.

Under The Skin is not Code Orange’s definitive statement as a band, but as a showcase for why they are head and shoulders above their peers, it’s pretty conclusive evidence all the same.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.