code – Flyblown Prince

Band: <code>
Title: Flyblown Prince
Label: Dark Essence Records
Release Date: 4 June 2021
Country: UK
Format Reviewed: Digital Stream

From time to time in this age of instant internet accessibility one comes across a band that can be real hard to search for online for one reason or another (I’m looking at you The The and Today is the Day). Add England’s, avant-garde, black metal ghouls <code> (or Code (7) as you’ll find them listed on Discogs) to the list. And why should one add them to such a list? Well, because they’re pretty damn amazing, that’s why and after I write this review I’m going to go flagellate for having not found out about them earlier before the release of this, their fifth album “Flyblown Prince”.

Formed in 2002 by guitarist Aort and vocalist Kvohst in London, England, the origins of <code> are partly Norwegian and English. The band have had a number of lineup changes over the years and some dramatic shifts in style, the most notable being between their second album “Resplendent Grotesque” from 2009 (which featured ex-Cradle of Filth and At the Gates drummer Adrian Erlandsson) on which the band’s harsh, black metal influences were more apparent and their follow up, 2013’s “Augur Nox”, the first to feature current vocalist Wacian, where the band deviated into more proggy territory (which they would take even further on their follow up “Mut”, where at times the band started to resemble Tool, especially with the vocal performances of Wacian). All of this I’ve come to pick up by working backwards, as the band’s latest album “Flyblown Prince” was my introduction to <code> and oh boy what an introduction it is!

“Flyblown Prince” is a wildly theatrical journey that takes on many forms. At times the band flex their rough, black metal muscles, as on the ritualistically pounding “Rat King” and “Dread Stridulate Lodge”, on which the band partly resemble Satyricon, with guitars fit to slice through your arms like a hot knife through butter, leaving you flapping in the mud and snow. Elsewhere though, the theatrics and operatic atmospherics lead me to the crazy conclusion (I’m pretty sure no one else is going to offer this comparison) that this album is like an extreme metal companion to “Dog Man Star” by Suede (a band that no one would ever accuse of having metal tendencies). I mean this is a glowing complement as I love “Dog Man Star”, but it isn’t what I was expecting…though to be fair, after the thunderbolt introduction of the album’s opening title track with its drum battery, vicious tremolo guitars, anguished vocals and a dark, cinematic atmosphere, I had absolutely no ideas what to expect from this album.

After the grand, dark opera of the opening track (fit to be an album closer), the band take the listener through a mid-paced, sleezy, bass driven stomp that brings to mind Jesus Lizard, on “Clemency and Atrophy”, overlaid with hushed, breathless vocals, that build up into another operatic burst; to mournful, melodic metal reminiscent of Katatonia on “By the Charred Stile”. The playing is powerful and satisfyingly heavy, it’s dark and twisted, but infectiously catchy. After that it’s the muscular stomp of the previously mentioned “Rat King”, and that’s just the first four tracks.

Aside from overusing adjectives like “cinematic”, “operatic” and “theatrical” it’s pretty hard to put this music into a neat category. While the album opens with the band at their most abrasively heavy, and tracks like “Scolds Bridle” deliver unmistakable extreme metal intensity, “Flyblown Prince” is just as comfortable wandering into very un-metal territories, such as on the hushed phantom of the opera gloom of “From the Next Room”, with its nightmarish waltz and Wacian giving a fragile and delicate vocal performance, but still giving the feeling like an eruption could come at any moment. Simultaneously cinematic and understated, the quivering falsetto reminds me of the storytelling weirdness of Tiger Lillies, again not at all what you might expect from a “metal” band.

With two of the albums heaviest and aggressive tracks towards the end (“Dread Stridulate Lodge” and “Scolds Bridle”) you might think the album has finally settled back into more straightforward (by <code> standards) black metal territory, but you’d be mistaken as the 12 minute “The Mad White Hair” draws proceedings to a close with the band taking the album to its theatrical extreme. Aort sure can rip on the guitar at times, as he does here towards the end with the track building to its climax, but when this album gets really epic it’s more down the path of avant-garde rather than progressive metal, with the dark, ghoulish mood the emphasis rather than over the top displays of musicianship.

As I’ve only listened to the band’s previous albums a couple of times each, I can’t so confidently say how this fits into the <code> catalogue, but from my impressions so far “Flyblown Prince” has the band leaning back into some of their more extreme black metal origins, while maintaining elements of the interesting musical explorations they’ve made over the past two albums and at the same time taking the atmospherics and theatricality to new realms, altogether creating something dark, strange and pretty damn wonderful. I don’t want to get too carried away, but what the hell, it’s June, we’re half-way through the year: album of the year contender. 9/10 Tom Boatman

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9/10 Epic Storm
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