Album Review: AALTARS by Codes
Six years between album releases is a lifetime for any band. Superstar acts such as U2 can take their sweet time between releasing new material knowing they will still have a sizable loyal fanbase waiting when they eventually return. However, when there’s a gap this long between a band’s debut and sophomore effort, there’s a definite feeling of beginning all over again. Irish alt-rockers Codes have used this situation to their advantage with a dramatic reboot of their sound on AALTARS, the long-awaited follow up to the Choice Music Prize nominated Tree’s Dream in Algebra. Released in 2009, the band’s debut album was an underappreciated masterpiece. At times epic and ambitious, yet often intimate and delicate, its failure to propel the quartet to international stardom was as surprising as it was disappointing. While being shunned by the powers that be at Irish radio didn’t help, there was always a feeling that Codes were too pop for the indie crowd yet too indie for the pop crowd. That Trees Dream In Algebra still sounds as good today as it did upon its initial release is a testament to the sheer strength of the material.
Having relocated to the bright lights of London in the intervening years, Codes return sounding like a band hungrier than ever. Gone are the sweet glockenspiel and octave piano melodies, replaced with an array of buzzing sci-fi riffs and math rock time signatures. Album opener ‘Outposts’ sees AALTARS gently looming into view with some hypnotic chiming guitar notes and trippy tremolo vocals, before erupting into a maelstrom of guitars, punctuated by glitchy electronic beats. At once atmospheric and pulsating, it serves as the perfect introduction to Codes 2.0. The curiously titled ‘And Arrows and Aarrows’ keeps the energy levels up with some scattergun vocals and turbocharged guitar riffs.
Last year’s teaser single ‘Astraea’ sounds a world away from the stadium pop melodies of Trees Dream in Algebra, its blissed-out electronica and Morse code beats bring some welcome respite to the album’s heavy hitting opening salvo. Where the band’s debut utilised electronic elements in the form of ambient synthesisers and drum pads, this time around the electronic elements are beefed up tenfold, yet seamlessly incorporated into the band’s sound, which sees them caught somewhere between the virtuosic intricacy of The Mars Volta and the accessible melodies of latter day Muse. The level of musicianship on show throughout is simply stunning. The arpeggiated guitar figure on album centrepiece ‘Triangulum’ gives way to a sky-scraping chorus, while another album standout ‘Sleepingthroughwinter’ contains an 80s Eddie Van Halen style guitar solo, which somehow fits perfectly. Recent single ‘Levitate’, complete with its Final Fantasy-esque bleepy intro, possesses a rich selection of memorable melodic hooks whilst never sacrificing the harder edges that permeate through the entirety of AALTARS, before arriving at a closing section enormous enough to fill the Grand Canyon.
Frontman Daragh Anderson’s angelic vocals provide a terrific juxtaposition to the intense music on offer while the lyrics retain their poetic yet accessible quality throughout. The lack of lower key songs that made their debut such a compelling listen, such as ‘Truer Words’ and ‘Magnetic North’, may be noticeable by their absence, but AALTARS is a far more aggressive record than its predecessor and it’s hard to imagine where such material would fit in the running order. Keeping the quality up in the album’s latter stages, ‘Shapeshifter’ sounds like a hyperactive version of Foals while album closer ‘[Ninth]’ could easily be Biffy Clyro at their eccentric best during its crushing heavy metal outro.
Codes have pulled off the enviable task of incorporating elements of other acts sounds, from Muse, Biffy Clyro, and Adebisi Shank to the prog-rock stylings of The Mars Volta, whilst still emerging with a sound that is totally unique. The fusing of stadium rock, electronica, math rock and heavy metal results in an unmistakably 21st century rock album. Uncompromising in its vision and sublime in its execution, AALTARS is an astonishing record from Irish music’s best kept secret.
AALTARS is out 18 September. Codes launch the album at Whelan’s this Saturday, 19 September.
Review by Gary O’Donnell