[Artwork by Mors Ultima Ratio Art]
Code has always been a little unpredictable for a variety of reasons (lineups, stylistic choices, timelines), but the choice to never make the same album twice is easily the most appealing and rewarding of those reasons.
Nouveau Gloaming introduced founder and guitarist Aort’s vision as a proggy combination of harsh-but-driving black metal and drifty, gothic, almost fever dreamy passages (aided greatly by the singing of Kvohst) with a lineup that made Code a temporary branch of the Ved Buens Ende family tree. Resplendent Grotesque then streamlined things greatly while upping the aggression and infectious nature. Both are masterful records that many a fan (hello) hold in the highest regard.
Augur Nox brought with it some lineup changes, key among them Kvohst being replaced by Wacian, but outside of a little bloat the band kept its high standards as it eased off the harsher edges in favor of something a tad more Enslaved-y. The ensuing mut was where things got dicey for some fans, dropping the metal entirely for a very Norwegian/VBE family tree form of post/prog rock (like Virus but kinda serene). It often worked well, but when it didn’t it was obvious that the band was trying to force the new style on material that should have just been black metal. That was in 2015, and all the band released since were a couple EPs ‒ one of stylistic shifted re-recordings and the other a teaser of re-heavying their sound.
That beginning is almost alarmingly harsh—not raw or too aggressive or extreme, but harsh. The opening title track has an almost unforgiving urgency, starting with screams, a barrage of hookless, dissonant riffs, and outright menace. It isn’t all so unsettling, as it offers some of Code’s catchier and more melodic sides, but the majority of the song seems designed to immediately grip the listener and even make them a mite uncomfortable. This start, in combination with possible minor production quibbles (a few odd choices in places, particularly the kick drum sound), means the album could have a bit of a learning curve for some.
But as the record goes along and expands, so should one’s appreciation of it. “Clemency & Atrophy” instantly widens the album’s scope. It’s less aggressive but not necessarily quieter, giving much more focus to the great soloing and Wacian’s manic, theatrical singing. If ignoring the almost entirely different lineup, the ensuing “By the Charred Side” could have easily been on Resplendent Grotesque with its combination of dirtier riffs and dramatic singing, not to mention its sub-4-minute length. “Rat King” closes out the album’s first half (at least in terms of track numbers) with a doom pace, even more drama, and some of the most venomous harsh vocals on the album.
If the album’s first half is great, then the second is the business. It kicks off with “From the Next Room,” which is both the least aggressive tune on the record and a great showcase for the band’s skills. Wacian uses all tools in his singing repertoire, oohing and crooning and whispering and soaring, while Syhr’s bass dances around and the guitars drift in and out of the background with smooth, melodic leads. It’s also pretty damn haunting, thanks in no small part to lyrics like “It’s coming through the walls”—Code is many things, not the least of which is proudly theatrical. “From the Next Room” and follower “Dread Stridulate Lodge” ‒ which is hefty and menacing but not too hefty and menacing ‒ seem to reset Flyblown Prince a bit for the stretch run.
The record’s last two tracks achieve quite the feat: they manage to expand the dynamic scope even farther while also being the best two songs on the album. “Scolds Bridle” is an absolute smokeshow of a tune, a beast of molten lava hellbent on destruction. Not much else to say about it, just riffs and pummels for days, and (again) a perfect setup for what follows.
At nearly 12 minutes in length, closer “The Mad White Hair” is the longest song of Code’s career, but every second is filled with substance. While the whole band is in top form throughout the song, it would be misleading to say that much of the track isn’t a showcase for Wacian, who whispers and wails and screams vulnerability and misery across long stretches of largely minimal music (minimal by Code’s standards, anyway). The song swells and swells until it explodes at its midpoint, giving Wacian a chance to show off his gothic side again, before the track begins its final ascent. The vocal showcase eventually gives way to an outpouring of dazzling soloing and an earned sense of resolution. Code releasing this tune as the lead single took some brass balls (right off those “Brass Dogs”), but they clearly knew they were onto something. This song, like the album it caps off, is a helluva thing.
The short version: Flyblown Prince is the best Code album since their wicked first couple and essential listening for all fans of progressive and theatrical black(ened) metal. It breathes new life into a career that ‒ while fully astray seems a bit harsh ‒ certainly wasn’t totally on the rails for a few years. Both long-time fans (hello again) and new ears ought to be absolutely thrilled by the chilling and beautiful music contained within.