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Like many progressive and extreme metal bands from the early 2000’s Britain's Code have had a rough time maintaining a steady lineup. Originally a sort-of supergroup culled from various avant garde and progressive black metal bands including Ved Buens Ende and Ulver, the band has cycled through a few members, most notably founding vocalist Khvost, who is now pulling double duty in Beastmilk and Hexvessel. Khvost’s singing was such an integral part of the group’s sound--sour and sweet in turns, expanding upon the ‘operatic’ vocals Attilla used sparingly on Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas--that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else fronting the group, even though Code released one of my favorite albums of 2013, Augur Nox, with a suitable replacement, Wacian.

While Augur Nox was a logical continuation of Code’s labyrinthine-but-melodic sound, it was so layered that often Wacian got lost in the mix. In retrospect, it seems as though founding guitarist Aort piled the album so high with synth and overdubs that the record seemed embarrassed to feature someone who was not Khvost at all.

That’s not the case on Code’s latest offering, mut however (the title is lowercase on purpose, sadly). In 2015, Wacian is the most interesting part of what is otherwise the most laid back and easily digestible piece of Code’s story, though that shouldn’t be taken as pejorative. In the past two years he’s developed a buttermilk-smooth though too-sweet vocal approach. His performance here feels more adventurous than his more predictable loud-then-soft performances from before.

The remainder of the instrumentation however is less interested in challenging listeners. Aort fixates his guitar playing on delicately strummed arpeggios now, and while time signatures slip and slide with abandon, the tempo stays relaxed. In many ways it’s a similar strategy to what Solstafir hinted at on Svartir Sandar and doubled down on with Ótta, except that group does so with more drive. It comes with experience.

Several excellent extreme metal bands have pursued routes similar to this, often with uneven results. Code does have one leg up on the competiton and specifically Solstafir, and that is that not only does Wacian sing in english, but he maximises that impact with some pretty evocative lyrics. “Undertone” recalls Alice in Wonderland, with its narrator falling from a tree and then observing some altered world or state of consciousness—the distinction isn’t ever made. Elsewhere present single “Affliction” depicts what seems to be the archetypal visitation-by-apparition nightmare, but in the video juxtaposes that with fast-time footage of fungal growth. The effect can come off as too textbook, but definitely provides a contrast to the given material. At first these are the stories of victims, sometimes alone and adrift in the sea, but on further listen can seem as sinister as the forces assailing them.

It’s unsettling, but that’s always been part of the Code M.O. Here more than ever they’re following in the footsteps of other groups, and though they’ve managed to not water their effect down this time, to hear another forward-thinking band mellow out raises at least my eyebrow. I hope they’ll bring something with a little more punch next time. With vigor, however, they’ve proven that their frontman brings something new and valuable to the table.

—Joseph Schafer

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mut is available February 27th in Europe and March 10th in North America via Agonia Records (Preorder at their site). Follow Code on Facebook.

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