Corrosion of Conformity is a band with a complicated 35-year history. Starting as a hardcore punk band and then morphing into a hard rock/metal act, the band has been around the block and back again when a slew of their contemporaries burned out and faded away. Line-up’s have been shuffled, the hardcore roots have been revisited, and the band has maintained a level of integrity that few bands can muster after three decades. Over the years, Woody Weatherman (guitar), Mike Dean (bass), and Reed Mullin (drums) have been constants, but their most popular mainstream material has featured Pepper Keenan leading the charge. It’s been 12 years since Keenan contributed to a COC album (2005’s In the Arms of God), but he’s back in the mix and at full-force on No Cross No Crown.
The most striking thing about this album is that it feels like an album. There are 15 tracks across an hours worth of music, but four of these tracks are instrumental interludes. Not to be mistaken for unfocused filler, these songs tie the album together as a whole, offer a little breather between songs, and flesh out the overall tone of the album. If you’re a fan of Deliverance and Wiseblood, tracks like “Little Man” and “Old Disaster” will certainly fulfill your wants and needs. The have what some fans would consider a “classic” COC sound, which is to say they have that 70’s-ish swagger you’ve come to know and love. A bunch of the songs are pretty catchy, too. “Wolf Named Crow,” “Forgive Me,” and “E.L.M.” have hooky riffs and choruses that will surely go over well live. And there’s certainly a darker element to this record. “A Quest to Believe” and the title track stand out. In fact, the title track is the most atypical title track you could imagine. It’s a slow, evil sounding dirge that likely won’t be released as a single.
There’s some great playing on this record, too. The drums on “Cast the First Stone” and the guitar leads on “Forgive Me” are excellent examples of what these musicians bring to the table. Most importantly, they demonstrate that this is band writing from inspiration, not obligation. In addition to the instrumental interludes, the band throws in “Nothing Left to Say” – which is about as close to a ballad you’re gonna find from COC. It shows that the band can create mood, rather than just rocking out for the sake of rocking out. Indeed, there’s a lot going on in these songs if you take the time to listen.
If you’re a fan of the Pepper Keenan fronted COC material, this is a must-have addition to your collection. It’s a dense, murky album that recalls the past, but doesn’t rehash the old tropes that would otherwise make it sound dull and uninspired. Rather, it’s a proper COC album that shows that the band still has plenty to offer.
– J. Kevin Lynch
POSTSCRIPT – If you’re interested in learning a little more about COC’s history, check out Brian Walsby’s article on the bands transformations and lesser-known albums.
Corrosion of Conformity is on tour now with Black Label Society. Stay tuned for our live review and be sure to check them out if they’re coming to your town.