Corrosion of Conformity fans can generally be divided up into two teams: aging hardcore guys who only enjoyed the band’s first few records from the early ’80s, and metal dudes who prefer the band’s more recent incarnation with Pepper Keenan on vocals. These two teams don’t like each other, and Team Hardcore really doesn’t like latter-day COC. This conflict has been going on for decades, but the battle lines shifted recently when the three founding members of COC decided to reunite, sans Keenan, to record new music as a trio for the first time since 1986. Would the band finally deliver some crossover thrash to satisfy the old-schoolers? Or will they continue along the sludgy path they’ve been traveling since 1994’s Deliverance?
Well, it’s a win for both teams, or at least a draw. Corrosion of Conformity is very much a one-off in the COC catalog, borrowing from both the band’s hardcore and sludge metal eras and ending up being a darker, weirder beast than either. There’s no “Holier” or “Technocracy” to be found here, but there’s no “Clean My Wounds” either. There is, however, an abundance of good songs and huge, disgusting riffs.
COC the album [It’s all so confusing! – AMG] is all over the place musically. Old-school hardcore fury somehow coexists with gigantic doom riffage and twangy guitar solos, usually in the same song. The faster tunes here, such as “The Moneychangers” and “What We Become”, are all badass swagger and vicious sarcasm, not far removed from latter-day Black Flag. Album closer “Time of Trials” is almost ’80s post-punk, with a completely unexpected Gang of Four/Killing Joke riff in there. This is honestly some of the most straight-up ugly music COC has ever produced, aided by the most stripped-down, live sounding production the band has had in decades.
I was curious as to how bassist/vocalist Mike Dean would fare fronting modern-era COC, but my concern was unfounded. Dean has stepped it up considerably in the vocal department, channeling Ozzy, Tom G. Warrior, Eric Wagner from Trouble, and even his ex-bandmate Keenan at times. (Oh, and he’s still an awesome bass player, too.) Woodroe Weatherman’s guitar is louder here than on any COC album in years, and the man definitely rose to the occasion. This guy has one of the most distinctive lead guitar styles of the last 20 years and all of it is here in spades. More importantly, Mr. Reed Mullin is back behind the drum kit after a lengthy injury-related absence. Mullin might not be the most technically accomplished drummer in the world, but he is a hard hitter and dangerously unpredictable. His playing adds weight. He’s an integral part of COC‘s sound and things were never quite right without him.
If there’s any flaw with this album, it’s that it occasionally feels less like 100% of the Animosity lineup, and more like 75% of the Deliverance/Wiseblood lineup. A few of these songs may be better suited to Pepper Keenan’s vocal style, and in those moments his absence is truly felt. A very minor grievance, considering the quality of the music here. But I can see this album having a polarizing effect on COC‘s fans. The old-schoolers hoping for another Animosity or Eye For An Eye will undoubtedly be pissed off and followers of the newer stuff will complain that Keenan isn’t at the mic. I was admittedly skeptical about this project myself, but the results have more than won me over. COC has made a fucking vicious album and they did it without choosing sides when it comes to their own history. Corrosion of Conformity is an expert blend of old and new, and a damn fun listen for those who are open-minded enough to handle both.