Yer Metal is Olde: Corrosion of Conformity – Blind

BlindCorrosion of Conformity’s third album, was an odd duckling for various reasons when it dropped in 1991. It remains the only album to not feature longtime bassist/vocalist Mike Dean in any capacity, but also the only album to feature his replacements, vocalist Karl Agell and bassist Phil Swisher. It also debuted guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan, who only sang lead on the album’s hit single, “Vote With a Bullet.” Above all else, Blind saw the band at a crossroads of sorts, with one foot planted in the band’s seminal punk/hardcore history, while planting the other foot into Sabbath-drenched doom/sludge territory. The end result captured lightning in a bottle and today, Blind joins the ranks of the Hallowed and the Olde.

As soon as “These Shrouded Temples…” opens up with an ominous aura and some cool twin-guitar interplay between Keenan and Woody Weatherman, you know Blind would be a different beast from their blazingly fast punk heyday. Instead of songs that relied on speed so much that they threatened to fall apart at any given moment, Blind saw CoC embracing their more metallic, groovier side. Keenan and Weatherman made the perfect guitar tandem, throwing incredible riffs, while bearing solos that channeled both soulful, Southern-styled goodness (Keenan) and a more experimental, almost Brian May-like delivery (Weatherman). As a result, none of the songs lack hooks or intriguing moments, and Blind easily stands as one of the band’s best, most comprehensive albums.

Lyrically, little changed from their punk days, only the delivery. Sure, Agell is an acquired taste, but few can argue the ferocity and intent delivered by his performance. His howls towards the middle of “Damned For All Time” and “Painted Smiling Face” feel both soulful and cleansing in their intensity, and his lyrics in “White Noise” (“Blind – Product of pride/Fucker, you don’t speak for me/Proud is what I am/But I never condemn a man”) fits in just as well now as it did 30 years ago. A lot was said about his voice and pitch at the time of Blind’s release, with some people I knew saying that it would have been a better album if Keenan performed all the vocals, but I maintain that Agell’s voice, as well as the guitar work of Keenan and Weatherman, helped make Blind the masterpiece that it is.

With all that said, though, despite how good the riffs and solos were, and how passionate the vocals were performed, none of that comes close to what the late, great Reed Mullin brought to the album, because fucking hell. In short, Mullin achieved God Mode with his drumming here. Go listen to his technical-yet-pummeling intro to “Damned For All Time,” and try to argue with me. Same goes for his frantic energy on “Mine Are the Eyes of God,” or the tremendous fills that take up the bridge in “White Noise.” Mullin, coupled with the John Custer production that christened Blind with a mammoth drum sound and what could be the loudest ride cymbal ever recorded, flat-out owned on pretty much every song on here in a performance that few could rival even now.

As Blind was a jumping-on point for me with Corrosion of Conformity, I must admit it was a jumping-off point as well. Once touring for Blind wrapped up, Swisher and Agell departed, Dean returned, and Keenan became the band’s new (and current) vocalist, culminating in 1994’s Southern-rock-drenched Deliverance. While the quality was still there, the sudden departure musically and lyrically from the politically-charged and musically-visceral Blind wasn’t what I was looking for at the time, and I simply moved on to other pastures. Still, Blind deserves to be heard by everyone even remotely curious about hardcore, crossover, and heavy-ass metal, and absolutely deserves to be inducted into the Halls of the Olde.

Steel Druhm

As an 80s teen in the grips of early stage metal appreciation, the first few Corrosion of Conformity releases were well outside my comfort zone. Albums like 1984s Eye for an Eye and 85s Animosity were fine examples of hardcore punk fury, but they felt alien to me and I couldn’t relate to their style. Instead I wrote them off and went back to my steady diet of Maiden, Metallica and Mercyful Fate. Then late one night in 1991 a funny thing happened to the college-aged version of Steel. A video for CoC’s “Dance of the Dead” appeared on Headbanger’s Ball and within seconds I went from highly ambivalent to extremely impressed. I cursed my inability to replay live TV and within days I had pulled every string available to me in way upstate New York to get my hands on Blind. And so began an intense love affair with the album that continues to this day.

If you play Animosity side-by-side with Blind, you’d be forgiven for thinking two very different bands were involved. Where the former is raw, hardcore punk, the latter is slick, accessible but heavy stoner doom with a healthy undercurrent of sludge. The addition of Karl Agell on vocals resulted in a huge shift in sound, providing a uniquely gritty yet emotional energy, and those riffs by Pepper Keenan and Woody Weatherman conjured the perfect blend of swampy southern rock, Sabbath and Trouble. Hearing songs like “Damned for All Time” and “Dance of the Dead” made me realize I’d been missing that exact sound all of my young life. There was something about the writing and playing that transcended both the era in which it was conceived and the various influences the band brought with them into the studio. It’s one of the starkest shifts in direction ever taken by a band as well as one of the most successful radical progressions I can think of.

Songs like “Buried,” “Break the Circle,” and “Great Purification” simply smoke with seething resentment accentuated by southern swagger and machismo that made them ideal for the nastiest of dive bars and rowdiest of biker clubhouses. And don’t even get me started on “Vote With a Bullet” which is a peerless riff/groove monster for the ages channeling a hostility toward politics that speaks even more forcefully today than it did in 1991. That lead riff still parks a rusted Chevy on my chest all these years later and I never craft a workout playlist that doesn’t feature it prominently. Perhaps most intriguing from a historical perspective, “Echoes in the Well” hints strongly at what would come when Down formed a few years later, essentially laying out the exact blueprint the band would follow.

Though very special, Blind isn’t a perfect album. The chorus on “Mine Are the Eyes of God” is somewhat annoying, disrupting an otherwise crunchy, meaty tune, and the presence of three musical interludes always felt unnecessary. That being said, this is one of those All Time kind of releases for yours truly. It came out of nowhere with a sound that was wholly original and it will always have a special place in the heart ov Steel. CoC would continue exploring their southern rock and stoner sides on highly worthwhile albums like Deliverance and In the Arms of God, but none of their later releases fully capture the one-of-a-kind magic Blind had in such abundance. If you haven’t heard Blind, make the time and give it a spin. It’s olde but still holds up shockingly well 30 years later.

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