Saturday, March 3, 2012
Album Review: Corrosion of Conformity-Self-Titled
Earlier this week, Corrosion of Conformity released their eighth studio album, which for all intents and purposes, may be the most important one of their esteemed career. The record is self-titled, which in and of itself bears a certain measure of significance, shedding light on what the band members think of this work…but I'll get to that a little later. There are two reasons that this COC release should be regarded as important in the pantheon of heavy music by fans of this legendary band, both past and present. Number one…this year happens to mark the 30th anniversary of COC's inception in Raleigh, North Carolina. That's quite a feat in the ever evolving (or devolving…depending on your perception), constantly changing, post-modern music industry where they now find themselves. This is especially true, considering they started as a hardcore/metal crossover band who made their living by bucking trends and "raging against the machine" long before it was deemed cool by the Lollapalooza generation.
The second reason that this new COC offering is so fascinating is that it happens to be the first album since 1985 to feature the classic trio of Mike Dean (vocals/bass), Woody Weatherman (guitar/vocals) and Reed Mullin (drums/vocals). The big elephant in the room, and the reason for a whole lot of skepticism from many among you, is the absence of one Pepper Keenan. Now Keenan joined the band on guitar for the 1991 album Blind, before adding vocal duties to his resume on subsequent records. His swampy, southern style seeped into every facet of COC's sound to the point that it became their calling card on the band's next four albums. And don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of that sound and of those records, but they're a far cry from the original COC hardcore/metal crossover.
Furthermore, ever since Keenan's other project, Down, became much less of just that…a project…and much more of a full time gig, COC has essentially taken a back seat, having only released two albums since 1996. So you can forgive Mr. Dean, Mr. Weatherman and Mr. Mullin for growing tired of resting on their laurels and deciding instead to head back into the studio to resurrect one of the most respected and revered properties in heavy music. THIS…my friends…is Corrosion of Conformity.
Right away, the band draws upon both styles from their storied past, seemingly intent on reassuring fans of both the Animosity era crossover sound as well as those of the Keenan era stoner groove. The albums opening triptych of songs is a sonic journey through COC's entire repertoire, beginning with the excellent "Psychic Vampire", which opens with a riff as sludgy as anything you heard on Deliverance, but quickly gallops into a lightning fast hardcore romp. And when Dean snarls the album's opening line…"from the pulpit the puppet's mouth is infested with suggestion"…you know the boys are back and that they're still pissed. And why shouldn't they be? The fact is, 30 years has done little to change the state of the world's socio-political landscape…one might even argue we're worse off today than we were in 1982…but that's a different essay for another day.
"River of Stone" is simply a metal masterpiece. Weatherman's chugga-chugga guitar riff is mirrored by Dean's hammering bass as Mullin pops his snare and his ride cymbal with a measure of violence that only comes from experience…welcome back Reed. And speaking of experience, these last 30 years must have been a really interesting ride for Mike Dean. The man went from being the lead vocalist to not even being in the band at all, only to re-join as the bassist while someone else stepped to the center of the stage. So it should come as no surprise that he's got something to prove on this album and that's pretty apparent here as his vocal register hits all the highs…"no shelter for evil, in time you find another way"…as well as the lows…"when you're dealing with the devils, to who or what you gonna pray".
"Leeches" is a throwback to the band's hardcore roots with its blitzkrieg punk rock abrasiveness and political themes. And once you've been pummeled by it, it's easy to let the soothing reverb of Woody's guitar wash over you on the instrumental "El Lamento de Las Cabras"…a much needed breather. Of course this merely sets you up for COC's next assault on your eardrums, as the next three tracks are simply superb.
The first of these is "Your Tomorrow" which sees the band changing back into their metal shoes as Dean continues pleading against the machinations of the powers that be…"while rats get fat, good soldiers die." The track scorches along before downshifting into a sludgy, doom riff about two minutes in that'll hypnotize you just in time for it to bounce right back into its original break-neck tempo. And speaking of doom, only a band with COC's pedigree could pull off a song that's actually called "The Doom"…and pull it off they fucking-A do. Without a doubt, this one is going to please anyone looking for a taste of the Keenan-era…in fact at times Mike's vocals here resemble Pepper's so closely that its a little scary. But alas, this is the Animosity-era trio and even on a song called "The Doom", they manage to place their signature hardcore stamp as they seamlessly transition from lumbering metal riffs to spastic musical tantrums in the blink of an eye. Speaking of which…"The Moneychangers" is a fitful rage of guitar, bass and holy shit…check out Reed's drums on this one!
On "Come Not Here", COC slows it down and gets all grunge-like…in fact it sounds much more Soundgarden or Alice in Chains than it does Misfits or Bad Brains. Not so with "What We Become", which is a big, fat, punk rock fuck you to all those hypocrites you used to hang out with at rock shows who have gone on to become corporate douchebags…"what you despise, is what you've become". And "Rat City" keeps that punk philosophy rolling right along, with its Ramones on steroids vibe. But Mike, Woody and Reed have saved their best for last. "Time of Trials" is a heavy, bluesy Sabbath-like jam that calls out our current path towards a dystopian society. Ah yeah…leave it to the COC boys to call shit just like it truly is.
**If you seek out the "limited edition" of the album you're gonna get two additional tracks. The first of these is "Canyon Man", another great showcase of this lineup's ability to blend sludgy doom with hardcore fury, but all things considered, not anything close to what you've already heard on the album proper. "The Same Way" on the other hand is a fantastic little thrash number…I say little because it's barely over two minutes long…that may just be worth the time and money it'll cost you to snatch up the extended version of the record.**
Back at the beginning of this review I mentioned the significance of this album being self-titled and now I'll explain. I firmly believe this is a record that Mike, Woody and Reed are extremely proud of and I happen to think they're well deserved in feeling that way. With all due respect to Pepper Keenan who is one hell of a vocalist and an even better guitar player (and rumor has it we'll hear more from the Pepper fronted version of the band one day…which I look forward to whole heartedly), but Corrosion of Conformity was around long before he came on the scene and they've influenced more bands than I can even begin to name. These three guys are the true essence of COC…they took the sounds and more importantly, the aesthetics that separated metal and hardcore, and blew the doors off the perception that those worlds couldn't co-exist. This album re-defines that paradigm for a new generation. This album is Corrosion of Conformity.
01 Psychic Vampire
02 River of Stone
04 El Lamento de Las Cabras
05 Your Tomorrow
06 The Doom
07 The Moneychangers
08 Come Not Here
09 What We Become
10 Rat City
11 Time of Trials
12 Canyon Man (Limited Edition)
13 The Same Way (Limited Edition)
Mike Dean - Vocals/bass
Woody Weatherman - Guitar/vocals
Reed Mullin - Drums/vocals
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