When COC reunited with the original “Animosity” era line-up of Woody Weatherman, Mike Dean and Reed Mullin, ostensibly to tour that album, it caused no small number of ripples in the metal world. The avid Keenanites bemoaned the absence of a Keenan fronted band whilst the original hardcore crew whetted their lips in anticipation. Yours truly was unduly excited having been a fan since the mid 80’s and having grown musically alongside the band and remaining a fan of all eras. In 2011 the first new material dropped in the form of the “Your Tomorrow” 7” and blew apart expectations. That most people were expecting a blast of raging hardcore thrash is understandable but COC remained true to themselves and produced a track that drew from both their punk origins and their later Sabbath worship to create something fresh and exciting in the world of COC.
So as 2012 unfolds before us we are treated to a brand new full length offering, perhaps tellingly titled “Corrosion Of Conformity” to reaffirm that this is still, the same band it always was regardless who is currently within the ranks. The big question will be how does this album fit into the COC catalogue and how does it fit into the current musical climate. The answer is clear from the opening bars of lead off track “Psychic Vampire”, COC have lost none of the energy and rage that marked their early work yet have lost none of their Sabbath infused heavy rocking skill that peppered (pardon the pun) their later output. The only thing that seems to have been left at the door is the southern gumbo that Keenan obviously brought to the table. The only nod in that direction is the twangsome and heartfelt instrumental “El Lamento De Las Cabras” which has an almost cinematic, Spaghetti Western style vibe that would sit comfortably alongside some of the mellower instrumental tracks on “Deliverance”.
Amazingly, for a group of musicians staring down the barrel of turning 50, this album is as fresh, vital and energetic than anything you may hear from any band half their age. The advantage that COC have over these other bands is their combined experience and skill that sets them apart as song writers with their own vision. Most of the tracks here successfully fuse an aggressive, thrash influenced attack alongside mighty walls of doom filled dread, the tracks themselves boasting complex and varied structures. That said this is actually not new territory for the band, one listen to “Animosity” and especially “Blind” will see that COC always had an abundance of memorable, hook filled ideas and came armed with an uncanny ability to throw as many of these ideas into each song without losing focus or flow. In fact, mentioning “Blind” is highly relevant as that is the album with which this release shares the most kindred spirit. “Blind” saw COC still tied to their thrash and hardcore roots whilst moving into an area clearly inspired by heroes such as Sabbath and Trouble. Here COC take their more recent stoner meets doom filled sound and returns to explore their hardcore origins and the experiment is an unmitigated success.
Occasionally COC will keep things simple and keep their styles separate. “Leeches” and “Rat City” are both concise, aggro filled slices of killer punk rock whereas “The Doom” is pure riffing Sabbath worship of the highest order and “Newness” takes the doom into the realm of Soundgarden and could have almost sat alongside anything on the “Louder Than Love” album.
Of the three musicians involved, Woody Weatherman has never needed anyone’s help in writing some of the most adhesive, catchy riffs ever to attach themselves to your memory and nothing has changed here. After two or three spins the riffs come to greet you like old friends and his touch and feel on the guitar has remained true over the years. Reed Mullin has always been one of the most adept, technically capable and inventive drummers amongst his peers and his time away from the band has done nothing to diminish his skill. He plays right with the riff as opposed to behind it which serves to keep the energy up at all time and never waning. Mike Dean is something of a revelation. His early ranting has been replaced with a time worn singing voice that retains the rage of youth but is imbued with a new found sense of melody that sits somewhere between the Mike Dean of old, prime era Ozzy and a hint of Chris Cornell. The vocal lines vie with Weatherman’s riffs to see which will stick in your memory first…a race often finished as a seamless tie!!! Dean probably had the most weight of expectation on his shoulders following the tried and tested, not to mention firmly ingrained vocals of Pepper Keenan but any fears are blown out of the water within the first few bars of the first song.
The production may throw some of the fans of the later era COC albums into a confused fit as the treacle thick guitar tones have been replaced by a much rawer and sharper sound that goes straight for the jugular as befits the more hardcore edge the material now displays. Once clear of this unexpected hurdle it becomes apparent that COC have chosen a sound for this album that sits right at home with the material and are not bound to any era of their past.
So, do I miss Pepper Keenan? Sure I do, the guy is one of the characters of rock and has brought great things to COC. On the other hand is this a bona fide COC album? Damn fucking straight it is!!! COC could easily have attempted to recreate their early hardcore sound wholesale or stuck with their southern guns to appease the later fans but in true style they have produced an album that is entirely them in 2012 drawing on all the influences that have brought them to this point. Does this album stand up in quality against “Deliverance”, “Wiseblood”, “Blind” or “Animosity”? Absolutely and without question. This is a remarkable album that ushers in an exciting new phase for COC and is packed from start to finish with exceptional songs. After a few spins this album proves itself to be as consistent and essential as anything they have released in their 30 year career…and not many bands can claim to still be doing that. Will this album be in my top ten for the year in 12 months time? Right near the fucking top!!!!
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall