• Corrosion Of Conformity – No Cross No Crown

    Corrosion Of Conformity – No Cross No Crown
    Released by: Nuclear Blast Records
    Released on: January 12th, 2018.
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    When Pepper Keenan became the frontman for Corrosion Of Conformity in 1994, the band was wall on their way to a new direction, having left the punk/crossover albums Eye For An Eye and Animosity behind them when they cleaned things up a bit with Technocracy in 1987. Keenan had joined the band on guitar and played on Blind – but he didn’t do the vocals, save for one song – Vote With A Bullet. That lead to big things, as the follow up album, Deliverance, did well. Their new ‘stoner/groove’ sound even landed them some mainstream radio play and rotation slots on MTV. Wiseblood followed but despite critical acclaim, it didn’t do as well commercially. Regardless, the band held on, recording and touring regularly throughout the 2000’s while Keenan went on hiatus to tour and record with Down.

    In 2015, Keenan was officially back in. They toured together for the first time in a few years (you can check out a write up of their 2016 Saint Vitus show here) and started writing, then recording. The fruits of their efforts is 2018’s No Cross No Crown and it’s the best things they’ve put out in at least fifteen, if not twenty, years.

    Their first record with Keenan back on vocals starts off with Novus Deus, a ninety second guitar based interlude (which is something that the band returns to quite a few times as the album plays out). It segues straight into The Luddite, four and a half minutes of heavy, sludgy, doomy RAWK. This gets the album started proper and it instantly reminds you why the band were and still are such a formidable force with Keenan on vocals.

    That least right into Cast The First Stone, which was the first song to be previewed from the album after it was announced. It’s a rock solid slab of heavy, clocking in at just under four minutes and by far one of the most aggressive tracks on the album. Weatherman’s guitar playing here is killer too, with Mike Dean and Read Mullin absolutely hammering down the rhythm section as tight as tight can be. If this were the only good song on the record it would be worth owning just for this track. Thankfully that’s far from the case.

    From there, it’s another guitar interlude in the form of the eighty-second No Cross that then leads into the five minute long Wolf Named Crow, a song that Keenan wrote that was inspired by his dog! Lyrically it’s more about being chased down and hunted than about a dog itself, but that’s beside the point. It’s a bit groove heavier than the rest of the record, showing a heavy Black Sabbath influence both in sound and tempo. It’s also catchy as all Hell.

    Little Man starts off with some really distinct riffing before the drums catch up to it and the bass kicks in shortly after. Again, the band quickly settles into a slippery groove, going back and forth between some clear southern rock influences and the sort of stone rock sound that they’ve played around with for years now. Keenan is in storyteller mode here, pulling you into the sound with his whiskey soaked vocals giving things an appropriately sleazy bent.

    Matre’s Diem is the next of the many guitar interludes, this one running a minute and a half, and it leads into Forgive Me, which runs just over four minutes. Again, there’s some Sabbath here, but COC make this sound their own, working things to a mid-tempo gallop pretty quickly with Keenan’s vocals a bit more tortured and stressed sounding, particularly during the chorus. It works really well in the context of the song, though personally I think that had it been sped up just a bit more it might have been more effective.

    After that, it’s Nothing Left To Say, the longest track on the album at almost six and a half minutes long. It’s a slow, slightly jammy song likely written in a haze of smoke that increases in heaviness, if not so much in tempo. It builds well, creating some genuine tension and once again it shows off some nice guitar work and a southern rock bent.

    Sacred Isolation is the next of the guitar interludes, clocking in at eighty-two seconds and featuring some quirky, ominous piano playing behind it. It leads straight into Old Disaster, a five minute riff fest that chugs along at just the right speed and with no small amount of weight behind it. This is pretty much pure sludge, but damn if it isn’t tight and catchy.

    E.L.M. is a four minute slammer, it’s a nice return to the faster material from earlier on the album, though that stoner/sludge/groove sound is still a huge part of the sound. The dual guitar work gives it a nice, thick sound while once again the drumming is just intense.

    The title track is another big stand out on the record. No Cross No Crown clocks in at just short of four minutes and it starts off with a slow build, the vocals almost whispered and definitely hushed, laid over top of some quite, but very dark, guitar playing. Then the choral vocals come into the mix, taking you completely by surprise. You expect it to go in a more ‘typical’ COC styled direction, and it never happens. It stays quite, pensive, dark and sinister.

    And then it quickly and sublimely transitions into A Quest To Believe (A Call To The Void), a six minute epic that once again sees all four band members firing on all cylinders. The riffs are right up front, providing a rock solid backbone to the track, while the vocals slither into the mix with the right amount of ballsy attitude.

    The album closes out with Son And Daughter, a five minute slab of heavy, sleazy, southern tinged sludge that opens with a weird sample but quickly pushes that aside for what sounds like the perfect mix between Grand Funk, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Crowbar. It’s a bit more up tempo than some of the other tracks and the ‘wails’ during the chorus are unexpected but this turns out to be one of the best tracks on the record. It ends the album on a high note, though really, this is consistently solid from start to finish. At first the ‘sad guitar’ bits might throw you off a bit but spin the album a few times, let them grow on you and then it’s hard to imagine the record without them.

    Overall the production is slick but not too slick, that earthy, gritty, dirty sound is still definitely there and this is hardly overdone. The playing is great, the songwriting some of the best we’ve seen from COC in a long time and all in all, No Cross No Crown scores high marks all around.