[4 April 2005]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
The pride of the North Carolina metal community, Corrosion of Conformity have been around as long as each of the four most influential American metal bands from the 1980s (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax), yet the affable, always hard working band has never gotten the accolades they deserve. The fact is, no band in heavy metal has gone through as many metamorphoses as Corrosion of Conformity (affectionately referred to by everyone as “COC”) has over the past 22 years. They started as a strictly hardcore act, their 1983 record Eye For an Eye ranking as one of the best hardcore-metal crossover albums of the time. As the ‘80s rolled on, COC drifted toward the increasingly popular thrash metal sound. It was their early ‘90s incarnation that proved to be the most popular with listeners, as 1991’s Blind and 1994’s Deliverance offered a more controlled, midtempo, tuned-down sound, yielding their two most popular songs, “Vote With a Bullet” and “Clean My Wounds”. The longer the band carried on, however, the more the influence of Southern rock crept into their sound, first on 1996’s Wiseblood, and even more on 2000’s America’s Volume Dealer.
Although COC’s versatility is admirable, over the past decade, the product has been less consistent than their early ‘90s output, making many wonder if the band was experimenting with different genres too much. Still, despite the average quality of their post-Deliverance albums, they’ve been able to save face through the sheer force of their live show. Long regarded as one of the most potent live bands in metal, Guitarist/singer Pepper Keenan and founding members Mike Dean (bass) and Woody Weatherman (guitar) can deliver the goods with the best of them (something they proved on their year-long stint as openers for their good buds Metallica in 1996 and 1997), so there’s always been the hope that the band would be able to pull everything together once again in the studio, and deliver the great album everyone knows they have in them.
Their brand new release, In the Arms of God, simply exceeds expectations. While their peers in Metallica continue to lazily ride the reputation of their legendary ‘80s albums, COC have stepped up to the plate and delivered their most passionate and consistent album in a very long time. After all the dabbling in stoner rock, sludge, psychedelia, and Southern rock over the last decade, all four sounds have all come together smoothly on a record that packs a very impressive wallop, making it one of the most pleasant surprises of the year thusfar.
The opening minute of “Stone Breaker” is enough to make COC fans wonder if the band has completely lost the plot, as it kicks off into a bland exercise in Allman Brothers style wank, but it turns out the band’s really pulling a fast one on us, as the real COC surfaces 72 seconds later, with one of those huge, crushing Weatherman riffs that used to send Beavis & Butthead into headbanging rapture. The entire album is just as relentlessly heavy as High on Fire’s recent Blessed Black Wings, but most importantly, it also moves, possessing a swagger and cocksure strut, the mark of a band who is here to school every other doom metal band out there, and does so most authoritatively. “Paranoid Opioid” is the kind of scorcher that will work brilliantly live, while the fun “Dirty Hands Empty Pockets/Already Gone” kicks off with a hair-raising combination of sinister, Tom Waits-ish verses with and absolutely brutal explosion of midtempo stoner rock power, before morphing into a full-throttle thrasher midway through. The lengthy centerpiece “Never Turns to More” rivals the acid-laced, epic quality of Monster Magnet’s greatest moments, while the volatile “Infinite War” comes closest to matching the raw menace of the band’s early hardcore era.
As tight as the entire band is throughout In the Arms of God, two members shine the brightest. Pepper Keenan has long been one of the best lead vocalists in metal, his rough-hewn voice possessing the right combination of power, raspy melody, and pure Southern charisma, and on this album, he displays impressive versatility, providing menacing barks on several tracks, and then soulful crooning on songs like “Rise River Rise” and “Crown of Thorns”. Guest drummer Stanton Moore, a member of jazz-funk band Galactic, also adds a terrific dimension to the record, his beats swinging as much as they pummel, his creative drum fills and pure flair greatly enhancing the band’s overall sound.
Concluding with the beastly title track, one of the most vicious songs Corrosion of Conformity has ever recorded (it’s less a song than a collection of some of the greatest stoner/doom riffs you’ll hear all year), In the Arms of God is immensely satisfying. It’s one thing for a young band to live up to the promise they’ve shown in the past, but it’s another to see a group of aging musicians recapture the magic that many had considered long gone. This is a 2005 album that no metal fan should be without. To echo Keenan on “Already Gone”, “Yessah…”