C.O.C., as they’re affectionately known, are back in their other, more known guise as a Southern Hard Rock/Metal band that grooves, slithers, and slides along like no one else. For their other style, Google them and read a brief bio of the band, as that’s a story that doesn’t need recounted. What the return of this version means though is the re-entry of Pepper Keenan on vocals/guitar, and that is very exciting indeed.
Technically, Corrosion of Conformity have been a four piece again for a couple of years, and have been touring intensely. In that time, they inked a deal with the powerhouse label that is Nuclear Blast, who seem to be fulfilling boyhood dreams and signing loads of fantastic legacy bands. No Cross No Crown is the first fruit of this partnership and has been hailed by fans and critics alike as C.O.C.’s best work in 20 years, a hefty statement with a catalogue this strong.
Well, the good news is that its certainly better than both America’s Volume Dealer and Into the Arms of God, which are both strong records. It sits as a collection of work that could have been released between the stone-cold classics Deliverance and Wiseblood. It has the depth and layers of the former, and the swagger and bluster of the latter, which should make your mouth water.
Once the strange but compelling intro track kicks into the one-two punch of ‘The Luddite’ and lead single, ‘Cast the First Stone,’ you’ll be grinning on the inside at least, and knowing this will be a good time. Now, this is one of those old-fashioned records where you don’t grasp everything it has to offer fully at first footing. Repeated listens are the key, and the further you tread the more rewards you will reap. In all honesty, existing C.O.C. fans will already know this is what it takes anyway.
Keenan’s charismatic voice has just gotten more soulful and lived in with age, whilst not losing any of his top end, which is impressive to say the least. His vocals sound majestic throughout, but a real stand out is ‘Little Man,’ which features some rich vocal multi-layering. The interludes dotted throughout the record are a throwback to Deliverance, and really do enhance the journey. The best one for me is the pretty ‘Matre’s Diem.’ The longest song is ‘Nothing Left to Say,’ and is also, rather happily, one of the albums real treasures. It’s a slow burner musically, but is fantastic with perhaps the lyrics being some of Keenan’s most profound.
It isn’t all perfection, though not far off. The title track is clear in its intent, but never quite achieves what I think they were trying to do. The beginning of the track really isn’t very engaging, but then the final two minutes is some of the best music on offer with its wailing, rugged beauty. Corrosion of Conformity need to edit slightly better next time. The two and a half tracks at the end feel substandard and surplus to the overall experience and general vibe. No Cross No Crown could have been 12 flawless tracks.
Of course, that inimitable C.O.C. guitar tone is here in spades, and is still possibly the warmest sound this side of Master of Reality. Reed Mullin’s drums are literally just mic’d up as they sit, and his fluid and sinuous style is all the better for it. Some bands benefit from changing up the producers that man the desk when they record, but these gents know that using anyone other than long-time collaborator John Custer would be a mistake. It is definitely a nice warm fuzzy feeling to know that a band of this vintage (over 30 years together and counting) can release a record that sits comfortably between its two best releases that were unleashed over 20 years ago.