Music review: Corrosion Of Conformity – No Cross No Crown

Can I tell you what my favorite rock band is of all time? It’s Raleigh, North Carolina band Corrosion Of Conformity. If you follow me on the twitter or spent more than 2 minutes with me, you probably know this.

(I used to host a site that had guitar tabs submitted by other fans, and some of the band members would send me tour updates. I don’t maintain it these days because it’s not 1996 and everyone other than bored college students can use broadband to promote themselves. I’m grateful for the connections I’ve made, including many friendships, just like how I’ve made them through comics.)

I have a heavy bias favoring them, but then again they’ve never disappointed (me, as a fan). Some albums are better than others, some make a better collection of individual songs or just a good beginning-to-end album. No Cross No Crown reunites singer Pepper Keenan with the Animosity lineup, the former busy with the band Down and the latter releasing two albums and an EP in Pepper’s absence.

No Cross No Crown picks up where the heavy In The Arms Of God left off. It’s a mix of their albums Wiseblood and ITAOG, with a bit of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden: a lot of rough and heavy riffs with moments of brilliant guitar melodies thrown in. Like Deliverance, it has a lot of brief instrumental interludes before throwing down more of their awesome rock power. The album starts off strong with The Luddite and Cast The First Stone, and ends with a cover of Queen’s Son and Daughter. My favorite tracks are The Luddite and Forgive Me, with Cast The First Stone and Wolf Named Crow being strong contenders. The first half of this album is pretty great and much more interesting than the 2nd half. I’ve been listening to it non-stop since I got it and I usually end up skipping back to the first track after Forgive Me. Those songs in particular make the whole album worth it, and where I’d suggest you give it a shot if you haven’t heard it yet.

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The only problem is that I get bummed out when people think this is a proper return of the band. To do so would ignore the heavy efforts of the albums the trio released until Pepper’s return, elements of which contain plenty of dark and aggressive moments they refined and show up in No Cross No Crown. The band has a varied catalog, some of which sounds like a completely different band that happens to have the same people behind the instruments. There’s something for everyone, just like with this new album. So, here’s a quick rundown of their releases:

Eye For An Eye: this would have made more sense to me if I grew up listening to Black Flag. I was into thrash metal when Santa Claus dropped this off 10 years after it came out, and after I had gotten into the wild guitar monster that was CoC’s Blind. It was my introduction to a very aggressive and noisy punk. By then, Green Day was becoming huge and my friends and I were listening to Screeching Weasel, a band heavily influenced by The Ramones. This album didn’t register as punk, just brief lo-fi  metal. Most (CD) versions of this include Six Songs With Mike Singing, an EP of some of the songs with bassist Mike Dean singing. I would love for the whole thing to be redone, but I also love it for what it is – it’s still one of my favorite CoC albums! (Sadly, singer Eric Eycke passed away in late 2017.)

Animosity: the groundbreaking “crossover” album still loved by everyone from that era, remembered as one of the best punk records of all time. The songs got longer and more complex, as the band showed their love for the likes of Black Sabbath while picking up the speed and intensity of the hardcore punk scene. For me (deep breath), not my favorite. Don’t murder me. I like the groove that the band has worked in. It would show up in later thrash and hard rock efforts as their unique boogie metal sound. I got into them as a far more metal act, so this was a little rough for me. (Yet, I love Eye For An Eye. What’s my deal?)

Technocracy: An EP with a new singer, Simon Bob Sinister. It feels like a brief update of Animosity, and doesn’t stand out beyond the fact that they tried out a new singer. It would later be rereleased on CD with what I think are demos with Mike singing some of these same songs.

After  Technocracy, their existence takes a weird turn and it’s never been clear if they broke up or if they just stopped being a band after a few false starts to keep moving, especially after Mike Dean moved away from the area and the band itself. There was a release, “Snake Nation,” with guitarist Woody Weatherman and Dean and their friend Brian Walsby (a great drummer, as well as an awesome cartoonist), but it’s an odd album that I can’t describe fairly. I owned it and listened to it and can’t recall anything about it. Meanwhile, Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin “reformed” the band with singer Karl Agell, bassist Phil Swisher (both of whom were acting members before or during this “hiatus”) and guitarist Pepper Keenan. They released a bombshell of an album with producer John Custer:

Blind: One of my all time favorites. An epic metal album, layered with complex riffs and wild solos, and a wailing dream-like vocal style warning the listener of a dark world run by cruel people if you don’t get active and make a difference now. Pepper Keenan did vocals on the song Vote With A Bullet, which had a single (and an industrial dance remix). There’s also that butt shaking groove that would become a staple in later albums. It would be later re-released on Sony with tracks from the single. The album cover is by New Mutants comic artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

Deliverance: Mike Dean returns on bass and Pepper Keenan sings on another epic, a modern day Sabbath Master Of Reality or Thin Lizzy Jailbreak. Blind and Deliverance would be the bookends (albumends?) to any hard rock/metal collection. It includes several radio hits but the whole thing makes for a perfect listen for any mood from beginning to end.

Wiseblood: The same lineup returns with a bit of a harder edge yet some of the same groove from Deliverance. Wasn’t a big seller, but had plenty of strong songs of any mood, from the fast & heavy King Of The Rotten & The Door to the spacy Goodbye Windows with an awesome epic jam at the end.

America’s Volume Dealer: More of a standard rock album, with some songs going straight to a southern rock feel. Probably not a favorite for most fans, but there’s a lot of good material here, and they still play songs from this album live. I like it, with Over Me and Double Wide being my faves, and it plays as a pretty good 70’s style rock  album from beginning to end.

After this, drummer Reed Mullin quit the band and they continued on to tour with a few friends filling in, recording a live album, Live Volume. They kinda stopped playing for a while; Mike & Woody had band called ‘Let Lones but I don’t know what happened with that. Pepper released another album with Down. (Reed was also active fronting a few alternative and hardcore bands.) Woody, Mike, & Pepper got back together a few years later to make another album.

In The Arms Of God: A heavier version of the last two albums, with longer songs and a deeper sound to go with the groove. So if AVD got a little light in tone and production, you should have gotten back on board with ITAOG. Some songs get a little too long, but change up before you get lost and almost lose interest. I have a few favorites from this album, including Infinite War and Paranoid Opioid. Lots of headbanging fun.

The band toured a lot within a year of the release (I think I saw them seven times!). Afterward, for a lot of reasons I guess, they just kind of stopped. Pepper worked with the band Down again, and Mike & Woody had their own lives back home. About five years later, Reed, Mike, and Woody reformed as CoC, not just to perform the album Animosity but to write new music. They released a single, “Your Tomorrow,” before making another full length.

Corrosion Of Conformity: A self titled  fresh sounding “reinvention” and not a rehash of Animosity. It’s got that punk aggression and the guitar complexity of previous albums. Mike and Reed take turns singing. It had to be infuriating for the band as fans showed up asking where Pepper was: this was a great album that still featured everything musically fans like about the band, and it’s on display with The Moneychangers and Psychic Vampire. Definitely head back and check it out. I have it on vinyl and side 2 (so, the 2nd half) is definitely stronger and has some of the favorite cuts. This is why it bums me out when fans are like “oh hey, Pepper’s back, now it’s official!” No! Check out the S/T! It’s solid and totally worth your time and money.

Reed and Mike also recorded some music as “Righteous Fool,” which I’ve only heard a single from, so I don’t know if the rest of it will ever surface. Reed also went back and recorded a number of songs with a bunch of his rock friends, Teenage Time Killer.

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Megalodon: Five song EP released by the media team from Scion, the car company. It was a freebie online, and the band even had CDs to give out while on tour, and there was even a 12″ you could have gotten, but it has mostly disappeared. Not as good as the S/T, but a pretty good introduction to what they were doing at the time.

IX: A slightly more metal release than the S/T, but I’m afraid I’m not as familiar with this. I bought it on vinyl and then I lent my record player out and haven’t gotten it back, and the vinyl version of IX I got didn’t have a digital download. D’oh! I do stream it on Spotify here and there. It’s pretty good but I haven’t spent as much time with it as previous records.

They toured a little bit behind it, opening for Gwar, before being rejoined by Pepper Keenan and announcing tour dates as a “Deliverance revival” with promises of a new album. And that’s where we are today. Hooray!

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