A classic quartet rollin’ heavy once more

In kicking off a new year with powerful style, many metal fans were eager to feast upon No Cross No Crown, the latest weighty offering from pioneering scene giants Corrosion Of Conformity, released on January 12th.

As widely agreed, COC’s 10th LP harks back to their 90s career peak of the Blind, Deliverance, and Wiseblood albums – no mean feat, deftly navigated with returning long time member Pepper Keenan. After Keenan’s thirteen years absence from COC preceding their release of the pummelling In The Arms Of God in 2005, what began as a 2014 phone call from guitarist Woody Weatherman has now eventuated in a fully-fledged, 14-track bruiser of a record. Never a band to rest on their laurels, COC’s self-titled 2012 LP and 2014’s IX also proved to be enjoyable and heavy-hitting. A certain gruff charisma was lacking, however.

After the initial atmospherics and ominous power chords of ‘Novus Deus’ introduce the album with a primeval savagery akin to the cover art, the venomous catharsis of this iconic four-piece is heard once more, leading into the darkly swinging riff of ‘The Luddite’. Keenan’s vocals are firing on all cylinders from the first verse, the powerhouse rhythm section of Mike Dean and Reed Mullin rolling heavy, and grooving seamlessly.

Lyrics are typically dark and cryptic to compliment the music’s grim tone; ‘Wolf Named Crow’ is based on a theme of being hunted, for instance. Third track ‘Cast the First Stone’ is a relatively straightforward rocker, as is ‘Forgive Me’, the latter arriving after three spacious interludes. Serving to prolong the listening experience but further enhance the ambience of the record, a total of five acoustic and ambient passages segue with some of the meanest tracks here, namely ‘Wolf Named Crow’, and ‘Old Disaster’. The final doom-laden strains of ‘A Quest to Believe (A Call to the Void)’ fade after the ambient acoustic drones of the title-track.

Representing the DIY roots and stylistic legacy of the band, mixing and production differs slightly with each song, leading to a more raw and visceral listen with noticeable sonic changes throughout. Therefore, when the brawny thump of ‘Little Man’ is reminiscent of an outtake from 1996’s Wiseblood, this is a desired effect helped in no small part by the hardened production of John Custer. Responsible for manufacturing the iconic sound of COC’s best-selling records, Custer is now assisted further by modern studio techniques and compression that serves to envelop the listener in booming chords and thick guitar tone. Whilst honoring the rough-hewn origins of Corrosion Of Conformity, this monstrous album is refreshingly innovative at times but offers little freedom away from a well-trodden path.

Derived through 87-92s stylistic shift from Technocracy to Blind, this is a deliberately ‘classic-sounding’ album and therefore another tick in the box for the stoner-rock/sludge metal community.

No Cross No Crown definitely has its moments; the fierce riffs of ‘Wolf Named Crow’ and sunken swagger of ‘Old Disaster’ among them, thundering and malevolent. Ultimately, it’s always thrilling to hear Keenan, Mullin, Dean and Weatherman gel effortlessly as musicians, and after 2006’s four-year hiatus, Pepper’s 13 year absence, and the underwhelming efforts of COC and IX, these men are happily reinvigorated, just as a band of old friends given a third lease of life should feel.