Latest release: No Cross No Crown (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.coc.com
2017 was memorable for quite a few reasons. For Corrosion of Conformity it was the year they had some breathing space to record a new album with what some may consider their classic line-up. No Cross No Crown, the Raleigh band’s tenth album, is their third since reforming in 2010 and the first in twelve years to feature the erstwhile Pepper Keenan, who rejoined the fold in the wake of 2014’s IX.
“Our last three-piece show was New Year’s Eve 2015, and then we did a little European tour with Pepper and the idea was to just do one short tour and then make an album,” explains bassist Mike Dean, who had the vocal role in Keenan’s absence, “but we just kept getting offers so it took us until 2017 to really get to work on the record. It’s pretty special because we’ve been able to pull off a pretty solid album and we’re pretty excited to get out on the road and play some of those songs.”
Early reaction to the album from some listeners has suggested a level of similarity between No Cross No Crown and an older fan favourite, Wiseblood. Dean agrees that there could be something in that evaluation.
“It doesn’t come as a surprise that it comes across sonically like Wiseblood because while we did record the album ourselves in our studio with John Custer producing and myself engineering, we took it to the man who actually mixed Wiseblood, a guy by the name of Mike Fraser in Vancouver and had him mix it, so we had someone else add some sonic flavour. John Custer and I drove from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Vancouver, which is about, I don’t know… 2700 miles to get that done,” he says with a laugh, “so… I’m not surprised that it sounds like Wiseblood at all.”
Keenan’s return to the band appears to have generated a new level of interest in Corrosion of Conformity, with tours keeping them on the road ever since he came back. While Dean held down the frontman role in COC’s three-piece configuration for five years, he has no issues with Keenan stepping back into the job.
“There’s a definite personality around Pepper,” Dean says, “and he’s good at what he does. We’re definitely excited to have that two-guitar format back together and Pepper’s vocal style. It’s a nice thing to be part of.”
The triumph of a new album was contrasted by the tragedy of the death of the band’s early frontman Eric Eycke on September 22. Eycke, who joined the band in 1983 and was the vocalist on their 84 debut Eye for an Eye, was a major influence on the fledgling group’s musical direction. He was let go from the band after a year, leading to Dean’s first run as COC’s lead singer.
“When people meet their totally self-inflicted demise, there’s always a deep sadness,” Dean offers steadily, before going on to explain Eycke’s role a little further. “He was a couple years older than us, and he was the guy that turned us on to a lot of hardcore and hardcore punk bands. He was the one who had a lot of Bad Brains live cassettes and the guy that was down with that word-of-mouth hardcore subculture back then. He seemed like a guy of few words but he knew everything about reggae and all that sort of stuff and really curated the early influences of COC.”
No official cause of Eycke’s death was ever made public, but it’s clear the guys who knew him, while saddened, weren’t necessarily unprepared for the news.
“It was particularly hard to see him pass but in a way it wasn’t really that surprising. People are gonna do what they’re gonna do. You can try and reach them but that doesn’t always work. And we’re getting to that time of life where a lot of that is going to happen so it’s cause for reflection.”
On a brighter note, No Cross No Crown marks a new phase for Corrosion of Conformity as they prepare to head out on the road in their classic formation once again. This time they finally have some exciting new material, which Mike Dean admits they’ve only really had the chance to reflect on in the break since it was released.
“It was done so quickly that it was really only until a few months after we were done that we could really take stock of it and have enough perspective where we could say, ‘Yeah, that’s really good’,” he says. “I feel really good about everything and we’re going to get to play some new songs and play some good shows and hopefully we can get to work on another record sooner rather than later. I’m always thinking ahead about what’s the next volume of creative work, but as no one’s heard this one yet, we’ll get out and play it for them.”