They may never have reached the heady heights of some of the other bands that formed in the eighties, but Corrosion of Conformity have always enjoyed continued success and love in what is now a career spanning over 35 years. Members have come and gone over the years but three of the four who started the group way back in 1982 are still present and, for the first time since 2005’s In the Arms of God, Pepper Keenan (also of that there band called Down) has returned to record with messrs Weatherman, Dean and Mullin. Released last Friday, No Cross No Crown is the band’s tenth studio offering and their first on Nuclear Blast.
Corrosion of Conformity’s doom-laden riffs are as much a part of the rich tapestry of heavy metal as anyone else and their legacy is paramount. No Cross No Crown is not only a well-balanced and intelligent release, but there are plenty of moments that stir the mind into comparisons to current bands who have drawn on the North Carolinans for influence. The groove you hear in ‘The Luddite’ and ‘Forgive Me’? That’s Mastodon. The pace and drive on lead single ‘Cast the First Stone’ and album highlight ‘E.L.M’? A little band called Clutch has made good use of that over the years. The clear guitars that ring out in ‘Nothing Left to Say’? Baroness have taken that and used it themselves. To add a lovely continuity on top, ‘A Quest to Believe (A Call to the Void)’ boasts a lush, Pink Floyd-esque solo in and around the sludgier tones and reverbs, a glimpse into an influence for the band themselves despite their hardcore punk roots.
Additionally, it’s a massive bonus to everyone that Pepper Keenan has returned, because the band sound refreshed and there’s an edge that hasn’t been heard over the last 13 years on record. His gravely pipes are more befitting of the heavier tracks on the record but even when things tread into more blues-y territory such as on ‘Little Man’ he excels just as well. The chemistry between the four men is undeniable and to hear them all back together, the lineup that would most likely be considered the definitive and ‘classic’ version is a joy in itself. All that said, fifteen songs is a real slog even if four of them are small, 90-second interludes and the album runs to around 50 minutes; in this day and age when streaming songs rules supreme and many people cannot concentrate for more periods of time, No Cross No Crown does begin to outstay its welcome, which is a shame because the end of the album (the sinister title track, aforementioned ‘A Quest to Belive…’ and ‘Son & Daughter) is probably the strongest of the entire thing.
Although an album that probably won’t trouble too many End of Year lists, Corrosion of Conformity have a lot of fire back in their belly with Pepper Keenan back in the fold and No Cross No Crown is another grand slab of heaviness, holding its own impressively and at no point feeling out of place alongside the rest of the band’s catalogue.