CORROSION OF CONFORMITY
Candlelight Records, 23 June 2014
There are two strands to the DNA of COC’s ninth album. First, the ebulliently anarchic southern metal that won them so many fans in the mid-1990s, and, second, the uptempo, muscular punky stuff that harks back to the band’s even-more-distant past. Formed in 1982 as a hardcore band, COC transformed into a metal band and released the incredible ‘Deliverance’ album in 1994, featuring bona fide global hits such as ‘Albatross’ and ‘Clean My Wounds’. They were a band that built a bridge between metal and punk and showed what could be achieved by bringing the two styles together – although, inevitably, many fans decided not to cross it.
The album opens in an intense, caustic frame of mind: the first two songs, ‘Brand New Sleep’ and ‘Elphyn’, are like sludgy southern twins, flowing into each other and bringing to mind two bands surely influenced by COC’s catalogue, Magic Circle and Clutch. Throughout the album, the dense, sludgy passages are inevitably lightened by a stoner sense of fun, ensuring that the songs rumble and bounce along at a fair rate.
Then comes the two-minute bruiser ‘Denmark Vesey’, a curiously-titled track that thunders into existence like a young Motorhead and belies the band’s still-kicking hardcore passions. That’s followed by ‘The Nectar’, which charges out of your speakers like a genie from a lamp and crashes around the room, smashing stuff up. Despite being lengthier in the incisor-region than a sabertooth tiger, Corrosion Of Conformity are still able to create aural havoc that gets the blood pumping.
COC have always been a beast in the studio, whatever the line-up. Now comprised of the three original members who first set off on this crossover adventure in the 1980s, ‘IX’ captures the raw dynamism of their live performances, as suggested by the cover image, showing the trio playing together in front of some signature spiked skull artwork.
While rumours persist about the possible return of former singer Pepper Keenan, these days the vocal duties are handled by Mike Dean, who also wields the bass. Dean’s timbre, coupled with the band’s laid-back groove adds a touch of old-school Trouble to proceedings, albeit in a more raucous and heavy style. However, the marked domination of the guitars, or subordination of vocals, means that the album can get a little similar-sounding, relying on fat riffs and tempo changes rather than vocal hooks or memorable lyrics to differentiate between tracks. At times, the vocals are a little thin and acidic, and as they become swamped by the foundation-shaking guitars and bass, it’s also quite tricky to make out exactly what’s being sung.
The first half of the album is really strong, but the second half wanes a little. While the album’s lead single ‘On Your Way’ will be great fun live, it is not the most memorable of compositions. Similarly, ‘Trucker’ is a cymbal-smashing, riff-fest but feels a little safe, while ‘The Hanged Man’ is a pretty half-hearted song that starts as a kind of ‘War Pigs’ homage and loses its way. Thankfully, the face-slapping ‘Tarquinius Superbus’ (don’t know what it is, but I want one) gets things firing on all cylinders again.
When a band has previously hit great heights, as COC did 20 years ago, it’s difficult not to over-criticise their recent material for being of a slightly lesser standard. ‘IX’ is a good deal better than what most of today’s pretenders can manage – it’s intense, energetic and interesting. And there’s not many bands who can still achieve that after 30-plus years.