Friday, February 2, 2018

Album Review: Corrosion of Conformity - "No Cross No Crown"

Maybe we’ve talked about this before, but when Bilbo Baggins returned to the Shire after The Battle of Five Armies and the rest of his adventure, he titled his eventual book on the subject “There and Back Again.”  I bring this up because as we get a little older, we come to have greater recognition of the circular nature of so much of our lives, the series of ebbs and flows that weave us between points A and B, and often back to A.

It’s appropriate to use that as the context for the discussion of Corrosion of Conformity’s new album “No Cross No Crown,” because, if you hadn’t heard, the band has been reunited with Pepper Keenan, and flowers seem to be back in bloom.  The band has released this new effort which sees them in a more mature and altogether more reflective headspace, which tempers their previous piss and vinegar ever so slightly.

The album contains fewer vitriolic assaults railing against the failings of the establishment as previous CoC albums, but that does not mean that the band is without vigor or purpose.

Rather, the focus for this release seems to be centered more solely on the groove of the music; an attempt to drill down and find the core of what makes sludge metal tick, then amplify that sound (no pun intended) to concoct an album that exists as a function of the essence of the music, rather than the emotion that stirs it.

And the groove, to that end, is excellent.  As much as we don’t traditionally think of southern-fried metal as being inclusive of North Carolina, there’s an awful lot of barbecue flavor glazing the surface of “No Cross No Crown.”  In an odd reflection of metal eras, it’s hard not to hear a healthy dose of Texas Hippie Coalition within the seams of this new (old) Corrosion of Conformity.  “Cast the First Stone” in particular rumbles ahead with the swaggering bravado that has always been so idiomatic of the art form.

There’s more to it than that, though.  The album is vital and punchy, properly paced but never without reason or direction or intensity.  Listen to “The Luddite,” and you’ll hear a song that doesn’t trade as a speed merchant, but there is no denying the song’s infectious nature or ability to get wormed into your ear.  The same idea continues for “Wolf Named Crow” and even the shambling thump of “Nothing Left to Say.”

It is worth noting that while this is a very enjoyable and accomplished album, sludge metal on the whole is not exactly an evolving genre full of new, exciting concepts.  So listen to this album with confidence, but don’t expect that you hear something you’ve never heard before.

That’s not necessarily what this is about, though.  In many ways, “No Cross No Crown” is cousin to Prong’s “X – No Absolutes” from a little while back; both albums prove that a veteran band can take in the trends around, make small adjustments to stay relevant within their genre, and yet still put together a record that could teach a lesson or two to younger bands about how this all works.  This is a fun album that gets better with repeated listens.

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