If we’re looking at classic rock as a living, breathing organism, one that adapts and evolves over the ever-rolling waves of time, one that holds its original axe-slinging deities in highest esteem but allows for the ordaining of new priests and idols along the way, then it’s really time to let Corrosion Of Conformity luxuriate in the lap of the golden gods. That’s because these motherfuckers have been at it forever, and they’ve just made their best album in 20 years.
There will be those among us who only ever accept the early-80s punk-metal crossover version as the ‘real’ Corrosion Of Conformity, but for the vast majority of rockers, it was the addition of the effortlessly charismatic frontman Pepper Keenan that drew them into the fold. His bluesy drawl reframed the band as long-haired, southern-fried arena rockers, a sort of feral Skynyrd.
Their first albums with Keenan up front, 1994’s Deliverance and 1996’s Wiseblood, were critical and commercial hits. Singles like Albatross and Clean My Wounds worked for the grunge rockers, worked for the stoner rockers, worked for the southern rebels, and the disaffected urban punks… worked for everybody, really. It was the perfect storm of depression, bravado and authentically gritty all-American rock’n’roll. They were a band for the people, by the people.
And it seemed like it would go on forever – but it didn’t. Sales slumped and crowds thinned. Pepper’s last ride with the band was 2005’s In The Arms Of God, before he split to join Down for a decade. Corrosion Of Conformity kept going, of course, but they mostly appealed to the metal kids, with rehashes of their pre-Pepper thrash days.
Until right now. New album No Cross No Crown resets the good ship Corrosion Of Conformity at that exact moment back in, say, 1997, when we were all still riding high on the vapours of youth and excessive volume. While it’s not a rehash of Deliverance, it’s most definitely an extension of it, complete with the classic line-up, classic sound, and epic, mountain-scraping songs.
Furious first single Cast The First Stone sets the pace for an album that’s utterly relentless in its intensity. There are the now-expected acoustic interludes so you can catch your breath here and there, but as face-melters like Wolf Named Crow and Forgive Me will attest to, this is Corrosion Of Conformity with their amps and their snarls turned up to 11. Thank Christ.