Over the course of three decades, the shape-shifting Southern noise merchants known as Corrosion Of Conformity have drawn unrelenting comparisons to Black Sabbath due to their sludgy riffage and fearless excursions into the kaleidoscopic vortex of psychedelia. In truth, COC owe just as great a debt to fellow East Coasters Lynyrd Skynyrd. Both acts rely on a pounding, groove-oriented sound, neither has shied away from sharp, politically charged lyricism and both bands favour generous doses of good ol’ fashioned American boogie in the mix, particularly evident on COC releases like Deliverance and Wiseblood. In 2006, frontman/guitarist Pepper Keenan shifted his focus to Down, while COC continued as a three-piece (bassist Mike Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin), re-emphasising their punk and hardcore roots on 2012’s Corrosion Of Conformity, though slightly less on its successor, IX. In 2015, rumours of Pepper’s impending return were confirmed, and now they’ve delivered No Cross No Crown, the band’s first studio output with the frontman in 12 years and an unambiguous nod to the polished roar of their mid-90s output. First single Cast The First Stone storms out of the gate with a full-throttle tempo, growling riffage and Pepper’s gasoline-soaked snarl. Elsewhere, tracks like Wolf Named Crow and the excellent Forgive Me showcase a breathtaking blend of pummelling riffs and lighter-raising fretwork, while Nothing Left To Say serves up a resinous headtrip into the gauzy cosmic ether. Unlike prior releases that suffered from an abundance of forgettable mid-tempo sludge, No Cross No Crown positively erupts with anthemic vitality, suggesting that sometimes a little time apart can be a very good thing.