I’m conflicted with No Cross No Crown.
Not because it’s a bad or mediocre album – my conflict comes in reviewing this latest offering from Corrosion of Conformity with fresh ears and holding back the urge to compare. Both Deliverance and Wiseblood are absolute pillars in my listening habits and collection, and I’m coming to the conclusion it’s impossible to be objective when this reunion album with Pepper Keenan has been one of my most anticipated releases for so long. So, gather around while I make a complete ass out of myself.
My love affair with COC started when I heard “Vote With a Bullet,” from Blind, where Pepper took over on vocals and turned what was a good, thrashy hardcore band into a southern tinged juggernaut. And when Deliverance came out, it changed my outlook on this band, and metal in general, forever. Maybe it was the perfect time in my life or maybe it was the perfect album for that particular time, but whatever it was that album is still in heavy rotation today and, yes of course, I own every issue and reissue available. When 1996 saw Wiseblood released I had a similar reaction and became a COC lifer, fully ensconced in everything they did. America’s Volume Dealer kept the fires stoked and In the Arms of God saw glowing embers even if it wasn’t up to par. Then Pepper left and two good albums came and went that I didn’t give much credence to. It was around this time I became aware I might never see the band reach the lofty heights I’d become accustomed to and that Pepper was probably gone forever.
Fair? Maybe not but as Pepper once sang: “it is that way because it is.”
Then 2015 brought about the Pepper reunion and subsequent tour that fanned the embers for me in a big way. When I finally saw COC time stood still…the band joked about being rusty and pardoned the crowd if they were off. But they weren’t off, far from it. The foursome of Keenan, Mike Dean, Woody Weatherman and Reed Mullin sounded as though time had stood still since the 90s. Right then and there I knew this reunion and subsequent new material would be great. I was left waiting for that promised new album, and all of last year came and went with no word. But here we are now with No Cross No Crown, finally. The burning question is does it live up to the lofty goals I have for it?
Short answer, yes. But before the long answer, some questions. Am I clouded with nerd rage over a reunited band that I hold on the highest pedestal ever? Does this nerd rage cloud my judgement when coming to this album objectively?
Does it matter?
Clouded judgement or not, this is the album I’d hoped for and then some. I get the feeling the band, collectively, knew this had to live up to lofty expectations. The beautiful instrumental interludes that peppered Deliverance are back and the southern tinged aggression of both that album and Wiseblood have returned full force. They’re not paving new roads here but they are fully embracing what made their past such a lively one in my eyes. The groove and swing of “Forgive Me,” the dark and destructive doom of “Nothing Left to Say” and the Wiseblood smart-assery of “E.L.M.” all signify a return to normalcy and shedding of a tumultuous and uncertain future. It’s like coming home to your family after a long and seemingly never ending bunch of motel rooms and bags of dirty clothes — it’s comfortable. “A Quest to Believe (A Call to the Void)” may be the one track included that feels fresh as a newborn baby. All the signs of old COC are there but the choruses, grinding riffs and trem-induced solos feel like a breath of crisp new air.
The first half of the album feels like meeting the band all over again and rekindling old fires. The punchy “Wolf Named Crow” and southern rock inspired “Little Man” take me back to 1994 when I was still hanging on to the teenage glory of football games and partying with friends. But the second half, while keeping a foot firmly planted in that era, moves ahead and pushes COC into the next period of their lives and mine as well. I’m not sure I could’ve scripted a better return album with the lineup I’ve held sacred for so long: they fully feed my glory days but have me excitedly looking forward to the next however many years they choose to make music with this lineup.
My journey with Corrosion of Conformity finally feels like home again with No Cross No Crown and I hope, beyond all hopes, that they take the tremendous success of this return and build on it in ways I don’t see coming. I absolutely cannot come to this album objectively; there’s too much history, but this album has rekindled my belief in the promise that one day I’d get to hear new material that fully lives up, and surpasses, my initial impressions while simultaneously rekindling my belief in a band I’ve spent so much time with over the years. COC is back with a vengeance and if you were even a passing fan, through the years, this album is a must.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to retreat into my hole with my copy and continue my shiteating grin for awhile longer.