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Welcome Back, Pepper - 79%

psychoticnicholai, January 12th, 2018

Man, it feels good to have Corrosion of Conformity back together and whole once more. Their latest album, No Cross No Crown is a welcome return to form after the last two rather lacking full-lengths that feels like they've had the life breathed back into them. They've gone back to the Deliverance sound and are giving us a new round of tasty, fuzzy, old-school rocking guitar play and a welcome return for Pepper Keenan’s signature vocals. It feels nice to hear that since it gives Corrosion of Conformity their personality back. The groovy, distortion-laden, southern-accented, Sabbath-influenced band who made excellent songs through the 90s is back and still true to form, a bit older, but doing just fine.

The music on here sounds livelier than the past two albums, which seemed to stress COC’s dark side more and had Mike Dean singing instead of Pepper Keenan. What No Cross No Crown seems to aim for is a return to the catchier sound of Deliverance and that helps everything stick together and stand out much more. The guitars give out chunky riffing with just a pinch of Sabbath-esque doom, some southern rock influence, and fuzzboxes, wah-pedals, and other guitar effects. The riffs are big, prominent, churning, and rocking while Keenan’s vocals have good melody and keep the songs flowing well. These combine to make some songs that stand pretty well and vary somewhat in style and tempo. Whether it's the thrashing tempo of “Cast the First Stone”, the murky and moody trudge of “Nothing Left to Say” or “Old Disaster”, or the swaying and distorted “E.L.M.” they always do well with Woody Weatherman’s guitar finding a groove you can just gel with in its warped tones and bang your head to while Pepper's singing adds character and emotion with some fairly memorable melodies and lines. The tempo may shift up and the style may vary slightly, but this is a consistent album with a solid sound and rhythmic backbone of fat riffs. Even after these years, they've still got the chops to do their psychedelic, heavy, fuzzed-out 90s style well, even if Wiseblood and Deliverance were stronger and more iconic. Honestly, this should please most fans of those albums and the only thing I’d get rid of are the interludes. They're not bad, just kind of pointless. Otherwise, this is pretty solid.

Some may say that this album is mired in Corrosion of Conformity's past and doesn't do much new, but I feel that what they have is good already and doesn't need much change so long as it all sounds great. I may be a sucker for chunky riffing and distortion, but the songs on here largely check out on their own writing pretty well. It feels strong for the most part and if certain songs don't stick right away, they have a way of luring you back into them with a stomping rhythm. The twin guitar harmonies or trippy solos that sometimes pop up make for really powerful moments that you want to come back to, as well as Pepper's smooth, energized vocal lines which show a lot of conviction like he's glad to be back. The album's a bit of a slow-burner, but it keeps you coming back and doesn't leave you in the doldrums.

Corrosion of Conformity feels so much more fit and healthy now that Pepper Keenan has returned to vocal duties. The riffs have picked back up and the leads have their groove back. The songs aren't quite as lively or memorable as their 90s material, but are still damn good and leagues ahead of standard. With Pepper back, this band has found its charisma again and showed that they can still deliver some damn good distorted grooves in a catchy form with a smooth voice about them. They may be just going back to old territory with No Cross No Crown, but it feels very welcoming and faithful rather than just churning out more of the same without spirit. Corrosion of Conformity know what made them great, and that's sludgy grooves, catchy songs, a charismatic singer, and some southern style Sabbathy goodness thrown in, and they go right for that with a renewed passion. The Corrosion of Conformity you knew is back and still doing just fine.

(Originally Written for The Metal Observer)