Originally written by Nin Chan
You know, I figure I might as well get this out of the way early on in the review- I fucking LOVE Corrosion of Conformity. From their early days as a D.R.I. / Wehrmacht / Cryptic Slaughter-ish crossover band to their forays into steamrolling, leafhound riff-rock, Pepper Keenan and company have never done wrong by me. Many hours have been spent air-drumming to Animosity, air-guitaring to Wiseblood, and Beelzebub knows how many braincells I’ve lost, how many senior citizens I’ve headbutted headbanging to both Down records. Pepper Keenan was a riff-rock deity to me, a patriarchal figure who, along with Quorthon, Tom G. Warrior and Tony Iommi among others, had nurtured me from bratty youngster to obnoxious adolescent. Naturally, I revered him. That is, until America’s Volume Dealer. Purchased on a whim like every other C.O.C. record, I remember the day I pressed play on the stereo, rabidly anticipating a lengthy session of virtuoso air-guitaring. Those of you that still own the record, of course, know the consequences of my youthful presumptuousness- what crawled lethargically out of the speakers wasn’t the treacle-thick swamp rock of yore, but something more introspective, sedate and subdued. The songs were well-crafted, sure, but they were gormless, sterile, tepid. 5 years later, the scars still have yet to heal.
Maybe I’m too eager to enjoy this record. Maybe I’m trying to make excuses for Pepper as a father figure, clamorous for the irreplaceable influence his music has had on my life. Yet, listen after listen, this record just fucking kicks all sorts of ass. At the same time, it is as much of a departure from Deliverance and Wiseblood,C.O.C. as America’s Volume Dealer was, adopting a far blunter, more bludgeoning, blaring type of sound that is clearly more aligned with Pepper’s work with Down than the Molly Hatchet meets Roadsaw and Roachpowder aesthetic of his earlier work. Having played both Down records into the ground (I’ve had to purchase 3 copies of each over the past few years), this is FAR from a bad thing, this record flaunting some of the best riffs C.O.C. have ever committed to record.
Opener “Stone Breakers” is an absolute MONSTER of a track, fueled by a piledriving, bonecrunching riff that absolutely REEKS of Down’s first record, adorned with blistering bluesy licks, a prominent bottom-end, an immense singalong hook and urgent, infectious rhythms that will warrant an immediate tap of the repeat button. Maintaining the breakneck momentum of the track, C.O.C. burst into “Paranoid Opioid”, a Sabbath-esque (perhaps it’s the use of “Paranoid” in the title and the volume of the bass in the mix?) number that opts for a decidedly more aggressive approach than anything C.O.C. have done in recent memory, Pepper’s gruff shouted vocals recalling more manic, thrash-oriented days. Then….that breakdown! Fast forward “Paranoid Opioid” to 02:30. There. That’s your whole reason to buy this disc. A passage to rival even the conclusion of “Stone The Crow”, propelled by a hash-encrusted barrage of necksnapping riffage and Pepper’s manic Wino on barbiturates impression.
Need another reason to buy this record? Forward the track to 03:34 and just TRY to resist the shit-faced grin that will invariably burrow itself into your jaded mug. Attempt to withstand the bout of headbanging that will overcome every faculty of reason and sensibility that you possess. I DEFY you to keep yourself from raising the horns! Could it really be that Pepper just redeemed an album’s worth of lukewarm soulsearching tripe with ONE RIFF? On par with the best moments of Internal Void, The Hidden Hand, Solace and any other premier league doom rock outfit you’d care to name, this song is 6 and a half minutes of pure sludgy exhilaration.
Once you deem yourself ready to move on to the next track (and quite frankly, it took 5 listens of “Paranoid Opioid” for me to finally make this excruciating decision), “It Is That Way” follows up in absolutely IMPECCABLE form, a lurching, murky, nefarious riff that will overwhelm and obliterate any reservations you harbor against Mr. Keenan and instantaneously render you into a drooling, blithering wreck, lying prone upon the altar of the almighty RIFF. “Dirty Hands Empty Pockets” treads a decidedly more modern path than the pair of blatantly doomy numbers that preceded it, featuring a lumbering bassline and snarled vocal that paves the way for a searing solo and bloodthirsty, stampeding rawk n’roll passage that nods firmly towards Motorhead. A frenetically strummed acoustic passage introduces “Rise River Rise”, employing a melody line that seems more entrenched within Middle Eastern traditions than the Lynyrd Skynrd fields that Pepper Keenan has ploughed before, while “Never Turns To More” fuses a Fu Manchu, wandering desert rock approach with a razor-sharp, almost Goatsnake-ish pop sensibility to great effect.
Really, C.O.C. have never sounded this assured, this confident of their capacity to weave mammoth riffs with naked punk aggression, juxtaposing mindwarpingly heavy riffage with more subtle, serpentine grooves and their innate knack for hooks and truly memorable songcraft. This record references everything within the C.O.C. spectrum, a confluence of inspired sounds that draws from Pepper’s vast plethora of musical inspirations to create something that will flat-out rock your socks off, all assisted with a brilliant, bass-heavy mix that sounds warm, organic, fuzzy and nostalgic. The bass rumbles with sufficient menace, while the doomy passages really accentuate the apocalyptic thud of the kick drum, the mix perfectly capturing the nuances in the band’s eclectic potpourri of references. “Infinite War”, with its shouted vocals, relentless riffing and twin guitar leads post-chorus, sounds like Carnivore and Motorhead covering a Skynrd song, while “Backslider” bitchslaps Beaten Back To Pure and Alabama Thunderpussy with its effects-soaked Ozzy-worship vocals and molasses-thick wall of sound.
For 5 years Mr Keenan has languished in the shadows, watching less talented Southern sludge troupes flourish and lounge indolently in the spotlight that once shone exclusively on his ragtag bunch. This is his return to glory, and you would have to be an absolute idiot to miss out. This record is his return to relevance, his affirmation that Kirk Windstein isn’t the only one with a dime bag full of post-Down brilliance to offer the world. Welcome back, Pepper, I’ll pretend America’s Volume Dealer never happened, okay?