We tend to have constants throughout our lives. Whether they are coincidences or actively invoked is irrelevant, these markers get attached to key moments, key memories of moments in our personal narratives. For me, Tabasco sauce is one of them. No matter where and when I have been in the world, I have sat down to eat pizza with friends and there it has been. From Earth and Sea Pizza in Byron Bay, NSW to the cheap, tame and very suburban pre-frozen, faux Italiana Saizeria in Konan, central Japan, that short bottle with its little crust of dried chilli has punctuated so many key dining experiences that have led me to become the man I am today.
Another constant is Corrosion of Conformity (hereafter COC). I was first made aware of them through the t-shirt ads in music magazines, in those pre-internet days, I could only wonder what they sounded like and it would be many years before I actually heard them. Still, something about the name only resonated with me. Deliverance came along just before I started my senior high school years, but it would not be until much later, when I was about to leave the small town I grew up in that it would become an essential cassette on my walk(man) through life. Wiseblood showed up just as I was finding my feet with university, America’s Volume Dealer arrived just as I was graduating and In the Arms of God chose the beginning of my new life in Japan as the right time to come out.
Now I am in my thirties and have reached another milestone, I am about to return to Australia after eight years away. And as if by coincidence, the universe has gifted me with yet another COC album.
COC’s eponymous power-trio, Pepper Keenan-less, Animiosity-era line-up album is everything you would expect it to sound like yet defies expectations. COC have been around for a long time and as we make our way through the second decade of the twenty-first century we have seen many of their peers reunite for nostalgia, for cash, and for charity. And they just get it right. COC is no mere exercise in nostalgia (whatever era of the band is sonically represented) nor is it a simple recycle and cash in on legacy. Rather it is a wholly understated, punky, sludgy, metal, hardcore, rock album by one of the scene’s best power trios. It runs the full range of sounds from swinging swagger to charging frenzy, to laidback groove and psychedelia. When they get tough, COC never sound like they are aping the energy and vibe of men half their age. When they get Sabbath-y, instead of sounding like one of the modern post-Sleep stoner rock groups, they sound like, COC.
The absence of Keenan creates an interesting feel to the music and demonstrates that while his vocals have been critical to the overall sound of the band over the last decades, the musicianship has always been there. Without Keenan, the individual contributions of the other members seem more obvious than ever before. In other words, minus one member, COC sound perfectly balanced. Better yet, even though these are three pretty old dudes, they never sound as though their posing: Mike Dean’s vocals have a ragged, melodic snarling quality that befits his weathered face, and do not sound fake or strained. His bass playing has the same jazzy swing (that gelled so well with legendary New Orleans jazz drummer Stanton Moore on In the Arms of God) it has always had. Woody Weatherman’s guitar is as rad as ever, his enormous vibrato making each note shake its ass, his strategically injected harmonies eliciting bluesy, country-fied bitter-sweetness atop the tough exterior and his Sabb-ed out riffs whether at double or half speed sound like now. Meanwhile, since Reed Mullin has returned, the fluid, swinging racket of Moore’s contributions have been replaced with the re-vitalised, smart, yet tough, yet pretty inventiveness.
While the music is brilliant, what most moved me as I tore off the plastic and opened up the gatefold was the picture of these three amigos, just jammin’, business as usual. In an age of pro-tools excess, creation through file-sharing collaboration and recording via desktop audio workstations, the monochrome image of three man jamming evokes a powerful sense of organic authenticity connecting with legacy (look back to the studio/rehearsal room shots on the Deliverance booklet). At risk of laboring the point, everything about COC is authentic, it is genuine. Which is what makes it yet another perfect constant on my trip through this life.
Now one of these days, I might just get the chance to see them!