It has been 13 years since Pepper Keenan’s last album with Corrosion of Conformity; 2005’s excellent and under-rated In the Arms of God (Sanctuary). In the meantime, the rest of COC ploughed on as a trio, releasing the passable pair of Corrosion of Conformity and IX (both Candlelight); two records which tried to combine their early Punk and Thrash roots with the groove-laden rock and metal of their latter days, to only middling success.
Few would argue, however, that COC were at the peak of their powers with Keenan up front singing joining Woody Weatherman on guitars. No Cross No Crown (Nuclear Blast) sees Keenan return to the fold, and together they deliver, for better and worse, a record that sounds like leftovers from their Nineties heyday.
Lead singles ‘Wolf Named Crow’ and ‘Caste The First Stone’, along with ‘The Luddite’, make up a disappointing first impact. There are, however, some gems, especially on the second half of the record. With its rocking swagger, ‘Little Man’ could have been taken from the Wiseblood (Columbia) sessions. The creeping middle riff of ‘Forgive Me’ belies the almost Thin Lizzy-like guitar work of the rest of the song. ‘Nothing Left to Say’ is a swampy, morose number, slow and heavy.
Sadly, though, the whole thing feels like an album of lost demos from the Deliverance-era, which is both a blessing and curse. It has the groove, the bluesy roughness, and the excellent supply of solos of the songs from that era. However, it lacks the quality.
COC have long had a political edge to their lyrics, and Keenan sounds as pissed as ever. However, the whole thing is missing some real hooks, and he doesn’t have the range he used to. In addition, the whole record has a raw, lo-fi sound quality that undersells the better material, and there’s little in the way of polish with nothing here making the lasting impression in the same way the band’s classics do.
There are some moments hidden within No Cross No Crown. There are also a lot of interludes, only slightly above-average songs, and the album as a whole could have done with a better sound. The classic line up of Corrosion of Conformity have made a most welcome return, but delivered an album that falls short compared to some of their lofty back catalogue.