Grey’s Retro Review #3: Corrosion of Conformity– Blind
By: Grey Banner, Contributing Writer
Corrosion of Conformity are an interesting band. Throughout their early days, they had a strong DIY punk rock ethic, with some dabbling in the burgeoning hardcore movement. Many other musicians championed the band, most notably Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, who seemed to live in his COC shirt, but they never quite managed to achieve widespread popularity or commercial success. So, in the late 80’s, they decided to take a more metal approach and retooled the band a bit. Remaining members Woody Weatherman (guitar) and Reed Mullin (drums) enlisted vocalist Karl Agell, bassist Phil Swisher, guitarist Pepper Keenan, and created what I consider to be one of metal’s finest albums: Blind.
The album opens with the ominous instrumental “These Shrouded Temples…”, and then closes with its complement, “…Remain,” the two of which serve as nice bookends to an album that lacks a single weak track. Once the last doomy notes of “These Shrouded Temples…”, fades out, Mullins’ pummeling drums drop in and set the tone for the rest of the record; a raucous romp of Sabbath style riffs mixed with a healthy dose of Metallica crunch. The album then properly kicks off with “Damned for All Time”, a superb riff fest and our introduction to Karl Agell’s soaring, powerful vocals. everal other equally strong tracks follow until we get to album centerpiece “Mine Are the Eyes of God,” a song that I evidently loved so much that I subconsciously ripped it off and used the opening figure in one of my old band’s tunes.
“God”, is a tour de force for the band. Agell’s vocals punch you in the face and then lull you to sleep. Weatherman and Keenan are in total lockstep throughout and Mullins is just totally killing it. In fact, a word about Mullins: That guy is a total badass on drums; one of the most under-rated and under-mentioned drummers out there. The song builds momentum until it throws you a swerve into the bridge where the band hits a razor sharp, staccato breakdown and Keenan delivers one of his better leads on the record. We only stay there for about a minute though and then the band returns to the crushing chorus as the band closes the tune out.
The guitar instrumental, “Shallow Ground”, follows and then we land on the band’s breakout single from the album, “Vote with a Bullet,” featuring lead vocals from Keenan. “Bullet” was a minor hit for the band and it received a lot of play on Headbanger’s Ball, which in turn helped break the band through to the mainstream. You will also find in this song the seeds for what CoC would become on their subsequent albums with Keenan, focusing more on a sort of dirty Southern sludge/groove sound. I also suspect that it was the success of this song that lead the lineup to split before recording their next album with Agell and Swisher forming a new group called Leadfoot, which never really took off.
Next up is my personal favorite, “Great Purification.” The song has one mother of a verse riff; if it doesn’t get your head banging, you need to get your ears checked. Total doom/groove dominates the track, which lives in a mid-tempo realm throughout its four and a half minute run time. Agell again delivers a great performance, from the opening line: “Power is the heroin of the small minded man / And force, force is the needle, the gun in his hand”, to the closing refrain of “Burn, Burn, Burn.” I saw the band perform in support of Blind and can vividly remember totally geeking out when they played this song. And they nailed it. In fact, they were super tight during their set. You can always tell a good band from a bad one when their live show sounds almost exactly like their records. And CoC had that going on, at least they did the night I saw them at the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, NC.
Next we kind of limp through “White Noise,” which while I wouldn’t call “weak” per se, is not as good as the rest of the material presented. But then, we get to “Echoes in the Well,” and an almost Pink Floydian metal dirge. Agell hits some crazy harmonies during the verses (at least I assume it’s him doing the harmonies) as the band uses the slower tempo to really stretch out and flex their musical might. Swisher and Mullins lock in on a total Ward/Butler groove while Weatherman and Keenan add layers of guitar into a melancholic tapestry of doom that sits with you long after the song ends. But, end it does, and with it, a truly great album comes to a close.
I have to admit, I never cared much for CoC before this album, or after it. I hated the song “Albatross,” which is arguably their biggest hit and didn’t care for the Deliverance album at all. I found Wiseblood a bit more listenable and then pretty much never listened to them again. Most everyone knows that Keenan would eventually leave CoC and found Down with former Pantera and fellow New Orleansian Phil Anselmo. As mentioned earlier, Swisher and Agell left to found Leadfoot, leading to the return of founding member and bassist, Mike Dean. But, of all the projects the band and its former members would be involved with, none of them ever came close to reaching the heights of what they collectively achieved on Blind. I guess sometimes it just happens that way. A group of guys come together in the right place and at the right time and find the right sound. I certainly feel that CoC did just that on Blind.