Over an 18-year career, Raleigh's most famous rock ambassadors have gone from buzz-headed, anti-government proselytizers to long-haired (except for bassist Mike Dean) Southern rock and ZZ Top-influenced metal muthas. Back in the early '80s, when Corrosion of Conformity was one of the first--if not the first--to combine hardcore with Tony Iommi riffs, the band's radical lyrics were as important as their formidable chops.
But that was truly a different era, an era when our sometimes evil, sometimes doddering prez had a hard time remembering which country he was addressing; American pols cozied up with foreign despots and arts funding became a memory. Heck, no one can muster any righteous radicalism in an age when even the good guys are sleazy and rockers seem more interested in the sudden availability of porn babes. "Mad World?" "Vote with a Bullet?" Nah, let's just talk chads and dimpled ballots, hoping that, in the final tally, the lesser creep wins.
In music, as in politics and big business, if you're not expanding, you're getting left in the dust. COC has continued to grow, even nabbing a Grammy nomination in '97. Weatherman still delivers instantly recognizable slippery solos and Billy Gibbon-size riffs, and despite increasingly painful back injuries, Mullin is still the drummer who influenced tons of kids to pick up the sticks. Bassist Dean anchors the rhythm section and Keenan's developed a mean growl reminiscent of Metallica's James Hetfield.
But lyrically, the Keenan-powered COC of the '90s has increasingly featured nonpolitical, personal lyrics. The band that skewered meathead livin' back with An Eye for an Eye's "Redneckkk" seems to have come full circle on the gearhead-with-a-chubbie car anthem "Gittin' it On" or the devil-as-my-copilot, "I'm in love with a widow soon to be" rage rocker "Diablo Avenue."
And with "Stare Too Long," COC gives the biggest nod yet to its Southern roots. A slice of undistilled Duane-era Allman Brothers, the track even features a make-me-weep slide guitar cameo by no other than Warren Haynes (Allmans, Government Mule). Keenan's eerily accurate Van Zant-isms, coupled with the band's soulful shuffle, takes this tune beyond mere homage to a level of pure feeling.
America's Volume Dealer does dispense with enough riffage to please the post-metal crowd, but bear in mind: This ain't yo' mama's COC.