That Corrosion of Conformity's tenth album, No Cross No Crown, would mark another distinct chapter in the band's catalog was a foregone conclusion. The band has spent more than three decades shifting its roster and its sound to the point where listening to any two albums feels like hearing two different bands. In several senses, you probably are.
No Cross No Crown is the first album in eighteen years to feature the arguably essential lineup of singer-guitarist Pepper Keenan, drummer Reed Mullin, guitarist Woodroe Weatherman, and bassist Mike Dean. Corrosion of Conformity's fandom is fraught with schism. Some favor prefer the teenage blitzkrieg of the group's early-eighties hardcore period, while others adhere to the band's mid-eighties thrash era. Regardless, it was the Keenan-Weatherman-Mullin-Dean combo that led Corrosion of Conformity to commercial success with surging hard rock albums like 1994's Deliverance.
Despite the Deliverance-era fandom's clamoring for Keenan's return to the fold, No Cross No Crown offers little in the way of nostalgia. The Allmans-gone-metal boogie of "Forgive Me" and "Old Disaster" offer some concession to the band's Southern rock muses, but the album as a whole tilts more toward the sort of stoner rock Keenan peddles with the band Down, and which C.O.C. started toward on 2014's IX.
The band does nothing to hide its new inspirations. Behind a cover rife with retro-metal signifiers, C.O.C. delves deep into mammoth riffs and doom grooves. The instrumental opener, "Novus Deus," a spacey, meandering bit of psych-rock guitar work, bleeds into "The Luddite," a potent slab of metal that recalls High on Fire's burly efficiency. "Wolf Named Crow" is a mighty showcase of the band's veteran chemistry, each member locking into a tight blues riff that coats the band's Southern rock tendencies in dark sludge before dragging it into a heavy psychedelic bridge. The interlude "Sacred Isolation" drifts in a fog of distortion and echoing chords before the lumbering riff that supports "Old Disaster" punches through. "E.L.M." adds a touch of harmony to its groove, while "A Quest to Believe (A Call to the Void)" revels in its thick timbres and dragging tempo. The album ends with a blackened cover of Queen's "Son and Daughter."
By now, any avid follower of the band has to expect—if not embrace—the band's eagerness to abandon its own precedents. Constant change becomes its own sort of consistency. Corrosion of Conformity doesn't make fandom easy, but it never gets boring. (For a Q and A with Pepper Keenan, see indyweek.com.)