It has been 13 years since Pepper Keenan fronted a Corrosion of Conformity album, leading to considerable anticipation in the metal community. The quartet’s newest music collection follows in the footsteps of their 1990s output, but lacks some of their dominance.
No Cross No Crown features all the elements of a solid COC album: thumping doom metal riffs with hints of blues and groove behind a from-the-gut vocalist who can tackle personal and sociopolitical topics with ease. There is plenty to like about an album that’s biggest selling point is familiarity; however, it largely ends there.
“The Luddite” is by-the-numbers Sabbath-inspired metal, highlighted by crunching power chords and tales of a wronged working class. The structure of “Wolf Named Crow” is similar to “Wiseblood” with half-stopped guitars over a rat-a-tat rock drumbeat which keeps a lively pace. Clocking in at nearly and just over four minutes each, respectively, “Forgive Me” and “Cast the First Stone” display COC at their best, brandishing memorable choruses and dynamic guitar work.
So what about the lukewarm response?
The most obvious distinction between this release and all since Deliverance is that Keenan’s vocals need to be further up in the mix. He always has had one of metal’s identifiable blue-collar voices (much like John Bush and Chuck Billy) and surprisingly, it is a bit of a struggle to hear him.
No Cross is full of mid-tempo rockers, but lacks the equivalent of the fast and furious standouts “Senor Limpio,” “Fuel” and “The Door.” This absence is exacerbated by the dud of a title track. It certainly is not a head banger and is more of an odd downtuned dirge.
Then there’s the math: 15 tracks minus four fillers (90-second instrumental interludes) equals 11 real songs. Dismiss the title track and we are left with ten listenable songs, including an ample cover of Queen’s “Son and Daughter.” Ultimately, there are nine new COC songs to rotate into a formidable catalog from one of metal’s mainstays.
When the band “returned” in 2005 with In the Arms of God, it was with a vengeance. Even most of their interim output as a trio packed some wallop. This return is respectable, but not as powerful.