IX is the follow-up to Corrosion of Conformity’s 2012, self-titled album. Resisting calls by some fans to bring guitarist/vocalist, Pepper Keenan, back into the fold; the band chose to delay the inevitable and continue the momentum unleashed from playing as a three-piece. While IX lacks the intensity and rawness of Animosity, a conscious recreation of past glories was never the intention. By choosing to revive the trio format, the band clearly desired to capture the contemporary incarnation of a group known for continual reinvention. Change pushes musicians to approach their craft in new ways and keep moving forward. The music captured on IX makes it clear that this approach continues to be a success.
Playing in a trio is inherently satisfying. The absence of complementary instruments competing for sonic space yields a sound that is organic and transparent. This stripped down approach appears to be liberating. The album cover says it all. Black and white with the iconic C.O.C. logo subtly displayed, the band members are shown in the throes of live performance. Hair flowing, drum stick in air and alive with energy, the band seems to be howling with excitement and fury. The three core members are having fun and it shows.
“Brand New Sleep” kicks off the album with feedback drenched guitars. The listener is immersed in the sound of Marshall amps oozing saturation. Overdubbed guitars squeal in harmonized unison before giving way to a Sabbath worthy groove. Indeed, the guitars have a distinctly Iommi quality to them. This is the first sign of an album that proudly pays homage to influence. Given the doomy allegiance to Sabbath, one can’t help but wonder if the song-title is a subtle nod to certain modern torchbearers of doom who make no bones about their unrestrained Sabbath worship. As the band, Sleep, would say, “Hail Iommi.”
A crackle of thunder leads into the second track, bringing to mind the first moments of Sabbath’s debut album, offering validation to those who note the influence. The theme is revisited later when “War Pigs” is clearly evoked in the intro to “The Hanged Man.” Other influences are evident, most notably the first 12 seconds of “Tarquinius Superbus” that absolutely screams Thin Lizzy. The intro quickly segues into a full-on thrasher that is distinctly C.O.C. This is perhaps the largest point. Despite the continual nods to musical heroes, Corrosion of Conformity maintains their own distinct sound.
Each album has shown a progression in a band that refuses to rest on laurels. The release of Eye For An Eye transformed C.O.C. into hardcore legends. Even as the tempos grew slow, the band never turned their back on their punk roots. The energy picks up significantly during track three. “Denmark Vesey” is a two-minute whirlwind of intensity that is worthy of a storied hardcore past. The energy of Animosity is evident and speed becomes more powerful when sequenced between two mid-tempo rockers.
If the album has any shortcomings, it’s an inability to transform solid ideas into standout songs. “The Nectar” hardly seems like a stand out track in my mind. After repeated listens and much potential, it falls short of greatness. Despite the dynamics offered in the chorus and a sludgy breakdown/outro, the song lacks the spark that inspires one to return to the disc. What particularly appeals to me, is the reprise of this song during the final track. Ultimately, this is what I love most about the latest C.O.C. effort. It is a sincere attempt at creating an ALBUM. In open defiance to the dumbed down world of digital downloads, there has been considerable attention to the continuity of a flowing series of songs.
The next track, aptly entitled “Interlude,” encapsulates both of these points. Clean, chorused guitars offer a brief reprieve from raging Marshall madness. It is a brilliant idea, yet undeveloped. Again, this is an attempt at a flowing album with shades of light and dark. It also represents another nod to the Sabbath theme. Where Sabbath songs like “Embryo,” “Orchid,” and “Fluff” offered dynamics to albums of power-chords and heavy riffing, these acoustic Iommi compositions were musically complex and rife with substance and melody. “Interlude” is very much its namesake. It merely presents a repose from full-on ragers, yet would have been much more potent as a literal song instead of an undeveloped sonic distraction.
Overall, IX is a solid entry to the C.O.C. discography. It is unlikely that the album will be heralded as a standout classic on the level of Eye For an Eye, Blind and Wiseblood. Despite a few failed attempts to capitalize on solid ideas, the album remains a worthy addition to any collection that favors the sound of heavy guitars. With Pepper Keenan officially back in the fold, IX will likely be remembered as the final chapter of a distinct era in a continually evolving history. In true Corrosion of Conformity fashion, they push onward!