Music to set fires by
Corrosion of Conformity (‘COC’ to terrified Marketing Departments everywhere) were a ragged agit-prop hardcore band who released albums with names like Animosity, Eye for an Eye and Technocracy in the mid to late ‘80s.
The band’s core members included shock haired guitarist/ vocalist Woody Weatherman (he showed up on Dave Grohl’s 2004 Probot project, metal junior schoolers), ‘quiet one’ bassist Mike Dean, and more credible than thou drummer Reed Mullin, who has one of the best stoner rock names ever conceived.
Around abouts 1991, with music’s tide turning irrevocably towards the navel gazing personal politics of the grunge era, the band drafted guitar belter Pepper Keenan, a New Orleans native, and Swedish throat shredder Karl Agell for vocals duties. Discarding the surging proto punk clatter of their previous releases, the band synthesised a serrated, groove driven thrash sound, primarily conceived by new kid Keenan, which repackaged and streamlined the band’s righteous, socially aware anthems for a new, wider audience.
The first part of an unofficial trilogy of classic albums confronting universal socio-political issues, 1991’s Blind would easily rank in any boffin’s ‘Top Five Metal Albums What Deal With Politics’, competing with the similarly choleric Master of Puppets, And Justice for All (Metallica) and Megadeth’s late ’80s output.
Prison for praise is not worth thinking
Sin is still in and our ballots are shrinking
So unleash the dogs — the only solution
Forgive and forget, fuck no
I’m talking about a revolution
Clamping down tight on the listener’s jugular, Blind stampedes through a blistering cavalcade of incendiary, apoplectic anthems targeting racism, the first Iraq war and the Police State. Blind finds its core in Keenan’s debut vocal performance, ‘Vote With A Bullet’, a grating polemic that opened a generation of parking lot kids’ eyes to the urgent world of politics.
With Keenan serving as the band’s default leader, Agell was ousted (he went on to form inconsequential party metal band Leadfoot wth ex-COC bassist Phil Swisher; sample lyric- ‘If you won’t go down on me- someone else WILL- GEETAR!!’), and the band rallied, re-recruiting bassist Mike Dean and recording 1994’s Deliverance.
Separate by class but keep the middle low
Instill the order with a border just for show
Give them weapons and let them have their piece of mind
Then tip them off so they can kill whats not their kind
Venturing into swinging, boogie infused territory borne of Keenan’s home state, Deliverance embraced social justice issues, raging against the class war and spitting in the eye of the ‘Pearls Before Swine’ ethic of the socially priveliged. Reaffirming the power of the disenfrachised with (the ironically) Skynyrd inspired anthems like ‘My Grain’ and ‘Shake Like You’, these were soundtracks to get some dissidence done to, backed by wailing, siren-like walls of harmonised, anguished guitar.
In a year that delivered the shiny pose of Green Day’s Dookie, the banal Dad rock of Hootie & the Blowfish, and Pearl Jam’s preposterous Vitalogy, Deliverance was a rude call to arms for disaffected generations past, present and future.
1996 brought with it the third album in the cycle, the rollicking Wiseblood, which turned out to be a deft summation of the Corrosion of Conformity Mission Statement.
Bolting out of the gates with a charge of feedback static, Wiseblood swaggers righteously into the murky waters of government propaganda, corporate malfeasance, theocracies and the suburban malaise.
There’s a man who watches over me
There’s a man where I used to be
Mr. Tambourine play one more song for me
’Cause I gotta leave, I lost what I believed…
Lucid and savage, Wiseblood is an album of distilled vitriole, exploring universal themes with a clarity of intent usually attributed to your Braggs and Dylans. Completely devoid of the theatrics of Megadeth’s holocaust fantasies, or the second hand gravitas of Metallica’s battleground pastiches, Wiseblood’s raw lyricism stabs at the dirty, rotten heart of global injustice.
Somewhere along the way, the rebellious, institution baiting spirit of rock and roll was coopted by the poseurs and the marketing execs; the underdog’s howl and the stiletto threat of society’s underbelly was diluted into pale cartoons: miserable, self indulgent music calculated to mollify, another arm of the marketing division.
These albums reaffirm the sneering politics at the heart of good rock music, embodying the wounded disaffection of the ‘ordinary guy’ shaking his fist at a machine he can never hope to overcome.
The power inherent in these albums, this music, is in their calls to arms: the individual and collective experience of music serving as a catalyst for education and political mobilisation.
They start fires in disaffected bellies and inspire us to maintain the rage.
© Garth Jones, 2006