‘If the system had one neck, you know I’d gladly break it, they’ve got us where they want us – stuck in this sick romance, they need no chain – it’s in our brain’. Dance of the Dead, Corrosion of Conformity
Arguing about whether a particular LP is good or bad can clearly be fun but is largely an exercise in futility. Let’s face it, no one will ever change their mind. It’s not that I buy into the notion of it being an entirely subjective judgement. Some records are objectively bad. However, as these notes touched on a few weeks ago, the very way that music is performed can act to both include and exclude simultaneously, through both sonic and social ‘distortion’. And our aim here is to talk about music that we like rather than that which we don’t.
Having said all of that, I do feel that certain records can be misunderstood. Or perhaps, more accurately, yield new insights if considered from different perspectives. What stirred me into this thought process was Corrosion of Conformity’s 1991 full-length Blind. I was reading a piece by someone whose writing I usually find thoughtful and considered when he referred to Blind (and all COC releases that followed it) as forming part of COC’s ‘redneck music’ phase. I must admit to a quizzical eyebrow being raised. Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the Southern-tinged stoner-doom metal that the band have explored from Deliverance (1994) onwards hasn’t set my world afire – well-executed but just not my particular cup of tea. But Blind? Blind is a very different beast indeed.
Cards on the table, I loved Blind at the outset, and I still love it now. But from day one, it is an album that has polarised opinion. The band’s subsequent longevity has only served to amplify this. Let’s face it, it is hard to think of many bands who have not only been continually active for over forty years with a relatively consistent line-up (in various permutations), but who have also gone through such a fundamental musical transformation from seminal political hardcore band to purveyors of groove-orientated heavy metal.
So, for the uninitiated, where does Blind sit within this sonic spectrum? Think powerfully forthright but nuanced lead vocals that interplay with slab-like metallic riffs, which owe a debt in equal parts to thrash and doom metal. And all of it is underpinned by the supple fluidity of the rhythm section. It’s also delivered with a hardcore ferocity as military adventurism, class dispossession, cartel politics, religious oppression, ecological degradation, and racial segregation are tackled with blistering intensity.
Now my first exposure to COC was following new vocalist Karl Agell’s arrival. Sets supporting DRI and Sacred Reich at The Astoria in 1990 saw them beginning to try out their new material in a live environment ahead of recording the album. So, I came to it without too many preconceptions about what had gone before – I liked what I had heard, old and new. COC’s sound had already gone through a degree of metamorphosis from the straight-up hardcore of their earliest releases to the much more crossover thrash leanings of Technocracy (1987).
But how would I have reacted to Blind if I had gown-up release by release with COC? Now it is clearly more metallic and inherently heavier with cleaner vocals and an emphasis on power as opposed to speed. But equally, it undeniably still burns with political anger. And I continue to hear clear call backs to their earlier work. In other words, the album was a reinvention, but one that clearly evolved from what came before.
So, Blind as stoner metal album doesn’t fly for me. Nor does the second school of thought that tends to dismiss it as a ‘transition’ album. This has always struck me as a rather reductive interpretation. Now of course, there is an element of truth to it – Blind was the most metallic COC release to date and began to deploy groove more explicitly than on previous releases. These were aspects that post-Blind COC were to subsequently elevate to being the cornerstone of their sound. But politically, musically, and aesthetically, Blind holds much more in common with Technocracy-era COC than with the outright metal releases that followed. I maintain that it is best understood as a singular moment in time, an almost stand-alone release, and the only one to feature Agell and bassist Phil Swisher.
I saw COC twice more as they toured Blind in 1992, firstly supporting Soundgarden at the Town & Country Club (now the Kentish Town Forum) and then an utterly blistering show headlining The Marquee in December of that year. And as anyone who was present that night knows – whether embroiled in the swirling pit, in the waves of stage divers, or simply taking cover – that was unequivocally a hardcore show. And an avowedly political one too as an imperious Agell raged eloquently amidst the carnage.
As a quick aside, in researching this piece, I stumbled across an interesting site (metallipromo.com/coc.html) that tracks the gig histories of hardcore / thrash metal bands from the mid-1980s and early 1990s, including COC. Not only does it seek to catalogue each band’s tour history, it is also an absolute treasure trove of tickets and flyers, a few examples of which I have added below. What it emphasised to me, as is hinted at by my own COC gig history, was the sheer spread of bands that COC toured with over the Blind period – from Carcass to Megadeth, The Rollins Band to Iron Maiden, Danzig to Prong. Crossover in every sense of the word.