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Corrosion of Conformity’s ‘Blind’ Turns 25

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While 1991 provided more landmark rock and metal albums than perhaps any year since, few of them capture the non-musical zeitgeist of the era. Blind by Corrosion of Conformity, which turns 25 tomorrow, bristles with cultural and political frustrations, serving as an outlet for members new (singer Karl Agell, guitarist Pepper Keenan, bassist Phil Swisher) and old (lead guitarist Woody Weatherman, drummer Reed Mullin) to blast their vexations through a filter of groundbreaking, thrash and hardcore-infused sludge metal that nobody had really ever played before.

Oh yes, this was also Corrosion Of Conformity’s first album in six years and was an influence on everyone from Metallica to At The Gates. Groundbreaking is just the beginning. With Mike Dean’s return in 1993, this lineup arrangement would deliver Corrosion Of Conformity’s biggest successes throughout the rest of the decade.

People rightly praise COC’s previous full-length, 1985’s Animosity, for its ferocious take on crossover and hardcore punk, the soundtrack to a million skate parks across America and beyond. Bassist and founding member Mike Dean was their vocalist during this period, his snarling punk bark and surprisingly impressive musical abilities setting the tone for their early days. When Dean abruptly left after the Technocracy EP in ’87, Weatherman and Mullin recruited Agell and Swisher from fellow North Carolina hardcore outfit UNICEF. Agell’s vocal delivery was more singing than screaming, and Swisher’s professional, accomplished playing echoed that of Dean’s. With the addition of a thoroughly metal guitarist in Keenan, COC’s sound entered unchartered territory, both for themselves and the heavy music scene writ large.

Blind‘s opening instrumental “These Shrouded Temples…” announces COC’s new metallic direction right from the start, feedback and ominous tritones building to full-fledged jam “Damned For All Time”. Mullin’s tribalistic tom rolls lay the groundwork for a chunky, riff-laden groove that is now COC’s signature sound. Agell’s voice, assured and powerful, careenins from soaring highs to gritty lows and back again. The energy and attitude from their punk days is still present, but distilled and fracked through a bedrock of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Trouble.

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“Dance Of The Dead”, the album’s first single and video, became their breakthrough hit; heavy rotation on MTV and Los Angeles’ popular rock radio station KNAC introduced the band and their message to the world. While some of Blind‘s other tracks addressed specific issues more directly (“Painted Smiling Face”, “White Noise”) “Dance Of The Dead” was COC laying it all down at once; us vs. them, the state vs. the people, oppressors vs. the oppressed:

Heard too much, know too much, don’t know if I can take it
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, and we don’t stand a chance

One doesn’t need to share the band’s progressive political views to appreciate the thoroughly American sentiment of dissent, especially when backed by riffs descended from heaven.

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“Vote With A Bullet”, Blind‘s second single/video, has the enviable trait of endless topicality every four years here in the States. It is – presciently, when looking at COC post-1991 – the biggest hit on the album, with Keenan on lead vocals and the band pursuing a more straightforward, even populist, metal sound. While not metalcore by its varying definitions over the years, there is an explicit pairing of metal and hardcore on this track in particular that can be traced forward to the New England explosion of the early 00s.

Blind‘s impact on the scene was almost immediate: its mix of stoner rock, sludge, classic metal and hardcore transcended genre and informed bands from each of those scenes, and clearly made an impression on future metal stalwarts like Acid Bath, Black Label Society, Sleep, Shadows Fall and Hatebreed, among others. Its relevance was further solidified last year when Mullin and Agell assembled COC Blind, a legacy project performing the album in its entirety live. Plenty of records from the Class of 91 still hold up as relevant, but Blind‘s legacy, matched to its replay value, puts it in an even higher echelon.

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