10 Greatest Corrosion of Conformity Songs | Revolver

10 Greatest Corrosion of Conformity Songs

From crossover thrash to Southern sludge
Corrosion of Conformity 2017 Press, Dean Karr
photograph by Dean Karr

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Corrosion of Conformity has never been an easy band to pin down. Formed 40 years ago in Raleigh, North Carolina, COC has gone through numerous lineups — 15 and counting! — phases and incarnations since then, with their music encompassing everything from hardcore punk and crossover thrash to stoner sludge and Southern rock.

The one constant throughout all the years and changes is the fact that COC has always kicked some serious ass. From the get-go, the band stood out due to Reed Mullin's powerful and unpredictable drumming, and every version of COC (even the ones without Mullin, who passed away in 2020) has stayed true that original hard-grooving template. But it was the band's shift to a sludgier twin-guitar attack — which coincided with the arrival of New Orleans native Pepper Keenan — that really took COC to the next level, both commercially and artistically.

Any internet thread or in-person conversation about Corrosion of Conformity inevitably raises the question, "Why weren't these guys bigger?" Maybe it was the music business's inability to neatly package them (or their own unwillingness to play that game). Maybe it was the band's tendency to pen lyrics that call out religious and political hypocrisy. Maybe it was all the lineup upheavals. Or maybe it was just bad luck. But it sure as hell wasn't because they didn't have a shit-ton of great songs — and here are 10 of our favorites.

10. "Holier"

There's a sizeable segment of COC fans still who prefer the band's earlier hardcore material to the heavy sludge they're best known for, and "Holier" — a searing takedown of religious hypocrisy from their second album, 1985's Animosity — makes a pretty good case for that perspective. Recorded as a three-piece, the song features a roaring vocal from Mike Dean, some brutally funky drum pummeling from Reed Mullin and a pair of seriously ripping Woody Weatherman guitar solos, all packed into a two-and-a-half-minute blast of skateworthy crossover thrash.

9. "Dance of the Dead"

COC's lineup with Karl Agell on vocals and Phil Swisher on bass was short-lived, but those guys (along with new rhythm guitarist Pepper Kennan) certainly made a lasting mark with 1991's Blind, which saw the band transitioning towards a heavier and more groove-oriented sound. "Dance of the Dead," a standout track from the album, swings like a serious mofo, while also showcasing some sweet-ass twin-guitar harmonies and Agell's impressive James Hetfield-meets-Glenn Danzig vocal performance.

8. "Man or Ash"

Speaking of James Hetfield — that's the Metallica frontman himself lending backing vocals to this sludgy highlight from 1996's Wiseblood. Brimming with apocalyptic imagery, "Man or Ash" lurches angrily forward like the Incredible Hulk with a splitting hangover, churning up the scorched earth with its relentless riffage. Throw in an utterly wah-tastic Woody Weatherman solo, and you've got a headbanger for the ages.

7. "Cast the First Stone"

2018's No Cross No Crown was COC's first album with Pepper Keenan — who had been off concentrating on Down — in over a decade; it would unfortunately also be their last with Reed Mullin, who passed away less than two years after the record's release. But as "Cast the First Stone" attests, the final opus of the Keenan-Weatherman-Dean-Mullin lineup was still capable of coming up with killer tunes, and still sounding as ferocious and ornery as ever. "Beware the cross and crown, and cast the first stone," Keenan howls, while the band slams into the music for all they're worth.

6. "Stonebreaker"

The monster leadoff track of 2005's sorely underrated In the Arms of God, "Stonebreaker" opens with a dark and mournful Woody Weatherman blues solo before kicking into a rampaging "Children of the Grave"-type groove. Pepper Keenan howls lyrics like "Scorned by your petrified lies/Reborn with unjustified" as if he's staring into the existential void and daring whatever's lurking in there to come and get him. Galactic's Stanton Moore, filling in on drums for this album, brings the song home with some serious pummeling — but his playing is also deft enough to swerve seamlessly into the druggy breakdown that occurs around the 4:10 mark and back out again.

5. "Stare Too Long"

There was always a bit of Southern grit in COC's grooves, but never more so than on "Stare Too Long," a tasty slab of back-porch country funk from 2000's wonderfully titled America's Volume Dealer. Though it's a total departure for the band — far closer in sound and spirit to classic Lynyrd Skynyrd than anything in the COC catalog — "Stare Too Long" makes this list simply for being a really damn good song on its own terms. And if the guest slide guitar solo from Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes doesn't make you choke up even just a little bit, you may not actually be alive.

4. "Clean My Wounds"

With its syncopated beats, stuttering riffs, darkly vivid religious imagery and mesmerizing twin-guitar harmony breaks, "Clean My Wounds" could be a great lost Thin Lizzy song put through a Southern stoner-rock filter. One of the standout tracks on 1994's Deliverance, the song offers an object lesson in how to be brief yet totally badass, hitting it and quitting it in just three and a half action-packed minutes. Of course, the band has often doubled its length in concert, probably because that main riff feels just too damn good to let go of.

3. "Over Me"

A masterpiece of loud-quiet-loud dynamics and controlled explosiveness, "Over Me" (the opening track of America's Volume Dealer) is about as satisfying a slab of straight-ahead hard rock as you could ever wish for. Nothin' fancy going on here, other than a few of Woody's wah-wah licks — it's just meaty momentum, perfectly-placed power chords and a cathartic sing-along chorus giving you reason to live, topped by one of Keenan's most passionate vocal performances. Turn it the fuck up.

2. "Vote With a Bullet"

"Vote With a Bullet" was Pepper Keenan's only lead vocal on Blind, but it quickly became one of COC's signature tracks, and his bluesy, distorted vocals previewed the swampier direction that the band would take once he became the band's full-time lead singer. A hard-hammering "speaking truth to power" anthem, "Vote With a Bullet" seethes with an anger and frustration that hasn't dated one iota, decrying politicians who take their constituents for granted until election time — "Our lives are just cards in their stack" — and the corrupted system that allows them to get away with it. "Forgive and forget? Fuck no," Keenan growls. "I'm talking about a revolution!"

1. "Albatross"

Deliverance was both COC's major label debut and the moment where they began to adopt the heavy Southern-rock elements that would characterize much of their output from then on. There was some backlash from old-school fans who weren't happy with the change in direction, but a whole lotta other folks found their newly minted Sabbath-meets-Skynyrd sound absolutely irresistible. That combination of influences is perfectly summed up by "Albatross," the band's breakthrough single. The slow-grooving ode to dope smoking that puts Weatherman and Keenan's loud-ass guitars right up front, and features some absolutely jaw-dropping Mullin drum fills. Fly on, indeed.