Review Summary: A consistent display of COC's effective amalgam of old school metal and 90's era tonalities.
Corrosion of Conformity is a band respected for their diverse output. They started out as a pioneering punk/metal band, evolved into a grungy thrash act on 1991’s Blind, and paved the rest of the 90’s with a more Sabbath/southern metal delivery. 1994’s Deliverance album is heralded as their best by many, but Wiseblood is a forgotten album in their catalog. It properly fuses the band’s old school metal influences (Black Sabbath, Metallica) with the fresher sonic elements of early 90’s bands like Pantera and Soundgarden. It is a much more immediate listen than Deliverance, and while it does not contain as many highlights as that excellent album, it is a more consistent effort overall.
The album reestablishes their proficiency in the heavy metal genre by emphasizing crisp, straightforward riffs which allow plenty of room for Pepper Keenan/Woody Weatherman to soar over the top with intelligent lead guitar playing. Pepper Keenan’s James Hetfield meets Phil Anselmo lead vocals fit the music wonderfully, as he can sing in a melodic tone while also snarling and shouting at all the right moments. The production is vital here as there is an eminent balance between Keenan’s lively high mix vocals and the snappish interplay between Keenan and Weatherman’s guitars, not to mention the always firm rhythmic foundation laid forth by Mike Dean and Reed Mullin. Overall, Wiseblood may not be as compositionally sound as some of the finer tracks on Deliverance, but the album as a whole relies more on texture and the band’s well established sonic attack. For a band that at this point was a veteran unit, it isn’t surprising that they would put forth such a spirited, professional effort.
The album begins with “King of the Rotten,” an up tempo rocker that shifts nicely between punchy verses and its soulful chorus. “Long Whip/Big America” is a highlight track, as its funky rhythmic intro gives way to a spirited rant by Keenan on the nature of the societal/political corruptions he sees. The upbeat guitar attack takes a backseat during Keenan’s vocals, but the mix allows the lead guitars to have center stage during the solos. Keenan and Weatherman do not disappoint as their mutual rhythmic cooperation melds wonderfully with their forceful but melodic lead guitar sensibilities. They routinely recall the bluesy soling of a Tony Iommi processed through the distorted melodic accents of a Dimebag Darrell or Kim Thayil.
The title track is more of a banger but there is still a great shift between the riff oriented sections and the transitory lead guitar sections. “Goodbye Windows” introduces a more Alice in Chains like atmospheric element that the previous three tracks lack but without taming the overall sonic delivery of the band. The rhythm section lumbers along as Keenan’s spoken word verses contrast with heavy lead guitar licks. The chorus later leads into a poignant solo that transitions wonderfully back into the riff centered verse section. An atmospheric outro is a misnomer as an up-tempo riff finally leads the band to the song’s conclusion. “Drowning in a Daydream” brings the band back into heavy riff territory and melodic vocal work from Keenan. The song continuously establishes an overarching motif of the album, that the band can craft traditionally structured hard rock tunes while still allowing plenty of room for jam oriented sections or a sequenced coda change. This acknowledgement of their virtues allows the songs to come across without pretense and for the listener to enjoy the album purely in terms of its brash delivery.
The second half of the album is a bit rawer and more direct than the first half, but the theme is clear at this point. Heavy but atmospheric riffs provide a platform for Keenan’s spirited vocal work, which then lead into extended instrumental sections and lead guitar interchange between Keenan and Weatherman. “The Snake Has No Head”, “Fuel,” and “Wishbone (No Tomorrow)” are the best tracks here, as they see the band further espousing on their ability to logically coalesce the best of acts like Black Sabbath, Metallica, Soundgarden, and Pantera. The last track on the album (Bottom Feeder “(El Que Come Abajo”)) heaps the virtues of the album into one big pot, as the band traverses everything from a Sabbath like crawl to up tempo thrash with great effect. The album ends with the sound of pigs squealing, which considering the album art work and the band’s affinity for social commentary, could be an ode to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”
Wiseblood is not a seminal album in COC’s discography, but it is a great album nonetheless. It lacks the historical significance of the band’s 80’s work and doesn’t contain any definitive statements as found on Blind or Deliverance, but it makes up for that with its crisp execution and fair share of catchy metal riffs, sharp solos, and inspired vocal work. Considering that the band’s output would soon become less prolific, it is nice to see them finish the 90’s with a quality album. Ultimately, Wiseblood further cements COC as a credible but accessible band that is good at crafting heavy but articulate hard rock. It displays itself as a solid fusion of old school metal elements and the more atmospheric heaviness that came with hard rock in the 90's.