Review Summary: For COC, their artistic peak wasn't their most commercially successful period.
Blind is simultaneously the dark horse and the crown jewel in the COC discography. It revealed the talents of lead guitarist Pepper Keenan as a capable singer on "Vote With a Bullet" but perhaps more so proved that he and co-guitarist Woody Weatherman were concocting a dynamic mix of classic Sabbath meeting 80's era Metallica. From beginning to end of this metallic trek, the listener is dragged into a pit of killer mid-tempo grooves, grungy overtones, and cooperative thrashing. One album frontman Karl Agell belts out politically charged lyrics with vitriol, enthusiastically attempting to match the sonic cacophony behind him. This was COC before they became a straight up heavy metal band (albeit a good one) and was the peak of their artistic credibility. On Blind, they perfected the territory they would continue to mine in the 90’s but with crisper execution, increased sonic variety, and hardly a nod to mainstream considerations.
Albums like Blind make me question the notion that a band like Metallica was obligated to strip their sound down in such an insipid manner following ...And Justice for All. Metallica’s self-titled record and Blind came out during the same year but this record absolutely blows the former away. Blind is filled with lean but snarling riffs, logical but not overly technical guitar interplay, and more inventive drum work than most any Metallica record. Sonically, it’s well ahead of its time, matching many of the sensibilities that the grunge movement was just now ushering into greater visibility. This fusion of classic metal, the sonic qualities of grunge, politically coherent lyrics, and pure rage made Blind one of the more inventive heavy metal releases of the early 90’s.
The album is book ended by “These Shrouded Temples…” and “…Remain,” respectively. They begin and end the album in caustic fashion, with the former’s mid tempo riff feeling like the prelude to a death chant as Keenan and Weatherman tease the listener with some metallically intoxicating atmosphere. This opens up the gates for “Damned for All Time,” a relatively straight forward metal track that still champions some wonderfully crunchy riffage, belting vocals from Agell, and lyrics that directly challenge the pervasive insanity of modernity and the institutions that comprise modern civilization.
“Dance of the Dead” is another great hook track into the album, its galloping rhythms and stomping chorus being executed with gritty delight. Lines like “If the system had one neck, you know I’d gladly break it” continue to establish the obvious political overtones of the album. Instead of opting for the largely incoherent anti-everything stance of a Rage Against the Machine, the lyrics on Blind do a great job of probing into the neurosis that has overtaken our civilization’s psychology. Symptom issues like racism, political corruption, and environmental degradation are investigated throughout the album, but there is a refreshing sense of awareness to be found in lines like, “No lesson was ever learned, our fate stays the same, profane civilization will perish in flame.”
The blunt force assault continues on the middle third of the album with great slices of chugging riffage to be found in “Break the Circle, “Painted Smiling Face,” and “Mine Are the Eyes of God.” Neck snapping thrash sections, staccato riffs, and pounding but graceful lead guitar interplay between Weatherman and Keenan are everywhere, all of it drenched in a biting feedback that is hard to ignore. There is a sense of venom here that wasn’t as largely present on COC’s later work and probably not seen since their proto punk metal heyday in the 80’s, but nonetheless, it’s delivered with lethal intent.
“Shallow Ground” is a briefly tranquil respite from the coming onslaught of “Vote With a Bullet,” “Great Purification,” and “White Noise.” “Vote” got a bit of MTV play with its simple but colossal riff and Keenan leading the way with his processed vocals. While the lyrics may be a bit clumsy in their “grab your gun and go screaming to the Capitol” aim, the overall critique of our uselessly calcified political structure is a legitimate one. “Great Purification” follows in equally noxious fashion, chugging along with fervor before a searing guitar solo breaks through about two minutes in. “White Noise” steps up in blistering form, its staccato riff being tightly assimilated into a compact thrash delivery. Mountains of feedback and lead guitar breaks stack up for the song’s finale, with Agell going from a restrained whisper to a powerful howl by song’s end. The ambiant "Echoes in the Well” finally quells the listener into submission with its crawling bass line and corrosive guitar melodies before exploding into mayhem with a brief but beautifully constructed guitar solo.
Blind would be commercially overshadowed by future COC releases, but it still stands as one of the most exceptional metal releases of the early 90’s. It confirmed COC’s arrival as a player on the metal stage without sacrificing the punk ethos they had originally established themselves on, in addition to expanding the band’s sonic palette. Along with Alice in Chains, COC was one of those bands that were the missing link between the previously established metal tradition and the stylistic alterations that metal embraced in the 90’s. All things considered, Blind is a crucial release and a cornerstone of early 90’s metal.