Fate brought Pepper Keenan to Corrosion Of Conformity in 1989. And after a decade removed from the band – he left, somewhat unofficially, in 2005 to focus on his New Orleans-based supergroup, Down – fate brought him back.

To hear him tell it, he certainly didn’t plan to do it like this.

But C.O.C. fans can rejoice, because the vocalist and guitarist has officially returned. After rejoining lead guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean, and drummer Reed Mullin—the original nucleus of the band birthed out of Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1982—for a few shows in 2015, the word was that there would be new music. That time is now.

Corrosion Of Conformity released No Cross No Crown on Jan. 12 via Nuclear Blast Records and set out on the road with Black Label Society to close out 2017 and ring in a new year. Keenan is rightfully proud of pulling off C.O.C.’s 10th studio effort. “We’ve just been real busy, let me put it that way,” he says. “We’ve been trying to put everything back together and see what we can do, and I think we did a pretty damn good job.”

“We knew what we had to do. It wasn’t some giant tall order. We came in with a blank slate and really created something from scratch,” Keenan adds. “It wasn’t a really fun thing to do; it was very challenging to have a record not sound like a buncha washed-up reunion guys. You gotta be real.”

The band again worked with producer John Custer, and Keenan says the 15 songs on No Cross No Crown fit right into the crossover thrash turned sludge masters’ established body of work. “We don’t take this lightly,” Keenan says of generating new output. “It’s not some money-grab bullshit. We just wanted to make a solid record. […] We’ve kind of broadened our horizons a bit over the years, and that’s an important thing to do as an artist: to create and see it through.”

So, the chemistry is still there. The inspiration for the new record, however, was to be found across the pond in England, where C.O.C. were performing in a repurposed church now used as a performing arts center. Underneath ornate stained-glass artwork depicting some poor guy being persecuted was the phrase, “No cross no crown,” which stuck with Keenan.

In today’s polarized culture, in a world seemingly on the brink, Keenan says it’s imperative to listen to your heart. “I think everything’s kinda, out of balance, you know?” he offers. “I’m not gonna sit on some soapbox and tell you who’s right and who’s wrong, but I think we need to learn how to help each other off the ground. If someone’s not doin’ well, pick ‘em up, pat ‘em on the back, and make sure they get to where they need to go, you know?”

“We don’t have to get into beliefs or anything, but we’re all in the same boat here,” he adds. “It doesn’t have to be so complicated. But the cross and the crown have been one of the problems for,” he pauses, then chuckles, “the last few hundred years, for sure.”

For Keenan, maybe the most important connection—aside from the enduring friendships he’s made over the years with his bandmates—is the one with the fans. Corrosion Of Conformity fans frequently snap pictures of themselves hanging out with the vocalist at shows and post them on the band’s Facebook page.

“It’s an important thing. That’s kind of how the whole thing works, you know? We can’t do it without them,” Keenan says of their fan base. “I’ve always kind of prided myself on just being able to go out there and talk to ‘em. I’m no different than those guys. I pride myself on being able to hang out. And, you know, you get feedback, and you do—it sounds kind of weird, but you do touch people. People really latch onto your words, and it means something. That’s important.”

And, what about fate? Was getting back together really the plan all along? “You don’t make plans,” Keenan admits in summation. “You gotta shoot from the hip. You can try to control things, but you’ll be wrong at every turn.”

Order No Cross No Crown via Nuclear Blast here!

Photo by Catherine Patchell

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