Corrosion of Conformity

America's Volume Dealer

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After making headway into the '90s alternative metal scene with a grungy, slowed-down version of their trademark punk-metal, COC (now the band's official name, instead of just a widely accepted nickname) moved into the new millennium looking to keep up their momentum. Since their last album, 1996's Wiseblood, the rap-metal subgenre had taken over the mainstream spotlight, so the band decided to take a slightly different direction on 2000's America's Volume Dealer -- namely, playing up the Southern and classic rock tendencies in their more recent work. Metallica had moved into similar territory during the '90s, but the transition was more natural for COC, who are not only from the South, but flavored some of their '90s output with swinging boogie rhythms filtered through Black Sabbath. That sound is a little more funked-up here, and the band's Southern tinge is more pronounced than ever -- Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule) lends his slide guitar to the Skynyrd-ish acoustic-driven ballad (!) "Stare Too Long." What's most immediately obvious, though, is that this is COC's most radio-friendly record yet -- the production is more polished, and while the guitars are still high-voltage, the sludgy murk of their most inspiringly heavy records is largely absent. Even if some fans might be disappointed that they have left the garage, the songs hold up well -- they're melodic and well-crafted, and there's enough variety in the album's pacing to keep it an engaging listen the whole way through. If there is a flaw, it's that the added polish doesn't really do COC justice. Word has it that the band conceives America's Volume Dealer as their equivalent to Metallica's so-called Black Album (indeed, a few songs like "Sleeping Martyr" are very reminiscent of that band's later period), and it is definitely a logical way for COC to move toward greater commercial accessibility. However, even if it accomplishes that goal, it isn't quite the radical departure or reinvention (as Metallica was) that will result in a hugely expanded audience; plus, the somewhat tamer, smoother-edged sound might make longtime fans uneasy. For the time being, though, it's interesting to hear the band trying new directions and keeping their sound fresh.

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