Helios Cafe sits in Raleigh's trendy Glenwood South neighborhood. Its decor is dominated by bold colors and plain metal furniture, and it's a favorite hangout of the city's young professionals. Woody Weatherman, guitarist for institutional Raleigh metal band Corrosion of Conformity grabs a drink at the counter and then takes a seat. His eyes are hidden by a ratty trucker hat as he opens his metal MacBook. Singer and bassist Mike Dean soon arrives, wearing a denim coat and jeans, his mechanic-inspired wardrobe making him stick out amongst the coffee shop's smartly dressed weekday patrons.
The three men that make up COC these days chose this location for our interview, instead of a conventional metal band spot like a bar or dingy practice space. For this band, unconventional is par for the course.
Corrosion of Conformity is one of the most mercurial loud bands in the history of North Carolina music. Emerging 30 years ago during the famous first wave of Raleigh hardcore, the band’s style was fast and dirty, grunted vocals adding additional grit to roughshod punk riffs. 1985's famed Animosity saw a move away from that style and closer to thrash, blurring the line's between hardcore's tenacious assaults and metal's menacing power. In the '90s, CoC hewed towards stoner metal, indulging in darkly fuzzed-out tones and adopting more blues-inspired structures.
Dean, Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin, the lineup that created Animosity, reunited in 2010 for the first time in 23 years. They've been touring on and off while taking the time to track a new self-titled record to be released in February. It's the band's first LP since 2005.
“You can’t just go out and be the guys that are on the nostalgia tiff,” Dean says, snacking on a power bar on Helios' stone patio as he describes their first post-reunion outing. “You see that a lot, and it’s kind of not so good. So we kind of insisted on having a little new material to play on the trip. We released a single on Southern Lord, so we’d have a little bit of new vinyl to sell. It was cool. People that didn’t even own a turntable would purchase it because it was an object, a beautiful object that they were confused by as to what you were supposed to do with it.”
The new LP is a behemoth, and it ranges through most every style that has defined the band's now legendary career. Their elevated status is thrown into sharp relief by the album’s recording process. Dave Grohl, former drummer of Nirvana and leader of the Foo Fighters, invited them out to his studio in Los Angeles. There, they were the first band to record with his newly installed mixing board, rescued from Sound City Studios. It's the same board that was used on Nirvana's Nevermind and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Despite the setting, Dean says the trip was a workman-like affair.
“It was very efficient,” he says. “We stayed out in Ventura county, out in the agricultural area, away from the distractions of anything really. We'd drive over the Santa Susana pass every day and see San Fernando valley go to work, put in 10 or 11 hours, drive back and then do it all again.”
Their efforts paid off in a powerful record, one that serves as a reminder of the band's storied past while enforcing that they are very much a vibrant entity in the here and now. “River of Stone” unites the trio's thrashing speed with their stoner impulses, resulting in a six-minute epic that speeds through riff-fueled tantrums before crashing into heady walls of strung-out distortion. “Rat City” is a rough and ragged two-and-half-minute blast that harks back to their hardcore days while maintaining their burly metal tones. In all, it has the effect of an impressionistic history, mixing the band's many influences into a thrilling melting pot that highlights their stylistic flexibility.
“There are people who have their certain eras of COC that they like and that they want to hear, which is understandable,” Weatherman says. “There’s a lot of people that like all of them, that like all the incarnations. They just want to see something, you know?”
“And you find a way to disappoint them all,” Dean adds with a wry smile. Mullins and Weatherman burst into laughter. “But just enough that they talk and give us free publicity, and we ultimately prevail. That’s been our strategy since day one.”
— Jordan Lawrence is editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.
who: Corrosion of Conformity, with Hail!Hornet and Slow Southern Steel
where: The Orange Peel
when: Sunday, Jan. 22 (8 p.m. $15/$17. Show kicks off with Southern metal documentary film, Slow Southern Steel, followed by the bands. http://www.theorangepeel.net)