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Cover Story: Corrosion Of Conformity • Destination: Heavy Chicago

| October 1, 2023

Corrosion of Conformity

Chicago’s newest music venue, Avondale Music Hall, will be hosting its inaugural heavy metal festival Heavy Chicago over the course of two weekends.

Headlining the festival on Saturday, October 28, is Chicago’s beloved doom pioneers Trouble, which will be extra special as this will be the band’s first hometown show in five years.

“We are extremely excited to kick off the first inaugural Heavy Chicago Fest,” Trouble guitarist Rick Wartell told IE last month. “Chicago is our hometown, so it’s always great to play here, and we know the fans will come out to support the scene. We’re really encouraging everyone to participate in all three days to make the festival as successful as possible.”

Also slated for opening night are San Francisco doom/stoner metal band Acid King, Madison, Wisconsin’s stoner rock band Bongzilla, and Chicago doom metal veterans November’s Doom, topping off opening weekend with killer local representation.

“The bill is incredible, and the promoters have put a lot of work into curating an amazing experience for the fans and bands alike,” Wartell says. “Knowing some of the bands personally, we know it’s going to be a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to seeing some bands we haven’t had the chance to perform yet. We’re also looking forward to seeing our fans and friends and putting on a really great performance.”

The following weekend, Saturday, November 4, North Carolina Southern-fried sludge metal veterans Corrosion Of Conformity will be headlining, preceded by California space rockers Nebula and Milwaukee’s The Crosses—featuring die Kreuzen singer Dan Kubinski for an “all die Kreuzen” set. Local bands Speedfreak and Dust Biters will open the show.

The following day, Sunday, November 5, concludes the festival as the legendary DRI will grace the stage with a headlining set celebrating 40 years of Crossover, preceded by grindcore legends Repulsion (the band’s only show of 2023) and Chicago’s “murder metal” maestros Macabre. Death Metal, Embryonic Autopsy, and The Suffering will open the show.

When the Heavy Chicago promotors invited Corrosion of Conformity to headline Day Two of the festival, the band immediately said yes, as the members are always pumped to play Chicago.

“Chicago’s always been fun,” guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan exclaims during a recent phone interview. “I think I’ve played the House of Blues more than any place on Earth. We always have a great time in Chicago, and it’s just one of those places that we usually end up feeling worse (the next day) than when we got there!”


Formed in 1982 in Raleigh, North Carolina, by teenagers and childhood friends guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean, and drummer Reed Mullin, COC were massive Black Sabbath fans with hardcore influences such as Black Flag, Bad Brains, and The Dead Kennedys. The band’s 1984 debut album Eye for an Eye, featuring vocalist Eric Eycke, consisted of raw, energetic, sped-up Sabbath riffs with crossover/thrash metal tendencies.

By the time of their follow-up album Animosity the following year, Eycke was gone, and Dean took over lead vocals and created a noticeable difference to the band’s musical vocabulary with a more tight and concise direction while also adding more thrash metal elements to the musical mix.

“We had done a show with Slayer in ’84 in Baltimore—it was our first time playing with Slayer—and (Tom) Araya said he was going to hook us up with their label,” Weatherman remembers during a recent phone interview. “A few weeks later, (Brian) Slagel from Metal Blade had hollered at us, and we wound up going out to Los Angeles to record one of the sides of the *Animosity* record. It was a big leap studio-wise, gear and professionalism. We had Bill Metoyer, who was a pretty prolific producer for Metal Blade during that time. It was a different world than (being) in the little basement studio we had for the *Eye for an Eye* record. And it sounded better; it was better production. So I think that just played a big part of it.”


By the dawn of the 1990s, there were more changes about to come for COC. The band welcomed new vocalist Karl Agell and guitarist Pepper Keenen into the group, expanding it to a quintet for the first and only time in its career. The band also dropped its punk influences and adopted a new sludge/stoner/groove metal sound that would change the band’s musical direction from here on out.

“That was the first record I had done with the guys,” Keenen reflects. “I was living in North Carolina playing guitar 24 hours a day. We must’ve lived in the practice room. We had a little momentum, and all the pieces of the puzzle were getting close to being finished. We did that record and had a lot of ammunition with it. We just changed direction. The scene was getting kind of stale, and we just went a different direction.”

With prolific producer John Custer behind the knobs of Blind (and every COC album after it), the band took another step forward with its sound.

“We just tried to make moves forward every time we head to the studio,” Weatherman explains. “We spent a hell of a lot more time, production-wise, songwriting and everything else than we had done previously. We made the decision that we weren’t just going to be stuck being a hardcore band for the rest of our lives, and that’d be all that we’d do. We wanted to branch out and be true to the other half of our roots. That’s how the *Blind* record came about. It was a game changer, and we did a lot of touring for that record as well.”

Three years later, more changes within the band were afoot with the next album, Deliverance. With each album up to that point, the band changed musical directions as well as vocalists. Keenan, who sang lead vocals on the track “Vote With A Bullet” on the *Blind* album, took over as permanent lead vocalist on *Deliverance* after Agell left after just one album with the band, once again changing the dynamic and musical chemistry.

“That was a massive move for us once again,” Weatherman explains. “Between Animosity, Blind and then Deliverance, each one of those moves was a giant step forward for us. The Deliverance record had songs that actually made it on Commercial Rock Radio, which was a complete trip for us. It opened up a lot of doors for us, and once again, we toured massively for the *Deliverance* record, followed up by *Wiseblood*. The same thing (happened), we toured forever. It was a dream come true, being able to improve each go-round on the last one and improve what we had done previously. In our minds, we were moving forward.”

At the time, Keenan was confident of the band’s new direction, and everything fell into place on Deliverance. 

“We were on a mission; we knew what we wanted to do, and we knew that we could do these things,” he states. “It just felt like a positive, forward-moving thing. It really wasn’t conscious. We just knew we were onto something that was different and in the world we were coming from.”

During its 40-plus-year career, COC has endured two hiatuses. The second one occurred from 2006 to 2010 while Keenan was recording and touring with his side project supergroup Down, which also featured Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo. Although Keenan says Down is always writing new material, there’s no definitive timeframe to start recording a new album, as Anselmo is busy touring with the reformed Pantera, and Keenan, as well as the other members, are busy with their own main bands.


Although COC has been signed to several prominent record labels throughout its career, its current relationship with Nuclear Blast has been one of its strongest.

“Our dude at the label is Monte Connor, and we’ve known him for 30 years or more. Monte said, ‘Do it when you get ready, and we’re here for you’ kind of thing. There’s no prodding, no bullwhips come out, and there’s no torture techniques or anything,” Weatherman says with a chuckle. “Those guys have really treated us well; we’re lucky to have that label. They’re the hardest working label I would say we’ve ever been on, and Monte spearheads all that. So it’s a pleasure to make records for them.”

The band’s last album, 2018’s No Cross No Crown, was drummer Reed Mullin’s swan song, as he passed away in 2020. Mullin had been replaced live for a number of shows in the past four years due to a variety of health issues, including an alcohol-related seizure he suffered in June 2016.

“He had his problems, and we were all rooting for him,” Weatherman confesses. “But it got to the point where he was putting such a burden on us with all that kind of stuff. We wound up with an excellent drummer, John Green, who did most of the rest of that No Cross No Crown tour. It was sad when Reed left us, as things like that always are, to lose a lifetime friend. I’d known Reed since before we started the band; we were buddies. So it was hard to see him go like that. He’s definitely missed.”

COC has a home studio at Dean’s house in Raleigh, where the boys recently convened to work on new material for an upcoming 2024 release. The first single from the album, “On the Hunt,” was released in April and contains all of the COC trademarks.

“We’re working in the studio once again with the fantastic Stanton Moore (who played on the *In the Arms of God* album) and yet another drummer,” Weatherman explains. “He and Pepper flew up from New Orleans to Raleigh, and I just drove down (from Virginia). We all met up in Raleigh and hit the COC studio; Mike Dean’s the wizard behind our little studio. We had a blast for about a week and got about five or six more solid ideas on tape. We’ve got a pretty good pile of tunes worked up. We haven’t really decided where we’re going to track the actual album yet, but it’s well on its way. It’s a work in progress.”

Keenan says the direction of the new material has been an organic process, where the songs actually dictate the direction themselves.

“Having a drummer like Stanton… he is so ferocious and so in the pocket,” Keenan explains. “We sit back and listen to some of these songs we’re working on, we’re trying to compare it to somebody, and we’re like, ‘Who’s doing anything like this?’ We’re sitting there laughing at some of these songs. They got a super groove to them. We’re just trying to stick with that and entertain ourselves first. If we can keep it that way, we’ll probably have something pretty solid.”

On the live front, COC has only one other show planned in their home state of North Carolina as a warm-up gig before their appearance at Heavy Chicago.

“Chicago, since our very earliest travels across the nation, has always been there and has always been awesome for us,” Weatherman exclaims. “We know so many people there. Sean Duffy, who’s the brainchild behind the Heavy Chicago thing, he is also an old buddy. He’s booked us way back in the day, brought us up to Chicago, and he’s still at us. So it’s awesome to work with him again and the Last Rites guys. If Sean calls you up and says, ‘Hey, you guys want to play at this new festival we’re doing?’ You don’t even think twice about it. We’re like, ‘We’ll be there!’ So, we’re coming back to Chi-Town in November. We’re gonna eat some pizza and have a good time!”

After the band’s Chicago appearance, COC will focus on writing and recording the new album to be able to hit the road again.

“We don’t put out a record every year, so whenever we wind up getting a new one out, our goal is to tour and tour and tour… and have a blast and try to go everywhere we can once or twice or three times, or however many times it takes for the go round,” Weatherman states. “So, that’s our plan, to get the record out. Obviously, we’re drawing to the close of this year, so it’ll be a 2024 release. Make it the best record we can, and then hit the road again like we always do. That’s where we have all our fun and do our best work.”

In addition to the diverse musical lineup of Heavy Chicago, the one and only Kuma’s Corner will be onsite selling hand-crafted, metal-themed burgers; Pabst Blue Ribbon will be offering drink specials, and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere is promised to be present at the inaugural Heavy Chicago festival.

For more information on Heavy Chicago, including ticket prices, please visit

-Kelley Simms


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