Corrosion of Conformity’s reunion train keeps rolling. Settling into its fourth decade, the band recently announced two more reissues of past albums1991’s Blind and 1994’s Deliveranceand an upcoming return of firebrand singer and guitarist Pepper Keenan. Plenty of COC fans had clamored for a return to the band’s Keenan-led groove-metal sound, anyway; others had dreaded it.

Either way, on 2012’s self-titled comeback album, COC’s founding trio of bassist/singer Mike Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin proved they could carry the load of legacy. (Remember, they made 1985’s essential crossover platter Animosity.) That album didn’t shed latter-day COC’s propensity for thick riffs, but the dry recording and brisk tempos recalled the band’s thrash-era high points, too.

On their ninth album and second as a reconvened trio, however, COC dips deep into its old metal pool to arrive anew at a familiar Southern crossroads. In many ways, IX feels like a preemptive response to the nagging chorus of “Where’s Pepper?” that greeted COC’s reunion. Even sprint-speed ragers, like the headbanging history-lesson “Denmark Vesey,” feel less than punk. In his lead vocal turn, Mullin adopts a shriller timbre, more Iron Maiden than Suicidal Tendencies. Likewise, IX serves as a stronger showcase of Weatherman’s varied and vicious guitar solos. Equally Black Flag and Black Sabbath, he carves canyon-sized grooves with his lead riffs before exploding into flashes of feedback and squalls. His abundant solos opt for screaming melody, indulging in classic rock fretboard runs and heavy metal divebombs.

Relative to Corrosion of Conformity‘s revisionist take on COC’s complicated past, IX feels like a simplification even as it offers a return to form. Fans longing for the sound of COC’s commercial peak have plenty to embrace; those who abandoned the band when they shifted toward hard rock in the ’90s will only have their decision reaffirmed. Out of the gates, “Brand New Sleep” stretches a Weatherman riff, all blues melody and metal growl, over an open canvas before rolling into a lumbering doom riff that prompts High on Fire comparisons. “On Your Way” rides proto-metal twists that staple Guns N’ Roses’ swagger to Blue Oyster Cult’s psychedelia. A wah-wah solo worthy of Deliverance-era COC takes the bridge. And “Trucker” goes full blues-rock with an opening riff that wouldn’t sound out of place in the Skynyrd catalog.

With IX, Weatherman, Dean and Mullin prove that their version of COC is capable of making a Southern hard-rock album to rival any in their own catalog, even without Keenan’s input. One of the album’s swifter cuts, “The Nectar,” appears first as a dynamic thrash rush before closing the album (as the reprise “The Nectar Revised”) slowed down and beefed up on distortion. The band concentrates only on the chorus’ swirling theme.

But even as they show their self-sufficiency, their return to the riff-rocking and radio-friendly past makes Keenan’s promised return feel inevitable rather than unnecessary. When Keenan joins the fold again next year, it won’t be a surprising new direction. For better and worse, consider IX a segue for a band that has upset its own precedents for more than 30 years. This is simply history repeating itself.

Label: Candlelight Records>

This article appeared in print with the headline “On hardcore pranksters, hip-hop revivals and more.”