I got in late last night from a business trip that had consumed most of my thoughts for a week, which had been a welcome reprieve from the unbelievable reality that Reed Mullin is gone.

Mullin, the drummer of pioneering Southern metal band Corrosion of Conformity, died on Monday at age 53. His bandmates posted a tribute to him on Facebook yesterday.

By the time I got to know Reed Mullin, Mike Dean, and Woody Weatherman, the legacy of Corrosion of Conformity had long been set. They were punk and metal royalty, they’d had a brush with mainstream success, and they could have gone into their elder years knowing they’d been a seminal band for a lot of people.

You don’t have to look far to find folks who cite C.O.C. as a formative influence. The obvious candidates are your Dave Grohls and Randy Blythes, who have openly acknowledged the techniques they’ve taken from Reed’s malleable, powerful blueprint.

But I look more to bands like Sourvein and Weedeater, or even Neon Christ, who saw C.O.C. or played alongside them in the 1980s, building an underground heavy-music scene for the Southeast.

As far as I’m concerned, anybody who plays or enjoys heavy music in this part of the country owes C.O.C., and Mullin in particular, a big debt.

“I think we’re one of the few bands that can say we toured with Minor Threat, Black Flag, Metallica, and Iron Maiden.”

Ask anyone who knew Reed back when and they talk about his early-’80s hardcore band, No Labels; they talk about how quickly he absorbed different influences to form a drumming style all his own; they talk about how he’d book hardcore bands from all corners of the country, drive a van around to pick up kids who needed a ride, and put his own money and reputation on the line to bring now-legendary acts to Raleigh.

How do you eulogize someone whose spirit lives in every show at The Pour House and Slim’s and the un-advertised basements that keep Raleigh’s punk and metal scenes thriving year after year? In that, Reed’s still here.

How do you eulogize someone whose singular style merged with other equally singular styles—Dean’s acrobatic and melodic basslines, Weatherman’s fusion of Sabbath groove and Black Flag fury, and Pepper Keenan’s balance of heavy metal power and classic rock finesse—to make a band that has been both inspiring and successful, and which has proven to be as influential as it was divisive?

You’d be hard-pressed to find any C.O.C. fan that enjoys every era in the band’s canon, but for Reed, that was always kind of the point. Back in 2010, when I was cataloging the band’s first 30 years, he boasted, “I think we’re one of the few bands that can say we toured with Minor Threat, Black Flag, Metallica, and Iron Maiden.”

“People have all these expectations that you’re expected to conform to. I feel like we can do whatever the fuck we want. It’ll still sound like us as long as me and Mike and Woody are in it.”

And that’s C.O.C. in a nutshell. The punks who hated the pomposity and technicality of metal could cling to Eye for an Eye and Animosity. The metalheads and classic-rock fans the band attracted later would always have Blind and Deliverance and Wiseblood. 

And Reed drove it all. Indeed, the only constant for C.O.C. was change. Reed recalled a moment when Keenan had taken the role of front man, and the band was shifting toward an alternative vision of classic rock. Maybe a name change would be in order.

“I’m glad we didn’t,” he later said. “Because constantly you’re changing things up and people have all these expectations that you’re expected to conform to. I feel like we can do whatever the fuck we want. It’ll still sound like us as long as me and Mike and Woody are in it.”

That trio won’t be together again, and it’s a damn shame. Reed helped build a hardcore scene in Raleigh with willpower and friendliness, and that scene lives on. C.O.C. soldiers on, too—and it’s still a great band, don’t get me wrong—but Reed was a vital component.

His struggles with addiction and other health concerns were well publicized while he was alive, and his cause of death hasn’t been formally announced. But whatever confluence of factors ultimately took him from us, Reed Mullin casts a long shadow on Raleigh, on North Carolina, and on the Southeast. As a musician, his impact went even farther.

But as much as I’ll remember his powerful, swinging drumming and the vicious energy he gave C.O.C. from the back of the stage, I’ll mostly remember Reed for his warmth and unflagging enthusiasm.

I hadn’t been in touch with him for quite some time. The last time I heard from him was a text out of the blue—a check-in, a “what’s up?” 

He was one of the most welcoming, outright jolly people I’ve ever met, the type of person who could make a fanboy writer for the local alt-weekly feel important, like a Q and A was as much a delight as a major-label contract or a tour with heavy metal icons.

I have a sense that everyone who knew Reed knew what it was like to feel important. I don’t think I can write objectively about his passing. It’s been a heavy weight on my mind since I found out and searched frantically for evidence that it was a hoax.

I wish I’d replied to that text. I wish I’d kept in touch. I wish I could hear him play just one more time. This fucking sucks, and I don’t know how else to say it.

Reed was more than I can fit in a blog post. More than just the records or the tours or the awards. He was more than the addiction or the complications thereof that pulled him away from the band. He was a titan, and there won’t be another one like him.

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2 replies on “A Tribute to Corrosion of Conformity’s Reed Mullin, Who Built a Raleigh Punk Scene and a Southern Metal Sound”

  1. The mold was broke when they made him. Reed always made you feel you are the Rockstar, because you came to the show you knew the lyrics and you rock the fuck out to the tunes. His dedication and pure passion for his music definitely will live on

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