A blues beat and even bluesier guitar line leads into a classic COC riff stomp on "Stonebreaker". Once Pepper Keenan's vocals enter, you just know that this is the real COC. "In the Arms of God" takes much of the heaviness of "Wiseblood", even the dense feel of "Blind", while retaining some of the style expansion characterized by "America's Volume Dealer", and wraps it up in more blues-based, smokin' southern metal than we've heard from this band to date. It's a combination sure to please diehard fans and keep the critics from crying, "recycle!"
Three-fourths of the "America's Volume Dealer" lineup — Keenan (vocals/guitar), Woody Weatherman (guitar), and Mike Dean (bass) — remain. Stanton Moore (GALACTIC) stepped in to replace the long-departed Reed Mullin on the album, though neither Moore nor Jimmy Bower (who performed on the "America's Volume Dealer" tour) will accompany the band on the upcoming tour with MOTÖRHEAD, that spot instead going to CRY OF LOVE's Jason Patterson. That core trio is so crucial to the sound on the disc, the guitar work entrancing and exciting, Dean's bass providing a solid foundation with earth moving tones, and Moore's accomplished work providing back bone and raw feeling, resulting in a whopping 64 minutes of COC excellence! John Custer again turns the production knobs, this time removing the gloss that characterized "America's Volume Dealer" and bringing back the filth.
All 12 tracks are worthy of mention, but I'll try to show some restraint here. The slammin' "Paranoid Opioid" is sure to be a COC live show staple for years to come. It's interesting that "Paranoid" is part of the title, as the vocal patterns and rhythms owe a big debt to BLACK SABBATH. The rest is pure COC riff damage, as watery vocals repeat the two-word chorus, giving the already hard-rocking, tripped out tune, a drug-addled, psychedelic effect. "It is that Way" is a doomy, yet tuneful, blues plod (a version of which appears on the High Times "High Volume" compilation). And then comes one of two behemoths (the other being the title track). "Dirty Hands Empty Pockets/Already Gone" will be compared to the classic "Long Whip/Big America" (from "Wiseblood") and not solely because of the two-part song title; it's simply another superior COC anthem. Pepper's gravelly vocal lines on the first part supported by Dean's bass groove gives way to an all out up-tempo jam on part two, the lyrics seemingly dealing with the plight of the puppet soldier in a distorted and overtly political war-time America.
ZEPPELIN-esque tones rise to the surface on "Rise River Rise", much of the comparison attributable to the acoustic jam quality and weeping guitar parts. Along those same lines, the eight-minute epic that is "Never Turns to More" is kind of a driving southern rock version of LED ZEPPELIN on acid, complete with vocal harmonies. It also brings to mind some of SOUNDGARDEN's less traditional work on "Superunknown" and "Down on the Upside", again due to the acoustic-driven groove and the soulful Cornell-like songwriting (though Pepper dirties it up nicely).
Returning to the hard stuff, on "Infinite War" a pummeling rhythm and killer riff propels this tough, no-nonsense rocker sung by I'd assume Mike Dean (no information provided with the promotional copy). The semi-psychedelic "Backslider" features a catchy chorus and some Ozzy-esque vocals, while "Crown of Thorns" is a brooding acoustic piece, something like COC's version of "Planet Caravan" perhaps.
And now for the finale. The album ends with a great, big mother fuckin' bang on the title track, yet another soon-to-be-classic COC metal boogie monster. The almost seven minute song is the kind of material that makes "Blind", "Deliverance", and "Wiseblood" so damn lethal. The hairs on the back of my neck rose as the militant tune charged out of my speakers like an elephant stampede.
Is "In the Arms of God" a better album than "Wiseblood" or "Deliverance"? It depends on your perspective. As far as I'm concerned, it achieves the COC standard of excellence that we've all come to expect and it sure as hell meets or beats both when it comes to creativity and musicianship. What more could you ask for?