Mullin’s muscular, swinging style remained a constant as the band shifted from hardcore punk to groovy Southern metal
Reed Mullin — drummer and co-founder of the long-running, highly influential North Carolina metal band Corrosion of Conformity — has died at age 53.
His band confirmed the news on social media Tuesday, writing: “It’s with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to a friend, a brother, and pioneer. Reed you are loved and always will be.” No cause or date of death was given. A representative for Corrosion of Conformity did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
Mullin co-founded COC in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1982 with guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean, and vocalist Benji Shelton, who left the band the next year. New vocalist Eric Eycke appeared on their 1984 debut LP, Eye for an Eye, but for 1985’s Animosity, they slimmed down to a trio. With its combination of ferocious uptempo hardcore and bluesy, Black Sabbath–influenced hard rock, the album was an early milestone in the punk-metal hybrid style known as crossover.
“It’s the Odessey and Oracle of fucking crossover hardcore-metal albums,” Dave Grohl, a longtime friend of Mullin’s who played in the drummer’s all-star side project, Teenage Time Killers, previously told Rolling Stone of Animosity. “I’ve stolen so many of his fucking riffs from that record over the years.”
COC’s sound evolved radically during the next decade, moving from the harsh, technical epics of 1991’s Blind to the soulful, Southern-rock-influenced grooves of 1994’s Deliverance, the band’s major-label debut and the album where guitarist Pepper Keenan — who had joined in 1989 — stepped up as full-time frontman. Later on, the band toured with Metallica and earned a Grammy nomination for a track off of 1995’s Wiseblood. Throughout COC’s various eras, Mullin’s muscular yet distinctly funky style remained a defining feature.
Mullin left the band in 2001 due to a back injury. But, in 2010, following a full-band hiatus, the Animosity trio-lineup reunited and began playing shows, eventually releasing an excellent self-titled LP in 2012. “All three of the demonstrative themes of COC are on there,” Mullin told the Indie Spiritualist of the album at the time. “The hardcore/punk from the Eighties, the late-Eighties/early-Nineties mathy metal, and finally, the more Pepper, swampy/doomy stuff. We love all three, so that’s what came out on the album, and I think it came out magically.”
Keenan, who had been working with New Orleans metal supergroup Down, rejoined in 2014, and in 2018, COC’s quartet-incarnation put out what would be its final album, 2018’s fiery No Cross, No Crown.
Mullin had battled health issues in recent years, suffering an alcohol-related seizure in 2016 and sitting out certain tours.
In an Instagram post, Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe — who had toured alongside Corrosion of Conformity and joined various other punk and metal heavyweights in Teenage Time Killers — credited Mullin as a formative influence, saying he modeled his own style on the drummer’s vocals on Animosity. “If you listen to the way I scream at times, and you listen to ‘Hungry Child,’ you’ll hear Reed in my delivery,” he wrote.
Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, another former tourmate of Mullin’s, expressed gratitude to his late friend on Instagram. “Thank you for the crazy good times we had together. Thank you for always having the biggest smile on your face. And thank you for the fuckin grooves and that pocket that was all your own … making Corrosion Of Conformity swing like nothing else!”
Charlie Benante of Anthrax shared a vintage flier for a show featuring his band and COC, and wrote of Mullin, “I always loved his style of drumming,” recommending the Animosity track “Loss for Words” as a prime example of his greatness.
Mullin’s many admirers and collaborators also included Grohl, who called Mullin “my drumming hero when I was 15 or 16 years old” in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview about Teenage Time Killers. That group’s lone album was recorded at Grohl’s 606 Studios with the Foo Fighters leader guesting on bass.
On January 29th, Mullin’s COC bandmates posted a lengthier remembrance of Mullin, delving into his musical strengths.
“A badass drummer: Reed could play all of the metal stuff, cymbal grabs, proto blast beats with only one bass pedal,” the message begins. It then goes on to cite many of the drumming greats that Mullin drew on:
“He could cop one hundred different styles and reference them in his own way. Everything from Earl Hudson and Clive Burr to Neil Peart (RIP) to Mitch Mitchell and Bill Ward. From John Bonham to Phil Taylor and Nicko McBrain. All the while he was creating his own thing, odd times and polyrhythms played nonchalantly, powerful, simple, deliberate sections, all of the possibilities were in fact possible but utilized thoughtfully, in the proper place, for the proper effect, as the song demanded. Musically speaking, what more could you ask for?”
A tribute from guitar luminary Matt Sweeney summed up Mullin’s impact and legacy. “Reed Mullin was the charismatic architect of music that made hardcore massive and dangerous and heavy metal urgent and smart,” he wrote on Twitter. “Reed was the driving force of an underground scene that empowered countless lives. He was so f’n hilarious and such a sweet friend.”
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