Coroner – Mental Vortex, Grin Reissues

Overlooking their first three widely celebrated albums (at least for now), the latest remasters courtesy of Noise Records arrive in the form of the final two studio releases from thrashers, Coroner.

Originally formed in 1983 by drummer Marky Edelmann (aka Marquis Marky), and guitarist Oliver Amberg,this first incarnation of the band only released one Motley Crue inspired demo entitled Depth of Hell before disbanding shortly after. Amberg went on to join fellow countrymen Celtic Frost for their still much maligned Cold Lake (Noise) album, but in 1985 Edelmann teamed up with guitarist Tommy Vetterli (aka Tommy T Baron) and bassist Ron Broder (aka Ron Royce) who had both worked as roadies for Frost. Hiring none other than Frosties frontman Tom G. Warrior to handle vocal duties for their 1986 Death Cult demo, the trio eventually handed the mic over to Broder and went on to release three widely celebrated albums – R.I.P., Punishment for Decadence, and No More Color for Noise.

At the turn of the nineties, many bands were starting to feel the grip of the burgeoning Grunge, Industrial, and alternative scenes tightening slowly around their necks. The once all-conquering genres of Speed and Thrash Metal were in decline. Some acts found themselves running out of ideas, churning out tired, recycled versions of previous material, while others turned to different styles in a bid to save themselves. Remember when Destruction tried turning into Pantera in the late nineties? No? Well, it’s probably for the best.

Coroner remain one of the few bands who can proudly hold their heads high, knowing the quality and natural creativity of their output did not diminish, even at the end. In fact, their penultimate album, Mental Vortex is regarded by many as the high point of their career. A technical masterclass, this 1991 vintage features the band at the height of their powers. A scintillating, avant-garde marriage of traditional and progressive rock, jazz, and thrash, Mental Vortex carries on where 1989’s No More Color, had left off.

Opening with a sample from Stuart Gordon‘s 1985 classic splatter film, Re-Animator, the album begins with ‘Divine Step (Conspectu Mortis)’, a jagged collection of staccato riffery which could almost be related to ‘Read My Scars’ from their previous record. There’s absolutely no room for filler as the likes of ‘Son of Lilith’, ‘Semtex Revolution’, ‘Sirens’, ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘Pale Sister’, with their snarling, labyrinthine riffs, intricate basslines, and complicated drum patterns, display an assured command of technicality without ever disappearing into the realm of ego-driven muso snobbery and pointless fretwankery. The album closes with the superb ‘About Life’, which bookends proceedings with a quote from another horror film, this time 1987’s Hellraiser II – Hellbound, before returning for an encore in the shape of a playful yet doomy cover of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ by The Beatles.

9.0/10

Arriving in 1993, Grin turned out to be Coroner’s final studio release, and although it might not be as memorable as Mental Vortex or No More Color, is still a hugely impressive recording. Right from the didgeridoo-assisted tribal rhythms of intro ‘Dream Path’ and proper opener ‘The Lethargic Age’, you can sense a change in the band’s approach.

Slower, open chords form the backbone for a more traditonal Coroner riff, and even Broder’s voice is noticeably restrained. Opening with a sample from sci-fi action classic Aliens, ‘Internal Conflicts’ is driven by a simple, stabbing riff before opening up different doors as it progresses. The brooding ‘Caveat (To The Coming) features Therapy? style off-kilter drumming from Edelmann, some superbly articulate bass work by Broder, and plenty of wonderful axe playing from Vetterli.

‘Serpent Moves’ and ‘Status: Still Thinking’, like most other tracks on the album possess a certain dreamlike quality, but it’s not until after the short instrumental interlude of ‘Theme For Silence’ (more didgeridoo, anyone?) that Grin really comes into its own. The final three tracks – the slow and menacing ‘Paralized, Mesmerized’, the sturdy rhythm of ‘Grin (Nails Hurt)’, and the otherworldliness of closer ‘Host’ with its spoken word sections, death metal style roars, melancholic fretless bass, and short burst of proto-Rammstein keyboards are the real creative standout moments on this often underrated album.

Yes, Grin does possess a definite Prong influence, and the band do have a tendency to overdo the noodling a little this time, but this is still very much a Coroner album, even if it is somewhat of a departure from their first three records.

8.0/10

Overall rating: 8.5/10

GARY ALCOCK