Coroner – Mental Vortex

Swiss death metal Coroner1991 Noise Records

One of the all-time great death metal albums and probably THE most underrated and overlooked.  I’ll never forget buying this CD right before a peaceful vacation trip to Arkansas in 1991.  I literally bought the CD as I was heading out of Baton Rouge for some time in the mountains in Arkansas to camp, hike and look for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park (I found one, too…a quarter carat).  It still makes me laugh to this day that this CD was basically my soundtrack for quality time with nature.

I followed Coroner from the time I saw the video for Masked Jackal on MTV, as there was something different about them that drew me in to their sound.  While their first 3 albums got progressively better (No More Color really set the table for this feast), there was no way to be entirely prepared for the total brilliance here.   Heavy as hell, tight as Stewart Copeland’s snare drum head, razor sharp, technically superb and an absolute embarrassment of (hook) riches, Mental Vortex sounds every bit as fresh today as it did in 1991.  Some music is so well done that it just transcends everything.

Starting off with Divine Step, Coroner showcases a true rollercoaster of rhythm and velocity, never collapsing into the sometimes hysterical and meandering speed-for-speed’s-sake that made previous albums a tad uneven.  This disc showcases a band firing on all cylinders and finding a sound they can call their own.  Whereas thrash and speed metal bands at the time often lost all of their power when they sped up the tempos, here Marquis Marky commands all velocities with equal power.   After the the speedy and stop-on-a-dime tight opening track, we get the first taste of Coroner’s relentless power groove on Son of Lilith…which is improved upon even more on my fave track Semtex Revolution.

I have only come across one list of essential thrash metal bands that has includes Coroner, much less this album in particular…I’m sure there must be more, but this is the only one I’ve personally seen.   Damn if every song on this disc isn’t almost letter perfect…the kinds of riffs you dream about and then can’t remember when you wake up.  Not a wasted track or a wasted note to be found anywhere and Tommy T. Baron’s performance is pure Guitar Hero from razor-sharp riffs to his technically dexterous yet amazingly melodic solos.

Phat grooves and tight, rhythmic riffs that will be stuck in your head for years.  Arrangements and constructs are just perfect.   Even an ill-advised but quite bold cover of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) by the Fab Four (Phab Phour?) comes off with a nudge, a wink, a punch in the gut and some melody that makes it work in its own weirdly charming way.  Elsewhere, this is simply Coroner’s finest hour where the planets aligned and everything sounds progressive yet effortless.

Absolute masterpiece.  And right up there with Obituary as two of my all-time favorite death metal band names.

Rating:  5 out of 5
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Amorphis – Tales From The Thousand Lakes

   1994 Relapse

Amorphis is, quite simply, one of my favorite bands.  Their evolution from the pure death metal overtures of their first full length ‘The Karelian Isthmus’ to the amazing grandeur of 2007′s ‘Silent Water’ has been breathtaking.   ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ was the turning point in the development of the Amorphis sound and was the first album I ever heard with a near perfect mix of guttoral vocals and clean melodic vocals.   I don’t know if they were the first to try it, but they were the first to get it right.

Amorphis bases their music on their native Finnish folklore, here basing it on the epic Kalevala.  This album is recognized by fans of the genre as a cornerstone of melodic death metal…some even credit the disc as the true genesis of the genre.  All I know is that it was unlike anything I’d ever heard at the time and it’s an easy inclusion on the 10 Best of the Abyss.

From the first notes of opener “Thousand Lakes” you can just feel that you’re about to be taken somewhere you’ve never been before.  The heaviness of the guitars and the power of the music is actually elevated by the tasteful use of keyboard textures, which often weave counter-melodies in and out of the main song riffs and bring both warmth and a sense of coldness at the same time.

My favorite track here has to be “Black Winter Day,” where the keyboards bring a very distinct fantasy-feel to the music.  I’m just drawn in by those keyboard melodies to this day, and I have to chuckle remembering my ex-wife hearing it for the first time and saying it sounded like irritating Nintendo music.   The world of Amorphis is one of longing, and one of fantasy and grandeur. 

Other favorite moments on this seemless disc are the amazing “Forgotten Sunrise” and album closer “Magic and Mayhem.”  Showing that these Fins have quite the sense of humor, the CD contains a bonus track – a remake of The Doors’ classic “Light My Fire” replete with those guttoral growls.  Death never sounded so sexy! hahahahahaha

Rating:  5 out of 5

Tiamat – Wildhoney

   1994 Century Media

The best testimony to the greatness of this Tiamat album is the fact that people I know who aren’t fans of heavy music (much less heavy, dark metal) liked this disc.  It is by all means heavy and dark, but the classical elements and orchestration are absolutely breathtaking, this being the first recording I ever heard that I felt paid tribute the symphonic elements of Celtic Frost’s monumental ‘Into the Pandemonium’.

The opening title track builds on a symphonic and almost operatic arrangement that melds darkly and strangely with the heavy guitars and abrasive vocals.  ‘Whatever That Hurts’ and ‘Gaia’ are a couple of high points, while “Do You Dream of Me?” and “Planets” bring to light a darkly romantic otherworldliness that permeates every second of music here.

7 years prior, Celtic Frost released the classic and seminal Into the Pandemonium, wherein they were the first of the dark/death metal bands to incorporate female operatic vocals, symphonic elements and sheer gothic drama into their music.  I’ve always felt that CF never got the credit they deserved for their innovation, but rest assured their influence is evident with releases like this.  And I mean that as a definite compliment to Tiamat, as they’ve taken that innovation and woven their own tapestry-like masterpiece in their own unique way.    From the dramatic background voices (think of the intro to This Corrosion by Sisters of Mercy) to the arrangement and orchestration of the music, this is a deep, challenging and truly unique listen.

It’s hard to describe, really, Tiamat creating a truly magic atmosphere on this disc which is widely regarded by fans as their very best.   They offered something different from their inception, ‘Wildhoney’ being the culmination of years honing their sound into something heavy beyond the mere heavy distortion of their guitars.

Rating:  4.5 out of 5

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Paradise Lost – One Second

Paradise Lost One Second Album Cover   1997 Music for Nations

This album pissed off a whole slew of Paradise Lost fans at the time, including me. I hated it.  It wasn’t Draconian Times and it definitely wasn’t Shades of God.   Not that I wanted rehashes of those albums, but I really loved the power of those huge guitars mixed with Nick Holmes‘ vaguely melodic death growls.

Well, here we are 10 years later and I’ve changed my tune. Perhaps after watching Paradise Lost evolve from the total grindcore of their debut puker to the heavy-yet-accessible metalgoth of Draconian Times to the Sisters/Depeche-influenced stylings of the 4 discs that comprise their middle years, it all makes sense to me now and I can appreciate what was in retrospect a very natural progression.

One Second is the CD where Paradise Lost first truly embraced their goth leanings that first truly came to light on the preceding masterpiece, Icon.  I was there for the debut and have been a fan since “Gothic,” and I’ve gotta admit this is really good stuff.  I wouldn’t rate it a 5 simply because there are some clunkers in the mix (hey, nobody’s perfect), but it’s a fascinating hook-ridden album that provides a fine transition into their baffling-yet-interesting goth-electronic phase that fans either loved or hated.

Some really strong tracks are to be found, like Say Just Words and Another Day…and damn if Soul Courageous isn’t just my fave Paradise Lost track forever and ever amen.  This disc isn’t nearly as SisterModefied as, say, Host or Symbol of Life, but you can definitely hear the beginning of the transition.

Dive in with an open mind and enjoy the music.

Rating:  4 out of 5 

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Lake of Tears – Moons and Mushrooms

Lake of Tears - Moons and Mushrooms   2007 Dockyard Recordings

I was so looking forward to hearing this CD. LOT put me under their spell with the “A Crimson Cosmos” CD and it has been an interesting, fun and somewhat bumpy ride ever since. If you read my review for LOT’s “Black Brick Road” CD (my fave, right up there with …Cosmos), what made that CD charming is precisely what makes this one sometimes cringe-worthy.

With English being Daniel Brennare‘s second language, the phrasing in his lyrics can be quite unique and charming. Conversely, it can sometimes make one cringe with phrases that just don’t work. And when they don’t work when you read the lyrics, chances are they’ll sound pretty uncomfortable when they’re sung.

To wit:
“It’s a new kind of thing
and it comes with the morning
Some new kind of fuzz
You need some new kind of buzz”
– from “You Better Breathe While There’s Still Air”
And “Makes me feel just like a leaf…”, well you get the picture.

The music is just average compared to their other work, but it’s hard to criticize because you can just hear that they poured everything they have into the making of this disc.
I dunno, the effort gets an “A” but the finished work is a “C”, especially following the brilliance that was “Black Brick Road.”

Rating:  3 out of 5 

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