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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