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Well here we are with another Thrash act's "sell-out" album. Actually this is not a "sell-out" album by any means (that title is reserved for other acts), it's just a curse that happened to just about every thrash band during the 90's; Band X releases some now well-renowned album, builds a following, enjoys success, and then comes the changing of the tide. Band X tries something different or tries to keep up with the times and then so hits the "what used to be a good band but we still love them" feel amongst their fan base which is usually divided into two camps: Camp A being the ones who fucking swear by their masterpieces and want nothing to do with anything else and simply won't acknowledge or forgive a band for changing...(which I think not every band deserves these types of conservative-minded douche bags)...and then there is Camp B which are the ones who were never around during the band's heyday and later on found out about them and somehow find that the majority of their music both their best and supposedly worst music is all good by their ears. I'm more of a Camp B type of metal head. Variety is the spice of life, that goes with food, music, sex, etc. Y'know it keeps things interesting and never stale or banal or same ol' same ol'. Truth be told only certain bands can put out the same style of music for over 30 years and get away with it, others do and they try to convince themselves that they are still relevant, and then there are those that just are doing everything in their power to stay active by whatever means possible. Coroner doesn't really fit any of those 3 options.
Coroner were one of those here today/gone tomorrow type acts who found some success and released some really technical thrash albums during when thrash was still able to reign with ease. Meaning they weren't a trendy type of mundane thrash, they were quite the opposite actually. They definitely had their own style, sense of personality, sense of originality, and sense of following their own path. Plus they also had help from fellow Swiss Celtic Frost main man Tom G. Warrior to add to their resume. This all helps Coroner in the long run. Kinda like the black sheep of the thrash metal genre. Not so much hated, but they were doing their own thing when everyone was trying to sound like the big 4 of thrash. So after 3 excellent albums of them showing how well they were able to progress by leaps and bounds, the 90's come with "Mental Vortex" and it's not as thrashy or over-fucking-technical-with-a-million -riffs such as "No More Color" which is seen as an unspoken masterpiece (my vote goes to "Punishment Of Decadence" on that topic). But it's still a legitimate thrash album. Slightly more toned-down but still thrash....a couple years later and it's 1993. Thrash is officially fucking killed off. Coroner releases "Grin" and like a lot of bands, they simply got tossed aside.
"Grin" is not a bad album by any means. No. "Grin" is one of those type of albums where the band starts saying "Well, guess we better start playing something more modern if we want to keep some sort of success"-type thing. Didn't work. I think after "Mental Vortex" they had progressed so much that they done everything within their means and limits that they just couldn't do it. Even when they do with "Grin", you can hear the band is simply not as energetic or enthusiastic as they once sounded. The sound production is nice and warm sounding. Every instrument is well-sounding. Drums? Pounding. Bass? Throbbing. Guitars? Crystal clear. Vocals? I hear'em. It's all there. It's just the style had differed. Coroner sounds even more toned-down and more mid-90's sounding. There's more groove. There's more quasi sampling. Not as technical. Not as blazing fast. Riffs? Simplistic. The lyrics? More cryptic in a way. "Grin" is just a tough nut to crack. It sounds more Prong-influenced than anything else....specifically Prong's "Beg To Differ" album/era.
The only song that may seem Coroner-like is "Internal Conflict" with it's speed. But this speed is more Ministry-esque. There's no drum machines or any Industrial of the sort, but the song resonates a strong Ministry-tone. It's a good riff. Damn good riff. But it's extremely simplistic. Songs such as "Paralyzed, Mesmerized" and "Status: Still Thinking" are slower, more lurching and heavy on being moody where as others such as "Caveat (To The Coming)" which is simply put one of the weirdest intro melodies ever to a Coroner song, weaves in and out of a simplistic Prong groove. I would have liked to see Coroner take that intro riff and built something around it because it stands out as one of those melodies where you could have seen the band do something better with rather go into something that is not as exciting. "Serpent Moves"...mmm....oh yeah that's Prong alright. Even going past Prong to a Helmet vibe. I mean, yes it's 1993, but Nu-Metal hasn't even hit yet. Yeah it does get a bit testy in some areas. Even the instrumentals see the band struggling to put something in there to add as filler and unfortunately that's all they are. They're not memorable. The only other song that seems to stick-out is the title track which is minimal thrash.
All and all, "Grin" is just a weird album. It's a good weird album, but a weird album nonetheless. Another example of how thrash died a silent death in 1993 when Black and Death Metal were dominating the landscape with more sonic/brutal/eviler forms of metallic distortion. I wouldn't advise a person who has never heard of Coroner before to start with this album as a form of introduction. Start with their first 3 albums then progress forward only if you have an open-mind.
About the time Coroner released their 5th album Grin, there was a noticeable pox upon thrash metal. Almost all of its better acts on both sides of the pond were suffering identity crises, compensating with often empty externalizations into new sounds. To the faithful, this was referred to as a natural evolution or progression, but in reality it seemed more like a desperate attempt to survive in the changing landscape of the 90s, when so many of the fans were bridging into grunge, rap core and other 'alternatives'. This blight fell upon most of the best in the business, including European heroes like Coroner. Mental Vortex might have sent out a few feelers into a newer, groove oriented, minimal expanse of exploration, but Grin more fully embraces the metamorphosis.
So much so, in fact, that without Ron Royce's familiar vocals, it would be difficult to identify this as the same band who produced Punishment for Decadence and No More Color. Where two years prior they were dabbling in less exciting, less showy fare focused on dark, central thrash riffs and a bluesier capacity to the leads, this is a work of simple rhythmic patterns, industrial and world music components, driven steadily by the bass rather than the guitars. I'd compare it to Sepultura's transition from the Beneath the Remains era to Chaos A.D., also in 1993. The bands really don't sound much alike, but the Brazilians also got in touch with their inner, tribal children to spout primitive, powerful hooks and offer the listener variation in themes and instrumentation. Coroner does not do a bad job of this. There's a particular, hypnotic modernism happening here that makes for an ultimately interesting, if slightly disappointing experience.
It doesn't take long to experience the shift in strategy, as the intro is a tribal percussion piece with some didgeridoo known as "Dream Path". "The Lethargic Age" follows, a simple thrash hammering that shows some promise with the opening chords and swells of bass, but then the verse seems incredibly bare, tiny polished chugs alongside the sparse, tinny rock beat. It's sort of catchy, but nowhere near the level of their 80s material, and even the lead seems more like one you'd find on any random hard rock record. The Aliens sample that inaugurates the next piece, "Internal Conflicts" helps to ramp up the excitement, and this is quite comparable to Beg to Differ era Prong, clean thrash with a mechanical vibe; a Sepultura-style groove arriving briefly around 1:15. There's a far cooler groove breakdown at 2:30 where Ron's repetitious vocal line creates a spell of hypnosis, but otherwise I've always found the track lacking.
"Caveat (To the Coming)" features a pretty swell intro with flowing clean guitars and playground samples that create a deceptive bliss before the transition into some bland groove rock guitars, but the bass bridges with the ringing guitars aren't half bad (if predictable). "Serpent Moves" is much the same, once it picks up, however the riffs here are sufficiently snakelike that it stands out as one of the more memorable tracks on the album; and the Voivod-spun "Status: Still Thinking" is likewise a favorite. "Paralyzed, Mesmerized" and "Grin (Nails Hurt)" are both solid, with 1-2 curious sequences found in each, but there is clearly some needless padding there. "Host" once again reminds me of Voivod with the great, off center melodic chords over the thrum of the bass (Nothingface era), and that breakdown at :45 is just creepy; ditto for Ron's spoken word narration (not unlike "Last Entertainment"), but once the guitars pick up it begins to null out.
When you compare Grin to what other noted thrashers like Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica and Destruction were inevitably going to shit forth over the course of the 90s, then it really doesn't seem all that much of a letdown. It's intelligent and well paced for the most part, just stylistically barren when you consider how explosive the band's earlier compositions had been. Unique enough that it should be listened to at least once, but there is definitely a 'running out of steam' sensation at work here, reinforced in hindsight by the fact that the band would call it quits the following year. To that effect, it seems a bit dull for a swansong. The trio would assemble a few unreleased tracks for the later Coroner compilation, but as far as any future prospects, the fat lady had already begun her incantations.
By 1993, Coroner's evolution from a flat-out technical thrash band into something more refined and contemplative was complete. The seminal album-in-transition was "Mental Vortex," a record that brilliantly bridged the gap between that earlier era and this one, Coroner's final chapter, "Grin."
"Grin" is almost completely loosened from the moorings of thrash and invests itself more deeply in a form of hypnotically entrancing pseudo-industrial. Songs are often mid-tempo, repetitive, and experimental in the context of structure, soloing, and accentuation. A reliance on ambience and dissonance, previously only hinted at, rise to the fore. Striding that careful balance of post-thrash triangulated with industrial, melodic, and progressive elements, Coroner wrote a near-masterpiece that has only revealed its true qualities in retrospect. Willfully ahead of its time, "Grin" has matured into a statement as strong as anything in the band's back catalog.
'The Dream Path,' an esoteric opening segue of tribal drums and ambient noodlings, leads us into 'The Lethargic Age' with its corrosive cascades of dissonant chords, rumbling bass, and chop-chop drum beats. The ramped-up atmosphere and moodiness of this song sets a strong tone for the rest of the album. Coroner's records have always been drenched in atmosphere. This one takes a particular place in the farthest flung reaches of the cosmic metal universe. It sounds like a demented carnival ride through outer space.
Following hot on the heels of 'The Lethargic Age' is 'Internal Conflicts,' one of the best Coroner songs ever recorded. Those who argue they'd left trash far behind need to readjust their mindset. 'Internal Conflicts' launches a hot dose of double-time thrash, galloping double bass, and wicked soloing, perhaps Vetterli's best solo ever. This song is truly incredible. When the breakdown hits and double bass kicks back in, well, it's bliss. A perfectly structured song. 'Caveat (To The Coming)' is startling. The clean melodic guitar tones, samples of laughing children, and off-time drumming are almost painterly in their composition. When the song itself kicks in, it is streamlined, effective, mid-tempo rock with a haunting bridge -- the riff of which becoming an enduring motif for the rest of the song.
Another truly powerful track is the ethereal, mind bending 'Host,' wherein Coroner gets the most out of their progressive mindedness -- the song is both the album's most evil and most beautiful, coupling Ron Broder's demonic shouts with a moodily angelic female backing vocalist, and gorgeous soloing. The song feels almost post-apocalyptic, approaching the level of industrial gloom ruled over by bands like Godflesh and Ministry without aping them on any level. A truly sublime piece.
The weaknesses on this album are minimal. Songs like 'Serpent Moves,' 'Status: Still Thinking' and 'Grin (Nails Hurt)' are generally very good, though they all start to meander towards the finish. A little tightening in general would diminish the drag that starts to set in during full listens. The production is strong, favoring the guitar and bass over the drums, which sound thin and almost pre-programmed. Given the lack of fills and overall sheer precision of his drum patterns, it wouldn't be hard to assume that Marky had been replaced by a drum machine.
Though divisive in its time, "Grin" has withstood age remarkably well and sounds almost as forward thinking now as it did then. Many other bands ripped liberally from this album's template in the 90's but none of them created an album as cohesive and exciting as this one.
Always have Coroner been a bit adventurous and Grin finds the band moving beyond the trappings of thrash to the oft-travelled, but rarely mastered, post-thrash road. When writing the album, Vetterli has clearly taken a step back, looked at his old albums and thought: "These are good, but the next one, it should be clearly different." And it is, quite vastly. You can hear that is it the same band that made Mental Vortex, but without that album inbetween, there is no line to be drawn from the earlier albums to Grin. The material found on the 1993 album is just that distinctly different from the technical thrash that they purveyed before. Gone are the intricate, technical thrash riffs and fast changes in tempo and time signature. Vetterli has decided to go with a much more streamlined approach.
Droning notes emitting from the mouth of a didgeridoo start off the album and are soon joined by tribal percussions. Together these two weave a ritualistic atmosphere, the beginning of a journey on a path to Dreamtime. This sets the tone of the album; it is a journey through the unknown, to the unknown. The traveler is beset by the conjurings of his imagination, the atmosphere of impending dread is omni-present, but it never comes to realization, which just makes it that much more tense. There's no real climax for it all, the dread just builds up and up, but since it is all in the imagination it is never released in the form of an actual materialization of these imagined, unknown horrors. It just slowly fades away at the end of every song, leaving the listener with a distinct sense of unease. This is all achieved with surprisingly little. The verse of "The Lethargic Path" is a good example; one-note riff with a simple one-two drumbeat in the background and the finishing piece; Broder's gruff, monotonic, even robotic vocal delivery. This is how the album works with very simple backgrounds and with either Broder's vocals, a melodic riff or Vetterli's solo in the foreground. Sometimes the first two show up at the same time, but it is comparatively rare.
The single-minded backgrounds are boiled down in the drums. The beats are unchanging for the duration of their parts and there are hardly no fills at all. This serves to provide a ritualistic atmosphere to the album with the slower parts especially feeling a lot like ceremonies to ward off the dangers lurking in the darkness beyond the traveler's field of vision. Usually at the slower parts, Marky's beats are a bit off the beaten path with him hitting the bass and snare at weird times, even if the time signature usually stays at the normal 4/4, adding much to that uneasy atmosphere the album exudes. On songs like Serpent Moves, Status: Still Thinking and Paralized, Mesmerized the beats are leisurely, sort of like they are just sort of jamming around, once again forming a perturbing juxtaposition with Broder's gruff and jarring vocals as well as the images they create. Edelmann was always the least technical member of the band, but the seeming lack of effort at creating unnervingly smooth and relaxed beats to go with the sharp riffs and aforementioned vocals is impressive.
Due to the ritualistic nature of the album, the riffs are always quite simplistic and contained. There's no frantic thrash riffing as on the early albums and also gone is the burgeoning, ever-developing riffs of Mental Vortex. On Grin Vetterli has written riffs that are sharp and effective wholes that are created for only one purpose and exactly that, nothing else. The guitar tone itself is dry and sharp as well, working well together with Vetterli's chosen style. There's not much low-end on it, but that part is brought up well by Broder's bass which is given quite a lot of room in the production. His solos aren't as showy as they used to be either. They're still very melodic and some of the best ever laid down, but they aren't the "cram as many notes into it as I can" solos that he used to play on the first two albums.
As is customary, the best has been saved for last: the last four tracks offer the most masterful writing of the album. Theme for Silence is an interlude of sorts where the didgeridoo of the intro once again makes an appearance, continuing the Dreamtime ritual-theme though this time it echoes as if from a distance and is joined by the sounds of wilderness: The quest is on the way already. This is only a brief waking moment until you fall asleep again. Paralized, Mesmerized is the ultimate of the more loungey feeling songs since Marky's beat never strays from that leisurely beat and feel except for the long tom-fill that leads to the three choruses of the song as well as the more intense last solo spot which also features a thrash riff for a brief moment. The verses feature a simple riff that fades away to give room for Royce's slightly effectized vocals to come in - just like he was singing for a lounge band - and do their creepy work. The tense atmosphere is held up mostly by the melodic riffs Vetterli comes up with combined with the simplistic riffs of the verse. The melody in the first part and the arpeggio in the latter part of the chorus manage this most effectively. Most reminiscent of their earlier work is mayhaps the next song, the title track. It moves at a fast pace and has more of an industrial feel to it in comparison to the rest. The song relies much on this said influence: Gruff direct vocals, grinding, relentless riffs and drums that keep hitting and pounding whether there is or isn't something to hit and pound.
Finally there's just one door, one door unlocked and to be opened and that is Host. All the tension and atmosphere of the album finally culminates on this last song. As is often the case on Grin - the album, everything gets off to a laid back start, Royce's bass taking the lead. It plays a much larger part on this song than others. As things wind down with the bass still in lead, Royce's calm, spoken voice comes in to murmur a few nerve-wracking lines. A guitar - slightly more distorted than before - joins in with the bass and a tom-fill slowly cascades to the surface and as it reaches its zenith, everything is burst loose. The bass and guitar hit the riff full on, drums fully join in and Broder's rough, distorted vocals kick in with a snarl. "It breeds! It lives!" The second half of the song, with the nightmare done and dreamquest completed, the lounge band finally gets its real lounge moment. Broder whips out a fretless bass and really slides up and down those strings while Vetterli stays away, only briefly joining with a vibratoed riff in the background. There is also some lyricless female singing in the background giving the sense of still being in a dream. But at least the nightmare is over. Or is it? As the song nears its end, background keyboards become evident and turn dark with their dissonant riff and as the band fades away, only the dissonance remains and is joined by the sounds of the Host as you realize entering this was all a mistake.
Now if you are a thrash fan and are expecting the final release to be stylistically similar to prior efforts, don't even bother checking this album out. The Swiss outfit never released the same album twice, each album progressing into its own unique sound filled with chaotic rhythms with varied time signatures. However, this album is heavily toned down rhythmically. It is a much easier listen in comparison to RIP, Punishment or No More Color.
The thrash influence is minimal. A better description for the sound on this album would be Progressive/Industrial tinged groove/thrash. There are occasional thrash riffs here and there such as the main 'Internal Conflicts' riff and the chorus during 'Grin Nails Hurt', but don't expect anything like say Sudden Fall or Masked Jackal off Punishment... which is still my personal favorite release by this band followed by no more color, mental vortex, and rip.
But set personal preference aside, I also heavily enjoy the early 90's output of bands such as Anacrusis, Prong and Voivod whose sound went in a similar direction to this final release by Coroner. There are many spoken vocal parts and intros reminding me of the late 80's industrial sound Ministry had. There are still bizarre and technical riffs throughout the record, just not in vast quantities.
Many of the riffs are simplistic and repeated throughout the song, but if you are into atmosphere and can set aside the fact that the chaotic Coroner sound is no where to be found, this album is for you. The album is definitely ahead of its time being released in 1993. Stylistically, this album is a natural progression from Mental Vortex. If you like the sound on Mental Vortex, this album is worth checking out for you. The song 'son of lilith' off that album is the best example of the sound Coroner progressed to on Grin. Rather than constantly changing technical rhythms n previous efforts, the band began to focus on atmosphere over riffs.
It is definitely understandable why this album would be discarded by Coroner fans. Their trademark sound disappeared with Mental Vortex more so actually on No More Color. If you were to set aside the fact that this is a Coroner album and appreciate the music for what it is, you may enjoy it. Once again if you like more atmospheric progressive metal such as 'Screams and Whispers' by Anacrusis or 'The Outer Limits' by Voivod and some early industrial, and if you like the mid paced groove/thrash style of 'King of the Hill' by Annihilator give this album a listen.
If you enjoy the trademark Coroner sound, or raw and technical thrash, do not bother with this album. If you hate the progressive sound in any of the comparable bands that I mentioned, this album is not for you. When listening to this album, I appreciate the songs for their atmosphere and composition and despite the immense stylistic change, the album is easily recognizable as Coroner. The distinct shouts of Royce, and the solo style of Tom Baron especially in the Serpent Moves or Internal Conflicts solos are undeniably Coroner.
Despite being my least favorite album by Coroner, I think this album is truly good for the style it belongs to. Maybe Coroner should have ended it with Mental Vortex because that album was their last thrash effort, but even when diverging to a new genre, Coroner did it well. With every release, they have a unique original sound and without a doubt, Grin has it's own unique sound. Originality can be bad in the fact that it alienates the fans of the music, but Coroner still retained bits of their trademark style. I applaud Coroner for their ability to create a unique sound for every effort they released even if the later albums are not stylistically appealing to fans of the earlier albums.
If you are a die hard thrash fan completely disgusted by atmospheric and progressive music, but are heavily into Coroner, there may be something on this album that appeals to you, but without a doubt, it is not worth hearing if you dislike the direction the band went in after No More Color.