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Rictus of Madness - 90%

televiper11, November 18th, 2010

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.