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For many great music artists, the fourth album represents something special, a defining statement or culmination of career ambitions. Led Zeppelin had their untitled fourth album, Megadeth gave us Rust in Peace, and Darkthrone unleashed the nightmare of Transylvanian Hunger upon this earth. Even the Beatles, whose early efforts could be characterized as bubblegum and pabulum, began to develop an identity and artistic vision with their fourth album. Coroner gave us something truly beautiful. Mental Vortex.
As the ‘80s rolled into the ‘90s, many thrash bands lost steam. The style fell out of favor in Europe, and mutated to a more blues-based “groove metal” variant in the States. Coroner never had a presence in the US, and so their following waned from its already modest numbers. Noise Records found itself in financial trouble, and consequently the last two Coroner albums saw limited distribution, with almost no promotion. It’s a crying shame, because Mental Vortex is an earth-shattering masterpiece.
The first three Coroner records all raced towards thrash metal’s limits of speed and complexity, seemingly reaching a limit on No More Color, an album which could also have been called “No More Breathing Room.” Realizing that there are only so many notes you can pile onto one piece of music while calling it a “song,” the band opted not to cram twelve gallons of shit into a six gallon jug. It’s a lesson latter day Dream Theater might well take to heart.
Coroner instead peeled back the layers of guitar, tweaked up the bass to fatten the texture of their riffs, and let the melodies hang by sinewy threads. The boys were moving years ahead of the game now, foreshadowing the rise of melodic death metal. Time and tempo blurred like a molten alloy. Edelmann and Vetterli were playing with fire, and you could hear them cackle with glee as the rulebook burned. Songs like Metamorphosis and Divine Step are staggering and obstinate monoliths of artistic vision. The best aspect of Mental Vortex is that if it were recorded today, no one would think it out of date.
This album is slightly controversial with thrash fans, due to its simplified sound and reduced tempos. There is a genuine perception that most thrash bands sold out in the 1990s, slowing and simplifying their sound in order to attain commercial success. Much of this is true, but Coroner do not deserve guilt by association. This band had no chance at gaining play on radio or MTV, and they knew it. Broken English was their second language, the lead singer had a skullet, and perhaps most importantly, this album still sounded distinctly like Coroner, not Metallica or Pantera. There is a slight Megadeth influence, but that leads to a more affirming conclusion: this is the sort of album that should have followed Rust in Peace
And unlike most of their contemporaries, Coroner knew enough to quit while they were ahead.