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After an album like No More Color, Coroner might have just pulled up their tent posts, packed in their supplies and left the rest of us stunned and wandering through the ashes of astonishment, unable to escape the grim new reality they had opened through a window of precision craftsmanship. But this was a touring band, a power trio trying to make their stamp on the world beyond the cult following they had developed. To this extent, they have gone all out with the 4th full-length, Mental Vortex, so far as to record it down in Florida at Morrisound with Tom Morris. One can certainly ascertain the difference here; it's far more controlled and 'zen'. Not to say that the band have lost their touch for a climactic escalation through Tommy Vetterli's performance, but in all this feels like a stripping down of the spiraling wonders of their previous albums.
Unfortunately, this dive in complexity is relative to a descent in overall quality, a trend that would continue into their even more minimal follow-up, Grin. Mental Vortex is still a great album, with five near legendary Coroner tracks in its eaves, but this is the first case in which I felt any of my attentions slipping. Part of this is the cover of The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" included as a core element of the album. They perform it effortlessly, and even manage to extract its sullen, bluesy darkness to a new height, but it simply does not concur with the band's sharper, original material. I'm also not an enormous fan of the opener, "Divine Step (Conspectu Mortis)". It creates a steady, frantic step through the punch of its discordant verses, so it's a decent enough start to the proceedings, but it's about 7 minutes without that one riff I always expect from a Coroner track to blow my mind clean out of my temple. I enjoy its mellow, spacious bridge segment for the contrast against the band's typical busiwork, but that metallic, misanthropic orgasm of guitar is nowhere to be found.
"Son of Lilith" is likewise not a favorite of mine, but there are a few pretty killer riffs hovering there that do well to build appropriate tension. As for the rest of the content, it's superb, if somewhat drier than Punishment for Decadence or No More Color due to the polish of the mix. "Semtex Revolution" alternates a flowing if simplistic speed lick with a swaggering, arching melody and some nice vocal finesse, all to a steady rock beat. "Sirens" follows at largely the same gate, with some more amazing verse vocals, and a killer breakout groove that they steadily lift the thrashing towards just before 2 minutes. "Metamorphosis" is inaugurated with some whale like squeals and smooth bass, before the choppy melodic guitars lead to a glorious, marching riff so incredibly bare boned that you have to wonder how no one had come up with it before; and "About Life" is perhaps the closest track on the album to the material of No More Color, with a superb charging note pattern in the verse. Best of all, though, is "Pale Sister" with its frenzied Vetterli cycles, some of the fastest on the album, another sweet groove in the chorus, great leads, and an unexpected but catchy breakdown after the final chorus.
Perhaps it's a symptom that the band were so busy the previous few years penning labyrinthine exercises in genius, or perhaps a conscious decision to boil the writing down to what they felt were the important, underlying musical themes. Coroner was not the only band doing so in 1991, there was a far more visible example (Metallica), but the Swiss clearly weren't deviating that far from their origins in R.I.P. That said, Mental Vortex does not have nearly so much to offer as its elder siblings. The material is sufficiently dark, riff-strewn and superior to the lion's share of thrash in the early 90s which was grinding the genre to a halt, but it half turns its back on the frenetic displays of passion that brought the band to the foreground of Europe's most promising bands. Creative. Curious. Not all that exhilarating. Sadly, there would be no turning back, as the following, more groove turned, mechanical album would prove to be the straw that broke this camel's back.