Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Coroner - R.I.P. (1987)

While they would easily prove one of the most proficient, memorable and talented European thrash acts to hatch in the 80s, Switzerland's Coroner arrived through humble beginnings. They started out as a more traditional metal outfit until their 1986 demo Death Cult, and they had strong connections to that 'other' legendary Swiss band, Celtic Frost. Tommy 'T Baron' Vetterli and Markus 'Marquis Marky' Edelmann served as roadies for the Tragic Serenades tour. Oliver Amberg (who would later join Frost for their unpopular Cold Lake years) was an early part of the lineup. Most notably, Tom G. Warrior himself performed the vocals on the Death Cult demo, when the style of the band shifted closer to the entity that the once unstoppable Noise records would snap up in a heartbeat.

For the most part, though, that is where the similarities between the two bands end. Coroner could not have been any more different from the demonic, experimental black doom thrashers. They were writing highly technical, neo-classically charged infusions of thrash with the world had not yet encountered. Hell, with the exception of bands like Germany's Mekong Delta (or Deathrow on the Deception Ignored album), we haven't really encountered since. About the one trait that could be comparable would be the vocals of Ron Roye (aka Ron Broyer), which are not dissimilar to Tom Warrior, a dark and throaty concoction that conjures a barbaric, brute juxtaposition with the manic, exhilarating guitar work. Truly, we had bands out there playing with crass intensity that could twist skulls straight off their vertebrae (Slayer, Dark Angel, Tankard just to name a few); but none of these had Tommy T Baron, a shred-born anomaly who would tirelessly execute Baroque and other hyperventilated scales with fluid precision in the core riffs of the compositions (disregarding the actual leads).

Even more impressive is that the rhythm section was not intimidated in the slightest by this raving lunatic. Royce is highly capable himself, traversing the same grounds on the bass where needed; and Edelmann, though rooted in the traditional metal and rock drumming, provided a tight formation over which the pair could spiral off into madness. R.I.P. is a mind warping beast of a debut, potent and graceful in its controlled chaos, imbued with an unwavering morbidity that easily justified their chosen handle. Granted, a lot of the ideas here would be further exploited and perfected through the band's next pair of albums, Punishment for Decadence and No More Color, two of the greatest works I've ever had the privilege to own, but for its day, the debut is quite close to perfect itself, with an airy and wonderful Harris Johns mix. Seriously, this guy had a radar attractor to talent, and Coroner is yet another act he helped unveil to the world through his studio wizardry.

I am not exaggerating when I claim that this Swiss band, at least from 1987 through 1991, represented one of the high water marks of thrash metal, helping set such a standard for this genre that I have been forever spoiled for so many of the pathetic throwbacks and neanderthals who have tried to redefine it to a more primate state since. Coroner do more than just make you never want to pick up an instrument again out of envy: they write damned good songs. They pace their albums extremely well. Here, the beautiful pianos and resonant flutes of the intro are broached with windy samples, as if a trace of sunlight were dawning upon a sepulcher, its still denizens about to awaken, pick up instruments and channel the brilliant composers of years past. Then those very same undead minstrels flog the living fuck out of thee with "Reborn Through Hate", one of the best songs on this album and one of the highlights of the band's career, its snakelike, menacing rhythms colliding into the gymnastics of the bass and drums, and Royce giving his 'official' introduction with barked, almost constipated force.

"When Angels Die" offers a few plush, atmospheric chords before it spins off into a frenzied foreshadowing of the guitar lines that would later manifest on "Mistress of Deception" (No More Color), and then a dour, acoustic intro with war samples and shredding transforms into the song "Nosferatu", which is naught more than beautiful, climactic shredding with some atmospheric glaze and keyboard strikes, but ambitious nonetheless. This is not an album short on highlights. "Suicide Command" will dizzy you with its high strung intro before the fast paced razor speed of the verse erupts. "R.I.P." has a lush, attractive intro, an echoed vocal narrative over thick bass lines and clean, reverbed guitars before a thundering mid gait. "Coma" and "Totentanz" are likewise legendary extractions, and I love the atmospheric charge of the 'outro' with its angelic choir synthesizers. Perhaps the only songs I don't blow my lid and load over immediately are "Fried Alive" and "Spiral Dreams", the latter hailing from the Death Cult demo and included only on the CD version of the debut, but both are competent and do nothing to break the momentum.

The amount of effort placed in a debut like this is earthshaking. From a composition standpoint, there was more going on in particular tracks than some thrashers create for an entire album. Yet, Coroner never feels like they are wanking off, or overindulging themselves. Certainly there is some degree of flash and flair due to Vetterli's exorbitant performance, but it all fits into the puzzle so beautifully that it just never occurs that he might be showing off. In a period already saturated with so many great or even brilliant albums (Reign in Blood, Finished With the Dogs, Master of Puppets, Zombie Attack, Terrible Certainty, Darkness Descends all just a few examples), the Swiss band still managed to stand out as one to watch with a frightening anticipation, and a superb setup to its spotless successors.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (they've been waiting for years)

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