Coroner – No More Color (1989)
A sign that your metal genre has made it commercially is that people are producing a particularly elaborate and ornate variant on it. Coroner’s roots stretch back to the early ’80s (including a collaboration with Tom Warrior of Celtic Frost), but their full lengths set benchmarks for musical proficiency that admittedly were soon broken by more extreme metal musicians.
No More Color hews pretty close to the standard, mainstream “thrash” sound of the late 1980s, with short, conventionally structured, punchy songs that still contain a great deal of variety and skilled musicianship; particularly of the shred/solo variety. I don’t know if Coroner identified with “neoclassical” metal musicians like Yngwie Malmsteem to any degree, but the melodicism and ornamentation that I hear on this album’s songs sometimes reminds me of the idea of such, even if not necessarily the actual recordings. Again, I can’t make comparisons to recordings I haven’t properly digested without wrecking my credibility. Digressions aside, this also manifests as a particular emphasis on instrumentation over lyrics and vocals, as the shouted/spoken vocals here tend towards burying short, sparse phrases in the mix. At best, they contribute to the texture, and they never feel like the focus of the music. I’m not sure the mix problem is even intentional, but overall it doesn’t bother me as much as some issues I’ve heard in other albums’ productions.
What distinguishes Coroner from some of the other techy thrash bands I’ve discussed is that outside the ornaments, they often rely on relatively simple patterns to build their songs. For instance, “Mistress of Deception” is full of basic tritone riffs, but a couple of them (like the intro riff) have extensive, almost frilly guitar runs tacked onto their ends. Maybe it’s related to the Celtic Frost link! I wouldn’t assume such, personally, since by 1989 Celtic Frost had become rather… weird. You could make a case that the technical flourishes are extraneous to the core of the music; more on that later. Coroner does display some merit in the deeper levels/aspects of their songs here, though – subtle variations on the typical pop song structures emphasized by the use of varied bridge material, skilled use of melodic/harmonic reinforcement, and so forth. That the ‘surface’ technicality of No More Color exceeds that of its underlying substrate is worth noting, but while you could imagine a simplified Coroner that didn’t perform as well or as rigorously, such a band would gut itself badly, almost as its members were to decapitate themselves while shaving off stubble with a safety razor.
As a final exercise, compare Coroner’s flashy and technical elaboration on speed/thrash metal to an accessible simplification of a more difficult sort of music, like Slaughter of the Soul by At the Gates. At least in this example, Coroner comes out ahead by producing a strong and consistently entertaining work without losing their essence, and I would go so far as to argue it’s easier to elaborate than to simplify in the realm of metal.
Highlights: “Read My Scars”, “D.O.A”, “Tunnel of Pain”