Coroner - Punishment for Decadence (1988)
After R.I.P. proved that these Swiss thrashers could write technical and entertaining thrash metal, the pressure was on to come up with something special. I think they managed to up the ante when it comes to technicality, while managing to keep the song writing well and truly in control, which is an impressive feat. Once again, Tommy's guitar work is astoundingly brilliant, and he always seems to do it so easily. I've always enjoyed Ron's vocals even though they don't stand out as being overly impressive technically. They just fit the music so damn well I guess and he's always intelligible, which is certainly not always the case with metal.
Absorbed, Arc-Lite, Skeleton on Your Shoulder, Shadow of a Lost Dream and The New Breed are all great tracks but it's Masked Jackal that highlights the album in my opinion. Taking everything into account and after all this praise, I'm still only going to give Punishment For Decadence 4 stars. They would release even better albums after this and while it's consistently entertaining throughout, I always get the feeling that they could do something even more amazing. If you're into thrash metal but like things on the technical side rather than the straight-out brutal side, then Coroner are not to missed!
When I've first heard of this band Coroner, I didn't like it at first because I didn't have much of the 80s thrash appeal, but now I've built slight tolerance for some of the best technical thrash metal power reaching the end of thrash's golden decade. Despite being just a live band now until an upcoming album comes out, I still understand their high-level focused musicality that reigns supreme!
The production was outstanding, allowing the thick aggressive drums to be heard without being rendered sterile. The guitar has quite a crunch that stands out. That and the gruff vocals of Ron Royce makes sure that the band doesn't sound like a clone of Metallica, specifically James Hetfield.
The 12-second "Intro" is an odd one, basically consisting of a lot of machinery and concluding with a scream, as if someone was driving a Hummer and accidentally drove off a cliff. Seems kinda pointless, but I'll live with that. It just foreshadows the heavy sampling that makes the album unique. Then the metal action bursts in with "Absorbed". It starts with the signature riffing by Tommy T. Baron, underlying audible bass, and rapid drumming. Ron comes in to yell the lyrics written by drummer Marquis Marky. I think the lyrics are about a guy who gets attacked and lives to see his friend getting killed. The victim who's alive then tries to move on and forget it but gets driven into insanity. Tommy does a mind-blowing solo before the first chorus, then after that chorus, he does another amazing solo better than the first! Ron's vocals work well for the chorus but not so much with the verses that tell the story. Besides that and the production, that song is pretty good. Then we have the ultimate song for Coroner and technical thrash metal, "Masked Jackal"! So amazing! The great riffs, the underlying bass, the rapid drums...all awesome, especially Tommy's tapping solos. Rarely have I heard any tremolo leading from him but it sounds pretty nice there. He overlays the guitar tone, playing both a distorted and clean chord. There's some sampling including a speech and audience applause. Both the amazing music and lyrics might remind some of Megadeth. In the lyrical story, the antagonist is a power-hungry dictator, while the protagonist is some guy thinking of whether or not the dictator's plans are worth it. Overall, that track is an amazing perfect one with Coroner's flawless skills!
Next is the real instrumental "Arc-Lite", which might sound like a thrashier take on Rush's instrumentals. Ron and Marky back Tommy up throughout the song and it works well. After a rapid drum roll intro rarely performed by Marky, it goes into a catchy riff hook that you need to hear to believe. It's just so amazing how in this instrumental, Tommy destroys everything more than any other thrash metal guitarist both American and European. Tommy can pick, skip, tap, and add some classical, jazz, and exotic influences into his amazing guitar playing. Ron didn't get to do his vocals for that song but we do get to experience his nice bass when listened closely. An instrumental shred ride that's never out of place! Next is "Skeleton on Your Shoulder". It sounds like a power ballad at first with acoustic guitar and choir sampling, then heads into a haunting guitar riff backed up by bass and drumming that might've been the inspiration for starting the groove metal genre. Soon it bursts into shredding and thrash metal mayhem. During the verses, Tommy once overlaps the clean and distorted guitar riffs together, sounding great and not like a cheat. Markus really adapts with the sudden time changes. Tommy also does nice tapping that make radical soloing. It's hard to decipher the eccentric lyrics but they can be interpreted in different ways and I say it's closer to an uncommon metal lyrical theme; drug use, specifically acid, which can be heard in the verse lyrics, the drug addiction that might make you dead inside. A great inventive song! Then the next song "Sudden Fall" would really get you hooked in attention. It starts with Tommy burst in a riff going high and low back and forth. Then it goes to a mid-paced groove-inspiring tempo before switching gears when the riffs come in. The thundering bass and rapid drums help the verses and chorus keep the catchiness factor. After a slower guitar riff in the chorus, the song switches to some clean guitar riff and ambient keyboards before going into a tapping solo with Tommy channeling his inner Kirk Hammett. Then it's back to the refrain riff played a little more frequently with a small vocal passage. Then it's back to the first two verses and a chorus repeating until fading while Tommy plays another solo. The lyrics are interesting, taking on the perspective of workers in mines.
"Shadow Of A Lost Dream" opens with a typical thrash riffing section before hinting the progressive groove affair that would later take on their experimental album Grin. The thrash is still there and both styles alternative between one another in the verses with different time and key changes. The lyrical theme here is uncommon for thrash metal besides other bands like Megadeth and is common is many other popular music genres; relationships. The lyrics are about a girl mad at her boyfriend for cheating on her, which you would expect more in an emo band. Of course, it's the instrumental talent and Tommy's soloing that makes the song nice and not like emo. That's probably the worst song of the album, but it still has nice sweeping. Next, "The New Breed" hooks you up with a catchy riff that would make you want more. It starts with a slow tempo before building up faster, then a quick break before Ron starts singing. Tommy's inventive riffing goes well with the incredible bass and technical drumming. Between the verse and chorus is a weird voice sampling. Interesting... More of the skipping, sweeping, and tapping are nicely mixed together into a sick solo with ruling riffs spinning around. The lyrics might be about the war in Afghanistan with the new generation of children born there having to face the terror. But still that song deserves to be on MTV and the radio. Up next is "Voyage to Eternity" which sounds closer to the power/speed metal that would influence Iced Earth. After that great opening to hook you up, it's back to the usual thrash fury with the usual drumming, bass riffs, and speedy guitar shreds. The lyrics that Ron reads out loud are about a spacecraft losing power and breaking down, just hurling into space leaving the pilot to suffer alone with no life support. That's one song in Punishment for Decadence to have a sci-fi theme, but it's not really as thought-provoking as the other songs. Fortunately, the alternate tapping and sweeping makes the song awesome to listen to. There's even a rocket engine sampling right after the solo. Marky's drumming is absolutely punishing in that amazing piece. The album doesn't end there yet, there's one more song and it's a Jimi Hendrix cover, "Purple Haze"! A thrash metal band covering Hendrix, who would've thought? The band executes it flawlessly. Tommy does great thrash shredding, and the rest of the band does a great playing it like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, though Ron's vocals sound nothing like Hendrix. A great fun song to listen to at the end of this dark ride!
Technical thrash is as underrated as this great band Coroner, compared to other bands. This band shows off perfect thrash musicianship, a nice break from later technical death metal bands like Cynic and Atheist who just feel like showing off, period. With Punishment for Decadence, Coroner's unique technical thrash deserves great credit!
Favorites: "Masked Jackal", "Skeleton on Your Shoulder", "The New Breed", "Voyage to Eternity", "Purple Haze"
This was my introduction to Coroner way back in 1988/89. I bought the album on cassette & listened to it quite regularly. It was certainly a much classier effort than their debut album "R.I.P." from the previous year but I still found myself struggling a little with Tommy's occasional neo-classical indulgences. Instrumental "Arc-Lite" with its Malmsteen-esque arpeggios was a particularly awkward listen for me as the neo-classical element seems to take away from the darkness of the atmosphere & at times it all seems a little cheesy. The rest of the album is generally quite enjoyable though with "Absorbed", "Sudden Fall" & "The New Breed" being the pick of the bunch. It's definitely a solid release but 80's Coroner never really appealed to me like 90's Coroner did.