Saturday, November 19, 2016

I'm glad it exists: "Criticism," fandom and Metallica's 'Hardwired ... to Self-Destruct'

For the benefit of those existing outside the bubble of "arts media," there is a strange set of phenomena that arrive when a major artist/band/director/etc. with a considerably lengthy career and extensive body of work unveils a new album/movie/etc., especially now, in the post-Twitter age. Some or all of these things happen, within days and even hours of the new work being made available:

1) Many line up on one side to breathlessly praise the new work, inevitably hailing it as said artist's "best since [insert title of canonical work by said artist]" or otherwise implying that is on some level a return to bygone glory.

2) An opposite faction stands skeptically aloof, refusing to engage with a new statement from a once-great artist who, they feel, is now past his/her/its prime.

3) One whose job it is to engage with the medium in question — and who, thus, exists within the online-centric micro-community of fellow commentators — feels compelled to form a more or less immediate, handily expressible opinion on the new work, and to gravitate almost inevitably toward the attitude of either of the aforementioned stances.

If all this sounds a bit absurd, and absurdly beside the point when it comes to the basic function of art, which is some combination of enrichment, enjoyment and escape, that's because it is. And it bums me out each time. Sometimes I get swept up in the rush and succumb to the temptation to Weigh In in some definitive way, and almost inevitably end up feeling stupid.

What I'm always looking for is a way to enjoy music and to respond to it without getting caught up in the Right and Wrong binary, or the compulsion — now that everyone's so continually distracted that only extreme, even reactionary opinions make an impression online — to frame it in some grand or provocative terms. Maybe that's why I favor the fundamentally casual, essentially first-person medium of blogging. There's no implication of Correctness here, just thinking out loud.

In that spirit, here are some things I think about the new Metallica album. (And/or that I think about when I think about the new Metallica album.)

(Note: I would strongly discourage you from watching this terrible, terrible music video. Just listen to the song.)

1) My basic opinion about Hardwired ... to Self-Destruct is that it is pretty good. Not exactly a headline-maker there! But that's where I'm at with it right now, after about two full, attentive listens and a few piecemeal spins. I think the album contains two truly great songs ("Moth Into Flame," "Spit Out the Bone") that anyone who has ever had even a remote interest in this band, or heavy metal in general, ought to hear immediately if they haven't already; a few more good, effective, enjoyable songs that I, as a serious Metallica fan of going on 25 years, find myself cranking up and submitting to with relish (a.k.a. rocking the fuck out to) ("Hardwired," "Atlas, Rise!" and one or two others such as "Now That We're Dead" that are steadily growing on me); and a fair amount of lesser tracks ("Am I Savage," "ManUNkind," "Murder One," etc.), which I either find boring, meandering or just sort of awkward and unmemorable.

Update, 11/20/16: Only digging this record more the more I play it. Little details and hidden moments coming to the fore, e.g. the amazing, epic bridge riff at around 5:10 in "Halo on Fire." "Confusion" also joining ranks of standout Hardwired songs.

2) I've heard a fair amount of that aforementioned "return to form" talk going around re: this album, and I'll admit that it's been bugging me a bit, for a few reasons. First is that I feel like much of the commentary I've read on Hardwired thus far seems to simply ignore 2008's Death Magnetic, Metallica's very good prior album. I revisited that album yesterday, and though I still can't overlook its obvious weak points (namely the ponderous ballads "The Day That Never Comes" and "The Unforgiven III"), I think that it's a more consistent record than Hardwired. It's also heavy, raw and, in spots, crazily complex. It's a fascinatingly dense album that I'm still finding new wonder in. (With time, of course, maybe it will be the same with Hardwired.) What I mean to say is that if you're the type to go in for the "return to form" narrative, and you're positioning Hardwired as Metallica's return to thrash glory after the wilderness years of Load/Reload (or even the Black Album, depending on your viewpoint), St. Anger, Lulu, etc., you might want to go back and take stock of what Death Magnetic had/has to offer. (Pardon the formatting when you follow this link, but here's my review of that album from back in '08.)

3) A related issue is this whole idea that a legacy band's mature/late work is only measurable in terms of its resemblance to its "classic"/canonical work. This is not only a reductive and myopic way to look at art; it's also a blatant sort of killjoy rubric, often inflicted upon one's self. Yes, Metallica made a series of titanically great, era- and genre-defining albums in the '80s. Records like Master of Puppets, ...And Justice for All and in a different way the Black Album (which was my gateway drug into this whole thing we call metal) helped me establish my personal paradigm for what a certain kind of epic, transportive "heavy" music ought to strive for. They set, in other words, an extremely high bar.

By the time of, say, Death Magnetic, Metallica was no longer, clearly, a band at the vanguard of metal, or of anything, really. The year 2008 was no longer Metallica's Time; in fact, many would've argued that that Time had been up since 2003 or 1997 or even 1991. And when I say Time, I mean that shining era in the lifespan of any truly great band where their abilities and ambitions line up exactly with fan enthusiasm, general stylistic trends and (maybe, though not at all essentially) critical tastes. This is obviously a much smaller-scale example, but I'm thinking about something like the Jesus Lizard circa Liar, when a band is doing its best work, and they know it and everyone else does too and they're sort of just indisputably ruling whatever it is their sphere is at that particular moment. (Seeing the mighty Sheer Mag live last night, I felt that they were in the midst of just such a glorious moment.)

Metallica, as we all know, ruled long and strong. I don't need to quote sales figures or other stats to make that point. In 2016, Metallica still rules among its millions of fans, but the band's pop cultural footprint is greatly reduced. They're not a big part of the mainstream musical conversation (almost entirely dominated by hip-hop and related styles) — they're not, in other words, particularly Relevant — and they probably never will be again. Sure, they're still making the high-profile promo rounds, from Howard Stern to Jimmy Fallon, but what I mean to say is that it is clearly not, at this historical moment, Metallica's Time. And to compare this phase of Not Metallica's Time Metallica to Metallica's Time Metallica is just sort of pointless, like saying that the mature, well-rounded adult is somehow lacking in comparison to the brash, nothing-to-lose teenager.

So we have this concept of Late Work, of artists continuing to release long past the expiration date of Their Time. As a fan, I happen to love Late Work, because I think that what often happens is that a band, during this career phase, if they last that long, simply gets down to the business of making itself happy, and in turn making its fans happy, while dispensing entirely with tedious ideas of legacy, that part of "music appreciation" that bleeds into the critical practices of canonizing and list-making and all that ultimately irrelevant machinery.

To me, Metallica on Hardwired sounds like a happy band. They sound vigorous and engaged with the process of writing and executing Metallica songs. Although I like parts of the much-maligned St. Anger, I'm not sure if I could say the same of that album, which sounds like the work of a band trying so hard to be different, to embrace spontaneity at all costs, that they're sort of losing their collective mind. Hardwired is confident and proud even in its less thrilling moments, and when that confidence and pride align with the band's true strengths, virtuosity and innate genius (I'm thinking of the triumphant, Classic Heavy Metal leads that punctuate "Moth Into Flame" or the ferocious, headlong verses of "Spit Out the Bone"), magic happens. To be honest, I don't give a fuck how that magic compares to Master of Puppets. It's great music in the moment, and what else really matters?

The same is true of a lot of other comeback-ish albums that have emerged in recent years, from Carcass' Surgical Steel to Black Sabbath's 13 and even Van Halen's A Different Kind of Truth or simply strong late-career statements like AC/DC's Rock or Bust, Iron Maiden's Book of Souls or Rush's Clockwork Angels. I of course can't speak for any other fans of these bands, but my feeling is that if you're a Carcass, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, AC/DC, Iron Maiden or Rush fan, respectively, in the sense that you simply love these bands being themselves and sounding happy and energized doing what they do and sounding like what they sound like, then you like these albums.

You also, maybe, appreciate that new chapters are being written in a given legacy. One of the reasons I'm so into Death Magnetic is that it's a very different Metallica than the one I grew up with — as opposed to this monolithic force, they sound almost, to borrow a term from the St. Anger lexicon, frantic on that album, like they're tripping over their own ideas and cramming their songs full of as much stuff as possible just for the sheer maximal joy of it. (In other words, as time goes by, they shed certain qualities, maybe even ones that contributed to their greatness in a given period, but they also gain new ones: One way to look at it is, I really love Death Magnetic, and the 1986 Metallica couldn't have made it.) And because: they're Metallica, so why the fuck not?

So what I think about Hardwired at this moment is maybe not all that relevant. Because in the end, for a Metallica fan, there's absolutely no downside to this album existing, and I think it's that principle that's too often forgotten. If you wished they'd stopped after Cliff Burton died, then so be it: Just listen to the first three albums and be happy with it, or choose whatever demarcation point you wish and stop there. All I mean to say is that for me, it's more fun to stay current when possible, to see how these legacies evolve, to see how bands shed certain core qualities while taking on new ones.

In the end, I keep coming back to the I'm Happy It Exists principle when considering an album like Hardwired. The album has already provided a week or so of listening enjoyment or, at the very least engagement, has already sparked many interesting conversations with colleagues and friends. Has already soundtracked a couple refreshing morning runs. Has already inspired a number of private "Fuck yeah" moments from me as I listen on the train. Maybe the album will grow on me; maybe it won't. But it's fucking Metallica. Now. And I'd rather focus on and relish that fact rather than spend my time measuring it against the band's back catalog like some joyless fact-checker.

Yeah, the old Metallica albums rule. No, Hardwired is not as much a part of my DNA as those albums — yet, at least. But in taking it for what it is I don't in some way turn my back on those older albums. In a way, I simply say: This band means a lot to me. They're probably always going to. I'm always going to be curious about what they're up to, and moreover, in the ways in which their inherent greatness (because whatever you want to say about a given period of their work, I think it's indisputable that they have been and still are, in some general way, a truly great band) manifests itself over time, interacts with the aging process, reflecting it honestly or defying it. Metallica have changed, a lot, but they're still here, and to me there's more reward in celebrating that fact overall than in dwelling on why what they're doing now or have done recently does or doesn't measure up. The fact is, it's different. And without saying I love every second of Hardwired, or going overboard in expressing why it's their best album since X or, on the other hand, why Metallica is dead to me now, since they put out X, I'm trying to focus on that I'm Glad It Exists principle.

As I've tried to convey on this blog many times and in many different ways, I'm not a Critic, or at least I don't think of myself that way. I'm really just trying to find a way to record my experience of music in a way that feeds back into my enjoyment of music, not puts up walls for others or for myself. Yes, I've recorded what I think of Hardwired now, just because why not, but beyond that, I'm curious what I'm going to think about Hardwired in a week, month or year, and I'm curious what other Metallica fans (and non-fans) think and will think. I'm curious what these songs will sound like live. I'm curious which of them will become new set-list staples and which will be left behind. I'm curious to read other reviews of this record. I'm curious to go back to other Metallica records, both ones I know well and ones I don't, and see how the general arc of their discography and career looks now, taking everything into account. I want to get outside this compulsion to express some Immediate Definitive Opinion about something I just heard and just let the music sink in and see how it goes.

Because, as I said before, I'm a Metallica fan. One who has experienced an ongoing lifelong musical awakening in large part because of this band, who remembers giving a speech on them in eighth-grade English class complete with hand-drawn visual aid, who remembers marveling at an early screening of Some Kind of Monster, obsessing over …And Justice for All riffs with bandmates during practice, going to their management office to hear Death Magnetic before its release, seeing them play an incredible show at Yankee Stadium (again, pardon the formatting, but the piece is there if you scroll down) as part of the Big 4. A lot of memories, a lot of time and attention and passion invested. And so what else to say about Hardwired other than "Bring it on." Just a day after its release I can't possibly say I know what it means to me yet and the great thing is that I don't have to. I'm just glad it exists.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Stygian soul: Goodbye, Leonard Cohen

As a die-hard adolescent metalhead always searching out the next musical extreme, I'd occasionally been frightened by music before I heard Songs of Leonard Cohen (my first glimpse of this, for example). But Songs is the first album I remember having to turn off because it creeped me out so much. I believe the song that did it was "Teachers":

Morning came and then came noon
Dinnertime —a scalpel blade lay beside my silver spoon

Some girls wander by mistake
Into the mess that scalpels make
Are you the teachers of my heart?
We teach old hearts to break

But I kept returning, willingly, into that dark dimension. I'd learned "singer-songwriter" music backward, first coming to indie-rock-affiliated bards like Will Oldham and then gradually working my way toward the true grandaddies. Dylan was an easy habit to develop, the appeal obvious and cocky and blithe. With Cohen, there was something heavier, slower, more sinister, more ancient. He had a knack for seeing visions, and for implanting them in your head, that in my opinion is unmatched by any other songwriter.

"Stranger Song," one of the best, a chilling portrait of the ultimate hustler who might just be nearing the end of the line:

You've seen that man before
His golden arm dispatching cards
But now it's rusted from the elbow to the finger
And he wants to trade the game he plays for shelter
Yes, he wants to trade the game he knows for shelter


And while he talks his dreams to sleep
You notice there's a highway
That is curling up like smoke above his shoulder
Yes, it's curling just like smoke above his shoulder

Songs From a Room stunned me, especially the stark "Story of Isaac," but when I got ahold of Songs of Love and Hate, it stopped me cold. I sensed that at that point, Cohen's work had gone beyond mere brooding and entered the realm of actual depravity. I wanted to live within, say, "Avalanche" (more on that that here), but I simply could not bear to listen to a song like "Dress Rehearsal Rag" more than once. Even his visage on the album cover made me shudder.

And what I knew of the later work — "Everybody Knows," for example — turned me off. As a fan who treasured the hushed, archaic sound of those early records, it bummed me out that he seemed to be surrendering to a kind of '80s-ized caricature of himself.

But of course as I grew up, and eventually saw him perform an exquisite concert on his now-legendary 2009 comeback tour, full of old-school gentlemanly showmanship, I came to see that Leonard Cohen's world was much broader than I'd thought. I still hear "Dress Rehearsal Rag" as a profoundly fucked-up song, but I can embrace the strung-out comedy of something like "Diamonds in the Mine" (or the taunting, sleazy playfulness of "Is This What You Wanted?") more readily, and hear how Cohen's poet-out-of-time quality can coexist beautifully with his reality as a witty pop songwriter living in the modern world.

David Bowie is not an artist I have yet connected with on a deep level, so the idea of Blackstar-as-final-statement didn't hit home for me as it did for some. But with Cohen, the feeling of finality and summation of his new album You Want It Darker (all captured brilliantly in this recent New Yorker profile) sprawled out before me, feeling so heavy and also in some way so light. Whatever this is, some sort of stygian soul music, it must set a new record for end-of-life badassery:

That seen-(and endured)-it-all voice — an emanation, really. Grave and prophetic but also sly and fallible. A holy man rife with earthly flaws. In all his complexity, one of the greatest poets I know. Thank you, Leonard Cohen for opening up your infinite worlds, for revealing your layered, indelible imagery and, yes, very often, for scaring the living shit out of me.


*Sylvie Simmons' I'm Your Man is as good a musician biography as I've read.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Coroner's essential 'Autopsy': How Swiss trio wrote their own thrash-metal narrative

, a feature-length documentary on the band Coroner included in their new DVD/CD box set, Autopsy, ends on a note of hopeful uncertainty. "I wonder how we will sound today," bassist/vocalist Ron "Royce" Broder says.

I do too. There are many reasons to be curious. Coroner's in-progress sixth album, apparently due in 2017, will be the Swiss metal trio's first full-length since 1993, and the first non-archival release from the band since they reunited five years ago. It will also be their first album without drummer and co-founder "Marquis" Marky Edelmann, who played a few years' worth of Coroner comeback gigs — which I'm kicking myself for not having seen — starting in 2011 but bowed out in 2014 when he split with the other members on the question of writing and recording new music.

Rewind captures footage from the original Coroner lineup's final gig in early 2014, in the band's hometown of Zurich, and there's a real poignancy to the night. No hard feelings evident among the members here, just brotherhood. Royce gives Edelmann a warm send-off from the stage, and we see the two and guitarist Tommy "T. Baron" Vetterli celebrating backstage after the show. Royce admits to getting choked up the night before when thinking about the inevitable farewell announcement at the end of the gig. The three embrace, agreeing seemingly without the slightest resentment that Edelmann's departure is the right move for everyone.

"I wish them luck," the drummer says with a laugh in a candid interview near the end of the film. "I hope they don't screw it up. But I'm very positive they won't – they don't want [a new album] to ruin things, either. I think everything will be fine."

Rewind has some interesting points to make re: that question of just what's at stake on a reunion album, especially on one by a band like Coroner. They were and are very much a cult band, for whom writing and recording new music so many years later seems about 98 percent a question of art, not commerce. (The festival crowds they've been playing to for the past five years are by and large showing up to hear the old stuff, and that will likely continue to be the case even after the new music arrives.)

The question is really one of legacy. Various metal luminaries weigh in on the topic in Rewind. Celtic Frost leader Tom G. Warrior — a fellow Swiss metal veteran and a longtime friend of Coroner — argues strongly that Coroner ought to follow in his own band's footsteps and record a new album after reuniting. "Tell those bands half your age, 'Fuck you, we can still do this!'" he asserts. "That's how you do a reunion."

"Now [creating] new music, that's a sensitive area," ex-Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera says in the doc with a kind of half-sigh, half-wince. "'Cause how can you get that magic back? I very often ask myself the same: If I do a reunion with Sepultura, would we do another record? I don't know if I want to take that responsibility to try to re-create that magic."

In Coroner's case "that magic" seems almost alchemical. Especially considering where they began and where they ended up during their initial run. Coroner started out in the mid-to-late Eighties playing densely technical thrash metal — best captured on the excellent albums Punishment for Decadence and No More Color — driven by an odd but brilliant juxtaposition of florid composition and steely attitude, qualities embodied respectively by Vetterli and Broder's finger-busting virtuosity and the latter's snarling, venemous vocal delivery. (Excellent, darkly evocative lyrics — e.g., "I see you smile it's like a punch in my face / Can't you feel my bleeding heart" — written, fascinatingly, not by Broder but by Edelmann, round out the strange blend.) During this period, Coroner come off like prog geeks holding switchblades behind their backs.

But Coroner's third album, 1991's Mental Vortex, was where they crossed over into a kind of glorious genre-transcendent weirdness. They began writing longer, stronger songs that sacrificed some of the frantic energy of their earlier material for a kind of trancelike focus, a tendency toward eerie mood-setting and almost robotically driving groove. There's a section in Rewind — several sections, actually — where fellow musicians and fans express their awe at Coroner's collective virtuosity. Some pinpoint a "coldness" at the heart of their aesthetic, and I'd agree with that characterization while stressing that I don't at all see it as a downside. Mental Vortex is a deeply insular album, one that "rocks" conventionally in many places but that seems more like an obsessive art project than a mere "heavy metal" album. There's a proud perfectionism at work here, evidence of a band answering the call of "Just how far can we take this?"

On the band's next and final (so far) album, they answered that question in a fascinating way. To hear them tell it, it wasn't easy. Rewind features a fascinating section where Edelmann and Vetterli talk through the tensions that plagued Coroner during the recording of 1993's Grin, when the guitarist's perfectionism, already causing tensions with the band's label, drove a wedge during him and the drummer. At one point, Edelmann recalls, "It got physical." Broder adds that he broke up a fight between the two, and there's a priceless tidbit about a pizza being thrown against the wall. (I should note that this particular interview, excerpted throughout the film, features the full band sitting in a dark room in front of a fireplace, talking candidly, and there's something mesmerizing about the footage, as though the three old friends — Edelmann, Coroner's blunt, charismatic leader, with the rugged good looks of a Bond actor; Vetterli, the softspoken but almost cocky virtuoso; and Broder, an easygoing but mysterious presence, who spends much of the film staring thoughtfully into the fire — are staying up all night and really hashing out the highs and lows of their almost three-decade adventure together.)

The account of this tension is odd considering that Grin is in some ways a profoundly relaxed album. The steely heaviness is still there, along with traces of uptempo thrash, but the album gravitates toward expansive and hypnotic groove, yielding a strangely serene sound. It's interesting to think about what else was going on in metal at this time, as some of Grin reminds me of Helmet but with that band's harsh industrial bark replaced by a kind of noir-ish, unhurried cool.

Listening to the members unpack the highs and the lows of their journey — from their early days as leather-pants-wearing '80s rockers to Edelmann and Vetterli's glorious, eye-opening tour of the States as Celtic Frost roadies and, finally, Coroner's big "arrival" moment, when they stepped onstage at their favorite big hometown venue and went on to tour the U.S. themselves — you really feel the arc of a life devoted to underground music, especially music as eccentric and personal as Coroner's. We hear an account of Vetterli's post-Coroner stint touring with Swiss pop/rock singer Stephan Eicher — who, like so many others interviewed in the film, stands in awe of the guitarist's abilities, not to mention the whole band's — and Edelmann's embracing of electronic music and DJ culture. And we hear from longtime fans such as Celtic Frost's Martin Eric Ain how once Coroner returned, they sounded better than ever. (It's true: The extensive post-reunion footage on the second disc of Autopsy is in some ways more satisfying than the also-terrific classic stuff, such as a beautifully shot East Berlin show from 1990.)

Watching the film, you really feel the strength of Coroner's focus, their hunger for a true sonic signature, which they achieved early on and honed to an admirable extent over the course of five albums together. "Your kind of music is rarely played on the radio," we see an interviewer saying to Edelmann in a 1991 TV clip in Rewind. "You don't sell that many records either. Doesn't that kill your motivation to play even harder music?" (I'm pretty sure he means "heavier," but he might as well be asking about Coroner's fearsome, uncompromising technicality as well.) "No, not really, "Edelmann responds in almost blasé fashion, as though the idea of playing music for commercial gain had never even crossed his mind. "We still enjoy it. You're right, we get rather ignored by the media. You don't sell loads of records either. But it's great fun."

That's really all that needs to be said. Coroner thrived, simply, on a love for what they were making, and you feel the same sort of enthusiasm during the more recent Rewind interview footage when Broder and Vetterli ponder what a new Coroner album might sound like. "For me, it's just not over yet," Vetterli says, while acknowledging as Broder does just what a daunting task the pair have ahead of them, not just in writing great, worthy music but in replacing a core member, who not only brought a unique rhythmic feel to the band but also memorable, evocative lyrics and even took charge of the band's stark and haunting graphic design. Coroner's classic lineup consisted of three very different personalities and talents whose affinities and — especially, I think  — tensions fostered something singular and beautiful and fascinatingly other. I believe in Vetterli and Broder, but I do wonder, as Broder does, "how [Coroner] will sound today."

What I'm certain of is that, when it comes to music, these guys don't make tentative moves. There's no halfway with a band this unusual, this meticulous, this trend-proof, this driven. Again I come back to this notion of Coroner's supposed coldness, cited by a few fans and associates in the doc. I can see where the assessment comes from but on the whole, I don't agree. There may be a certain emotional reserve to this band, but for them, passion seems inextricable from diligence and devotion, from a kind of all-or-nothing aesthetic, the shared sense that their music has to sound this way. You have to really live music like this; you have to care that much. And I'm thankful that Coroner did, and still do.


One great track apiece from each of Coroner's five full-lengths:

"Reborn Through Hate" (R.I.P., 1987)

Already, on the first proper song on their debut LP, Coroner begin to earn their eventual (unofficial) designation as the "Rush of thrash metal." Key Coroner features such as relentlessly intricate, note-y riffs and disorienting rhythmic hiccups coexist with classic, fist-pumping '80s thrash tropes.

"Masked Jackal" (Punishment for Decadence, 1988)

A completely raging track that moves ingeniously through a cycle of intricate, increasingly badass riffs. The chorus perfectly illustrates that harsh, sneering, almost sardonic quality that's integral to this band's greatness. I love the way Broder's venemous delivery aligns with Edelmann's lyrical portrait of a two-faced politician: "Darling of the TV screen/Manipulator of the purse strings/Master of the spoken words/Jackal with connections."

"Die by My Hand" (No More Color, 1989)

Sitting at the midpoint of the band's discography, No More Color is in some ways the quintessential Coroner album, delivering all the aggression of their earlier work with plenty of the eccentricity that grows increasingly prominent on the later LPs. A beautiful production job, raw yet clear, highlights the nasty, relentlessly driving quality of this opening track. "Die by My Hand" is simply thrash metal perfection: a must for anyone who knows their Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood cold and wants to venture deeper into the '80s underground.

"Metamorphosis" (Mental Vortex, 1991)

The unstoppable riffs remain but this is a more confident, mature, at times borderline-laid-back Coroner. The sound is not so frenetic; the groove is more prominent, the song structure more smartly assembled. And the Broder/Edelmann team of vocalist and lyricist, respectively, sound even more viciously dialed-in here: "See me become a snake / Wrapped around your neck / See me become a spike / Pushed deep in your flesh." As with a lot of Coroner tracks, the words can scan as flat on the page, but spat out of Broder's mouth, they take on a real sinister gravity.

"Grin (Nails Hurt)" (Grin, 1993)

Sinister gravity is what Grin is all about, from that riveting, stomach-turning cover image on down.  So many excellent tracks on this thing, but this penultimate song just kills me. A writhing, almost-hardcore-ish breakdown to start and then into that absolutely unstoppable hypnotic verse at :40. The riff has its ornamental features, but mostly we're in groove-engaged/head-down territory, leading up to that gloriously crunchy chorus breakdown at 1:50. I just love the way they're letting the riffs breathe here: No fat whatsoever, just a sort of sustained, cruising sneer of a song — I can't escape that word when writing about these guys — leading up to a drifting, quasi-psychedelic relaxed-blast-beat outro. When I hear "Grin," I hear crushing heaviness but also zen-like serenity. I hear a kind of defiant confidence, the sound of a band fully inhabiting its own zone, standing apart from scene and genre, and just getting down to the business of becoming more and more itself.

Here's hoping that this process continues on the next LP. I'm bummed that Edelmann has left the fold, but like him, I, as a devoted fan of all of Coroner's prior work, think that everything will in fact be just fine.


*If you're even remotely a Coroner fan, you need to own Autopsy. If not, check out the discography first and then take the plunge (the set is also available as a signed vinyl/Blu-ray combo).

*Read Phil Freeman's insightful recent overview of the Coroner catalog here.

*Lots of other Coroner goodies on the YouTube channel of the band's touring keyboardist and backing vocalist, Daniel Stössel.