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Volumes have been written on the various landmark metal albums of 1991. From the underground (Human, Clandestine, Gothic) to the mainstream (Symbol Of Salvation, Badmotorfinger, Slave To The Grind) to the musical stratosphere (Metallica, Use Your Illusion I & II) it seems that everyone was hitting their stride simultaneously. Thrash saw some within its ranks crank out their (arguably) best material: Dark Angel's Time Does Not Heal, Overkill's Horrorscope, Sepultura's Arise (fight me) and a dark, quirky trio from Switzerland called Coroner with their fourth album, Mental Vortex. While Tom G. Warrior’s proteges would never achieve the success of their peers, Coroner crafted a brilliant, progressive-not-proggy thrash album that still sounds exciting 25 years later as of this weekend.

Building off the avant-garde influences that started to show on previous album No More Color, Coroner found the sweet spot between technicality and ferocity on Mental Vortex. Where many other bands ended up sacrificing heaviness at the altar of experimentation, songs like "Son Of Lilith" and "Metamorphosis" retain the intense riffs, inventive solos and double bass while incorporating elements like jazz time signatures and classical arrangements into the song structures.

Starting things off with a sample from Re-Animator - always a good decision - opener "Divine Step (Conspectu Mortis)" opens with an ascending, instantly memorable riff that is both familiar and novel, recalling other off-kilter metal bands of the era like Voivod and Watchtower. The psychedelic break smack in the middle of the song, complete with Syd Barrett laughs and shimmering wind chimes, comes from so far out of left field it might as well have been smoking weed in the parking lot outside. Just as soon as it arrives it's gone, and we're thrust back into a Cowboys From Hell chug fest replete with solos galore. This is just the first song, people.

On Mental Vortex the Swiss power trio prefigured much of the contemporary covered metal on this site - there is no Vektor or Oranssi Pazuzu without this band. Unlike many of their successors, though, Coroner do not get bogged down under the weight of their own ambition. No 20-minute prog/fusion epic wankery, no "ambient passages," just tight songwriting full of technical prowess.

Metal studio legend Tom Morris, on a total winning streak that included production work on Blessed Are The Sick just a few months before, captured the band's sound with a clarity that would take away most other acts' gravitas. With Mental Vortex, that lucidity only enhanced the songs. The album clocks in well under an hour, seven minutes of which is their GOAT cover of the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". While it may sound a bit dated at this point, musically it fits the theme of the album perfectly: changing tempos, unique vocal patterns and the feeling that it's unlike everything else going on around it.

The two bands that come to mind quickest when thinking about the Mental Vortex legacy are Meshuggah and Byzantine, both musically and in the sense that they don't quite sound like anyone but themselves. That's a heritage that Coroner should be proud of, and as some of the other 1991 milestone albums lose their luster, this one sinks its weird, gnarled roots even deeper.

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this article has been edited to more accurately reflect the size of Coroner's discography.

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