“Generally speaking, dazzling displays of technical prowess don’t impress me much,” says the intrepid Blog-Warrior, his fingers tap-tapping across the keys as he immediately contradicts himself in his rush to lavish heaps of praise upon one of the most technically stunning albums of its day.
But then again, No More Color is more than merely technically stunning.
The parallels between prog-rock heroes Rush and tech-thrashers Coroner are many: power-trio line-up, drummer-as-lyricist… I’m certainly not the first writer to mention them. But most important among those similarities is this: Both bands are masters at penning eminently accessible tracks that also happen to be unusually complicated, tempering their undeniably impressive instrumental skills with a song sensibility that allows you to look beyond (or maybe to look just short of) those chops, should you choose to. It’s a sensibility that shifts focus to the song itself, even as the performances that comprise it are often brain-bendingly intricate. Like Rush, particularly mid-to-later-period Rush, Coroner weaves actual hooks and more traditional structures amidst their fabric of fluid, twisting riffs and locked-tight rhythmic shifts.
No More Color was Coroner’s third album, coming off the first of their three consecutive 10/10 releases in 1987’s Punishment For Decadence, and in the transition, upping the ante on their already grand technicality without sacrificing the punishing, thrashing catchiness that gave tracks like “Masked Jackal” and “Arc-Light” such waste-laying brilliance. It’s those same musical hooks that take the spiraling guitar and bass runs of “Die By My Hand” and craft them into a world-ravaging fist-in-the-air singalong thrash number, a track as enjoyable to the bruisers in the pit as to the crossed-arm musos watching from the relative safety of the bar.
In fact, this entire article could likely be written about “Die By My Hand” alone — it may well be the best track Coroner ever composed, with some stiff competition from the tracks that immediately follow it. “Die” is an absolutely blistering opening number, a statement of intent for the thrashing to come, intensely complex and yet simply destructive. From the introductory build of Marky Edelman’s rolling toms through Tommy Vetterli’s relentless tightly wound riffing and Ron Royce’s Warrior-indebted snarl and fluid low-end bracing, it’s all of No More Color’s greatness distilled into just under four minutes. If you don’t like it, if you can hear it and somehow not be compelled to move and to shout along to that chorus with horns in the air, then you’re in the wrong crowd, good sir. You simply don’t like tech thrash.
And if No More Color ended there, with just that one track, it would still be one of the genre’s finest moments (albeit an exceptionally and criminally short one)…
“No Need To Be Human” slides seamlessly between time signatures in the verses, introducing a brief flirtation with cleaner chords in a down-tempo bridge, a moodier and less frantic moment that is no less crushing than the track before it. Oh, and then there’s more of Royce and Vetterli’s spinning runs in the stellar “Mistress Of Deception,” with some tasty bass rumbling underneath a drifting outro that fades too soon… Each of No More Color’s eight tracks shows off all three members’ instrumental skills impeccably, not the least of those being how each of three manages to craft their parts to be complex without being overly flashy, difficult without being unnecessarily busy.
No More Color ends as it begins, with another one of Coroner’s finest tracks, the brooding “Last Entertainment.” Opening with guest synthesizers courtesy of one Steve Rispin, “Entertainment” stomps forward with a dreamy 9/8 main riff beneath some spoken-word creepiness from Royce before resolving into common time under more of Vetterli’s arpeggiated leads. That final track never really picks up to full thrashing, despite hinting at it, closing the album on a more somber note, experimental and yet fairly straightforward. To burden Coroner with the other band comparison that has followed them for their whole career, it’s the most Celtic Frost-y moment on hand, and yet it stands on its own, indebted to but not in the shadow of that legendary outfit.
Now, 30 years later, No More Color still holds up, arguably tech-thrash’s pinnacle, alongside the likes of Deception Ignored or Control & Resistance. For my (admittedly limited) money, it’s the best of Coroner’s classic run and the best of any of those albums I listed above, one that shows just enough flash while allowing the songs themselves to coalesce unchoked and unfettered by their own intricacies.
So yes, at the end of the day, my fingers having tap-tapped out this 800-word paean to a tech-thrash giant, I stand by an amended version of my opening statement: “Generally speaking, dazzling displays of technical prowess don’t impress me much… unless they’re in the service of an absolutely killer song.”
It’s a lesson Coroner could teach plenty of young noodlers.