Retrospective: Coroner – Punishment For Decadence

Metal’s history is littered with the figurative (and sometimes literal) corpses of bands that derailed before achieving the wider successes they deserve. One of the many wonderful things about the internet has been the greater ease with which previously obscure albums can now find a new audience.

Coroner are one such example. Their 1985 Death Cult demo attracted considerable attention, in no small part due to the involvement of one Tom G. Warrior – yes, the very same of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost/Triptykon fame. Acting as guest vocalist, Warrior’s involvement would help garner attention for the burgeoning band. An album – R.I.P. – followed in quick succession, and is still regarded as a classic in its own right. But for today’s purposes we must turn to 1988, which was a milestone year for metal in general.  

1988 saw an impressively diverse array of styles jockeying for heavy metal’s pole position. Metallica easily outsold all of their contemporaries with …And Justice For All, an album which expanded on the band’s thrash roots while also making the bold move to abandon bass altogether. After the blistering speed of Reign in Blood, Slayer decided to slow it right down for South of Heaven. Iron Maiden continued to lean into high-concept albums with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Sadus unleashed Illusions, which would later see greater success when re-released in the early 90s by Roadrunner as Chemical Exposure. And of course, any mention of 1988 would be incomplete without touching on Celtic Frost’s controversial Cold Lake – an album that still regularly tops “Least Likely To Be Reissued” lists around the world.   

But as their Swiss compatriots opted for a more glam-influenced sound, Coroner would lean heavily into their thrash tendencies with the release of Punishment for Decadence. Their second LP would refine the key elements present on Death Cult and R.I.P. and turn them into something that probably would have been a breakout hit in any other year. The standout track – and recipient of an accompanying video – was ‘Masked Jackal’. A searing indictment of an unspecified public figure, it taps into the televangelist scandals that dominated the news in the 1980s, while also feeling oddly prescient of today’s awful 24/7 news cycle. It seems the social concerns that dominated much of thrash during the Reagan era and latter days of the Cold War were apparently more universal and ongoing than any of us might have liked to have thought. 

Unfortunately, the surrounding embarrassment of metal riches meant Punishment for Decadence has been relatively overshadowed by its better-selling contemporaries. But more than 30 years later, it remains a thrash gem well worth seeking out.    

Punishment For Decadence and other Coroner reissues can be purchased here via Nuclear Blast Records.

Words: Tom G. Wolf 

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