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Altars of Madness is that type of album that has reached legendary status in the death metal community. Everyone knows it, everyone's heard it. Released in 1989, death metal was still a relatively new phenomenon. Death had just released Leprosy a year earlier, Scream Bloody Gore was just two years old, and Possessed Seven Churches, while a masterpiece, strayed too much on the thrash side to be considered a pure death metal release (personally I consider Leprosy the first pure death metal album as Scream Bloody Gore was also had a lot of thrash elements to it). Morbid Angel stormed out of the gate with Altars and put death metal into mainstream attention, showing the genre was here to stay.
Listening to it today, I more so respect it for its influence than I enjoy listening to it as album. In true death metal fashion the songs are blisteringly fast, clock in anywhere from two to four minutes, and get straight to the point. And here's where my first problem arises. I'm fine with being assaulted by a wall of sound if there's enough variation to keep my interest. Hell, Cryptopsy's "None So Vile" album is one of my favorites and that thing never lets up, but they keep it from getting stale. Altars of Madness have some tracks that do this phenomenally like "Visions From The Dark Side" and "Maze of Torment," but there are also downright boring tracks like "Bleed For The Devil" or "Damnation." They focus on one idea for too long and by the time you're half way through the album you kind of start dosing.
The vocals are okay. Vincent opts for a mix of a death metal growl and a thrash metal scream. Really, it just sounds like a higher pitched growl. Not bad, but nothing special. I do however need to give credit in that Vincent manages to make the lyrics understandable. Lyrically the album strays from the gore themed lyrics of the earlier albums like Scream Bloody Gore and chooses to go at it from a more satanic/dark spirits angle. It's still very much horror themed, but a different type of horror. I'm actually a big fan of this angle even if they're extremely clichéd here.
Now, I have to give credit where credit is due; the guitar soloing is fucking amazing. Trey Azagthoth can shred. Often times the songs contain multiple solos and each one stays memorable. My only complaint here is that in some cases, like "Lord of All Fevers and Plague" the solos come out of nowhere with no real reason to be there. It's almost like they just kind of slapped them in there just for the sake of being in there, or perhaps they realized they meandered too much with the riffs and decided that they'd throw in multiple solos to try to shake it up. Sadly, it doesn't exactly work, but still, I can't complain too much as the solos still sound fucking awesome.
Altars of Madness is an album that should be sought out and listened to at least once. It's an album that deserves the praise it gets and should be respected for its influence in death metal. For me, however, I feel death metal has been done better (even by Morbid Angel themselves. Covenant is amazing), and this isn't an album I particularly enjoy listening to outside of a few tracks. It's an album I respect, but don't thoroughly enjoy.
Morbid Angel is, despite recent events, to be considered one of the (if not the) most important death metal groups since the sub-genre's formation. Before their blend of Satanic and Lovecraftian horror schisms blew folks' heads off upon their signing with Earache, death metal still had a way to go beyond its original grimy thrash roots, and for as much as the likes of Possessed, Death and Sepultura pushed the limits as far as they could, much could still be done to make the style its own beast. Enter Trey Azagthoth and company, where they and their monstrous debut "Altars of Madness" changed the game forever...
From the start, "Altars..." storms at the listener with the spirit of a band that really has something to prove, something to say, and they will not be denied or properly ignored. At this time in the metal music community, fans and media folk needed something to stem the tide of the oncoming grunge and alt rock waves and replace the rapidly aging thrash metal movement and few, if any, could do it better. The group's performance in itself is inhuman to the point of bestial; one could really feel the ferocity level of the band spinning about the recording studio like a whirlwind of hellfire, wrecking the place up and disappearing without a trace once the song's recording session was complete. And the tracks themselves just could not be pegged down or figured out, for once you catch wind of a particular progression or riff structure you're thrown right back into the abyss with a whole other movement wholly different than what had just bashed your skull in. One part brilliant, another maddened, and at the forefront of the cacophony was, of course, the soloing. The method and output of Trey dismembering chord structures and notation during his sessions is truly something not of this world; Malmsteen possessed by at least seven different demons. Who the fuck played like that back then?? The variations of his works is borderline hypnotic, as if a hidden hand was bading you welcome into the Temple of Ostx for you to be torn to shreds by its many dark spirits. Insane, wild, effective.
However, it's within the confines of its insanity that it tends to become a hard album to sit through, for sometimes the listener doesn't want to be bombarded from every single angle with every single arrow point, and for what it's worth few will come out of it without being winded at least a couple times. I'd go so far as to say that the first three songs or so contain enough riffs and ideas to fill an entire album's duration, yet are all crammed together as tight as can be, thereby frustrating discerning fans who find a section or so to really get behind only to have it last five seconds or so before the next blinding cavalcade comes at you. Despite Morbid Angel's best efforts to corral the music and the successes it occasionally bestows, It all really sounds too incoherent and out of control to be taken it any deeper than face value. And to be utterly (un)fair, the material has almost zero sense of arrangement or dynamic normalcy in itself, an approach that would predate the second black metal wave in terms of how they went about things. I'm OK with a band that can thumb their nose at conventional songwriting schemes if they can make it work, but when each successive track is literally a smattering of riffs and differing tempos and key structures, just one after another after another, none of them really fitting with the next, that tends to be problematic the further into the album you go. I mean, man can't live on speed and intensity alone, even in the extreme metal world, no matter how beloved the album ends up being in the end. This was, thankfully, rectified with the more stream-lined yet ultimately far more satisfying "Blessed are the Sick", where chaos found its order.
All in all Morbid Angel broke the mold with death metal upon their first album's release, but for all the black magickal violence it still comes off as a bit too crazy for its own good, which is fine if that's what you're into. But if you want an album you can really get or understand, one you can connect to, this may not be it. The band's latter-era works will do you just fine.
When Morbid Angel released "Altars of Madness" in 1989, it immediately assumed its place as death metal's first legitimate masterpiece. Building on the basic ideas of Slayer, Morbid Angel combined a stripped down, punk influenced rawness of performance with unconventional song structures and longer melodic phrases. In doing so, they created a style all their own, driven by churning, chaotic guitar riffing and solos that scream with reckless abandon. The interplay between Azagtoth and Brunelle's guitar styles makes the album - Azagthoth plays go-for-broke atonal solos, while Brunelle is more traditional and restrained (a relative term of course). They complement each other perfectly, Azagthoth embodying the savage spirit of hellish death metal, while Brunelle's cleaner and more musically literate playing provides balance and distinction to the songs.
The strongest aspect of "Altars of Madness" is how the songs remain distinctive and memorable without any concession to mainstream musical styles. It's not easy to play ten songs of brutal, traditional death metal and make each and every song completely memorable, but Morbid Angel pull it off. You can literally put the needle down in any random spot on the record and immediately know what part of what song you are in. How many death metal albums can you honestly say that about?
It's hard to pick a favorite on an album that is basically a forty-minute long highlight reel for its entire genre, but if you held a gun to my head I would have to go with Maze of Torment. After a (relatively) slow Celtic Frost-influenced buildup, it launches into a cycle of punishingly majestic riffs driven by Sandoval's relentless blastbeat and a break for some brutal slower grooves in the middle. Other highlights include Immortal Rites with its signature opening riff, the catchy vocal patterns on Lord of all Fevers and Plagues, and the live favorite Chapel of Ghouls. The album's second half is less epic than the first but still maintains the quality, closing on a high note with Blasphemy and Evil Spells. Even the less memorable numbers like Bleed For The Devil only suffer from being sandwiched in a playlist of immortal classics - stick it on any other band's album and it would be a career highlight.
The vocals are different than on any other MA album - more higher pitched, almost a black metal rasp. Vincent attributes this to his quitting smoking after the release of this album; although his voice achieved more low end power in later performances, on this album he sings with a seething diabolical energy that he would never achieve on any later albums. Vocals aside, there really is more black metal influence here than on any other Morbid Angel release; the longer tremolo guitar harmonies in songs like Visions from the Darkside sound somewhat similar to what Immortal would do a few years later.
If by chance you haven't heard this already, you owe it to yourself to do so. This was the album that established death metal as a real musical genre, launching the career of thousands of bands, and in my opinion its quality has not been rivaled since. Although Morbid Angel came close to duplicating its success with 1991's "Blessed Are The Sick", this was the album that established the basic template of all modern death metal music. It is also a perfect snapshot of a musical genre in its inception, before the "rules" of genres had been codified so rigorously and there was fluid interplay between them. This is an album, to quote the liner notes, for "speed, death and black metal fans everywhere". Highest possible recommendation.
1 word: uncompromising. But yes, there's more. Probably the best Morbid Angel release on the planet, even though "Covenant" is a close second. I might eat my words, but really, there's nothing more I can say, just relentless. The music is fast, rhythms amazing. Bar chord/tremolo picking mania (will make sense if you're a guitarist). The most original release from 1989 to me because not only do you get non-relentless bouts of talent, a young Morbid Angel and loads of riffs everywhere. The leads are crazy--Trey is all over the fret-board. I like the flanger that they use also to make the aura more dark and evil-sounding.
David Vincent (ex-Terrorizer) is an amazing vocalist and this is his first release with the band, on vocals/bass. He's just awesome and augments the music's blasphemy (the track "Blasphemy" is tremendous too!) With this lineup, on a whole Vincent, Brunelle, Agazthoth, and Sandoval have a tremendous impact on the world of death metal. No bore in any of this album--it's constantly changing and the eerie sounds make it even more captivating. I'd say they use all avenues here regarding their talent and the mixing too!
Every song is my favorite song. How can one not like this release if you're a death metal fan? I mean, for it's time, it's beyond its time. Not really into the lyrics, just the music and how both guitars mesh, Trey is in mania when he's playing lead--the guy just shreds. Blast beating, slow tempos, fast tempos, moderate tempos, this has it all. I can't stress that enough. I remember when I got a hold of this album as a teenager--I was engulfed and memorized the lyrics. But now I can look back and say, "nah, not really into the lyrics, can't relate to them, but they're suitable for this release."
Another word would be: speechless. It's just amazing how the music goes so well with the vocals. The production quality shys on a little raw sound, but not as raw as some older death metal band releases--it's eerie like I said and you can hear all of the instruments in unison. Nothing left out and not an overuse of solos like on "Covenant", a later release. I think that the concept is clear--the band wanted something coming from nowhere to Earth and made into an incredible work. It's really staggering how the music really is the highlight for the band and they did well with their efforts.
YouTube this album if you don't have it. I used to have it on cassette. Yes, it's that old and so am I! Just expect raw-like sounds, blast beating galore, Vincent's spews on vocals and guitar frenzies. It all adds up into a balls-out-bad-ass release. The band should split up now--they should leave their death metal origin in the archives. With "Altars of Madness", you have variety, creativity, unholiness, countless surge of repulsion, and a definite "maze of death." They really did nothing wrong on here, nothing drags or bores the listener. Get the CD and play it to death!
Morbid Angel were one of the early pioneers of death metal. massively influential both for their style and playing ability, they are undoubtedly legends of the style. However, for some reason I've just never been a big fan of them. I've gone off them several times but find myself coming back for another go, each time thinking whichever album it is I'm listening to is merely alright. I wouldn't consider any of their albums to be amazing, but this is probably their best album.
Altars of Madness came out in 1989, fairly early in death metal history. Florida death metal started booming around this time and Morbid Angel were the early pace setters. This album is fast, angry and brutal for the time. This is more fully realised death metal than earlier bands such as Death and Possessed, whose early works is more closely blurred along the thrash/DM style. The bass drumming is insanely fast here, Pete Sandoval is a monster behind the kit. His blastbeat technique has been copied thousands of times since this. Riffs are full speed too, while the solos are like a more technical Slayer style, squealing along at light speed. Very impressive from a musical perspective.
My main gripe with Morbid Angel is probably the songwriting, I just don't find the songs that interesting. Musical ability is fine but it doesn't make up for not being able to craft inventive songs. I also find David Vincent's vocals to be very dull. This isn't a death metal roar, more of a gruffer attempt at thrash metal vocals. Malevolent Creation's Brett Hoffman had a similar vocal style but he was infinitely better at it than Dave Vincent. Coupled with the childish satanic lyrics, this just doesn't do it for me. His bass playing is buried in the mix too, washed out under the frantic drums.
So, the actual songs. "Immortal Rites" sets the standard with some fast tremolo riffs and the aforementioned insane drumming. Everything is fine until the bloody vocals kick in. Same goes for every track. I'm not saying I hate this at all, just the inadequacies of the frontman bring it down. Tracks 2 and 3 blur by at warp speed, nice but nothing remarkable. "Maze of Torment" picks things up a little. It's still the same style as the rest, but the song just happens to be more memorable. Another track whizzes by. "Chapel of Ghouls" is next, my favourite track on here. Cool crunchy intro, bad lyrics I choose to ignore and a nice slower part as well as some tastefully executed keyboard backing. The most varied track here and definitely the album highlight.
"'Bleed for the Devil" is very, very fast. Lots of blastbeats and tremolo riffs. I've started ignoring the vocals by this point, monotony has a habit of passing me by. Music is still fast and stays that way for the duration of the album. "Blasphemy" is a better track towards the end of the album but again it isn't spectacular. Most versions of this album now come with 3 bonus tracks which are remixes of songs already here, total waste of time.
Production-wise, this is an early Morrisound Studios recording. Sounds brilliant for it's place in time and many bands followed suit and recorded here, probably because of how this sounds. Drums sound powerful as do the riffs and solos. Bass is barely audible, vocals are well mixed but I just don't care for them.
I've pointed out a few tracks I like and also the issues I have with this album. To sum it up, I think the problem primarily rests with the actual song structure. Trey can play a guitar like a demon, but he's a show-off more determined to say "look at what I can do" rather than giving us something memorable. You can tell Eddie Van Halen is his idol, all style and no substance. I believe music should be about how good something sounds, not how many notes or hits you can fit in. On this album everything is just fast, very little variation to the playing which gets tiring. Top marks for being able to play like this but give me a catchy riff not just a fast one.
I don't hate Morbid Angel or this album, I certainly respect their contributions to a genre I love. But I've just never been able to really connect to their material that much. The albums that followed weren't as good, often bogged down by too many interludes and experiments disrupting the flow of each album. Some people think this is death metal's crowning glory, but for me I'd say it's just a decent album. Worth getting for people looking into death metal's origins and at least it's usually cheap. Earache reissue this album often enough so their must be something about it.
I can appreciate the value of this album to the death metal genre and the massive influence it had, but for me personally this isn't a classic album and I don't listen to it very often. When I do, I enjoy it but only to a certain extent and there's plenty of other death metal debuts that leave this in the dust. Recommended for people who like fast, flashy extreme metal.
Recommended tracks: Immortal Rites, Maze of Torment, Chapel of Ghouls.
With all works of metal that are deemed timeless classics, a grain of salt ought to be taken with regard to the former part of the concept, as more often than not it is the time of a given album that can make all the difference. Indeed, when considering the context of a band's origins and how they pertain to the general evolution of a scene, as well as scenes within a larger one, a logical picture can be drawn that will bring a level of predictability and, more importantly, a good dose of reality that should destroy any false expectations. Perhaps no greater case for keeping the context of an album and band in mind is made in the dark, forbidding, but ironically typical beast that is "Altars Of Madness", Morbid Angel's eventual debut after a good 6 years of toiling under various lineups in the wake of the thrash metal movement's rise and flowering. It is primarily so because, to an ear more attuned to modern death metal practices, this album carries a strong familiarity with the concurring thrash metal sound, particularly among its reddest adherents in Germany and Brazil in Kreator and Sepultura.
The otherworldly and horrific character of this album is immediately apparent in the spiritual darkness depicted on its cover, which is a terrifying collage of suffering spirits, some of them seeming to be human-like, but distorted almost beyond the point of recognition and conjoined into something resembling a spider web. With the implicit musical tone hinted at in such imagery, the dense dimensions that result in the 80s mixing style, which is dark and heavy to the point of reminding of Slayer's heavily influential "Reign In Blood" as well as the adjacent early works of Bolt Thrower, are a natural result. When considering the heavily similar character of other albums that cropped up in the late 80s such as Death's "Leprosy", one could almost accuse Morbid Angel of going through the motions to a certain extent, though the atmosphere that results from the muddier guitar tone, the strategic application of keyboards for a further layer of looming terror, and the deeply reverb-steeped character of the whole, it is quite easy to differentiate this from its contemporaries.
While all of these pieces of history may serve to demystify this album to some extent, the individual elements employed to make this album distinct is ultimately where the attributed status of a classic definitely have merit here. Particularly, the character of David Vincent's vocal work makes a noticeable impression, as its just a tiny bit more intense and dark than anything offered up to this point. His voice definitely takes on a blackened character not all that different from Angelripper's work on "Persecution Mania", but just a bit more guttural and nasty, further amplified by the much more chaotic nature of the surrounding music. Likewise, Trey Azagthoth's lead breaks, which tend to be short bursts of unfettered maniacal noise, up the ante far beyond what the largely Kerry King influenced work of the death/thrash sound had accomplished up to this point. It wouldn't be surprising that Trey would have difficulty recreating these monstrous passages of banshee screams and fluttering cries through his guitar live, as its difficult to really grab onto them after hearing them a dozen times on here, but this actually serves to add to the album's mystique rather than come off as obtuse showboating.
It's when dealing with the work behind the characters helming this affair that things get a tiny bit more commonplace, though not to the point of becoming derivative. The riff work largely conforms itself to the tremolo-happy mayhem that has been in existence in the thrash style since 1985 when "Seven Churches" and "Hell Awaits" reared their putrid faces, and was picked up on and further exaggerated by Chuck Schuldiner on "Scream Bloody Gore". Where this album adds things to the equation is primarily in further exaggerating the existing template and complimenting it with a much more chaotic drum sound. The drum work itself, like the riffs, tends to be an exercise in pushing an already existing death/thrash envelope with more frequent blast beats and a much heavier dose of double bass work. To be clear, this wasn't unheard of at the time, but wasn't really used with this level of frequency, and it can be rightly assumed that the technical and brutal character of Suffocation's debut, as well as Cannibal Corpse's, owes about as much to this album as they do to that of "Reign In Blood".
But the greatest charm that this album holds is that, in spite of all the elaborate and chaotic things that have been spliced together to form the equivalent of a volcanic explosion, it contains a solid collection of memorable songs. Whether the format lends itself to a straight up thrash approach that is accented with death influences such as "Evil Spells", or a more atmospheric and multifaceted approach as heard on "Immortal Rites" and "Chapel Of Ghouls", these are songs that just refuse to be forgotten. There is still just a faint echo of the melodic sensibility that characterized the early influences of the NWOBHM that originally inspired what turned into this formidable display of unrelenting darkness and fear, and while it's a far cry from the works of Satan and Blitzkrieg, a few riffs can't help but reminisce on the simpler format that was everywhere in 1983 when this band was first formed. If nothing else, Trey Azagthoth is a creature of the earliest days of the entire genre, and his first task of paying tribute to the early kings of the scene, while fleeting and obscured by a heavier demeanor, has been sufficiently accomplished here.
Recommending an album of this magnitude to anyone with a semblance of affinity for heavy metal is a given, and it definitely has enough older influences present to win over some early heavy and thrash metal fans who might consider the present death metal scene far too percussive and tuneless to listen to. It is a standard in the sense that it further expanded upon the formula, though it can't really be defined as the only standard when considering the wealth of work that came before it in the mid 80s. Like any scene, death metal is a collective accomplishment with numerous moving parts, but at the same time, one shouldn't deny the individual accomplishments of the arm simply because the leg gave it the ability to reach its destination.
Truly a tyrannosaur of the death metal realm, Altars of Madness remains one of the most important and infectious statements in all the genre's history, so brilliantly crafted that even its creators have not been able to surpass it in all their future experimentation and expansion. While most of the formative bands in the style would cross the bridge from thrash to its more extreme offspring, Morbid Angel decided to hang out below said bridge and exact a gruesome toll from all of the audience following in their wake. That this is an immensely influential work goes without saying. Probably 50% or more of all black, death and high velocity thrash I've heard in the past 20 years (and I've heard a LOT of it) owes it at least a salute in passing, if not a more substantial expiation like a handjob.
That said, Altars of Madness is not necessarily an innovation on the aggressive advancements of the 80s as it is a meticulous escalation of such virtues. Surely you will hear the taint of Slayer, Dark Angel, Kreator, Possessed and other monstrosities within its folds, ramped up to nigh impossible levels of malevolence through the unflinching occult lyricism. Pete Sandoval was a living storm and an obvious successor to the recently acquired drum throne of Gene Hoglan. Trey Azagthoth channeled Hanneman and King into a writhing vipers' nest of acrobatic ideas, producing such a force in tandem with Sandoval that half the album sounds like a cacophony of invisible hammers beating in your ribs. David Vincent would not necessarily adopt the same, guttural demesne of a John Tardy or Chuck Schuldiner, but instead a harsher, barked evolution of the more intense vocalists in thrash metal, possessed of perfect resonance through its start contrast against the brighter, scintillating evil of the guitar rhythms and just the right amount of reverb. This is the best Tom Morris (Morrissound) mix ever, and hell, even artist Dan Seagrave got in on the deal, creating one of the most iconic and beloved cover images of his career.
This would all mean jack shit if the songs didn't live up the hype, and with one possible exception, they not only measure up to it, but trample you with their brilliance. "Immortal Rites" paves the ghastly path with its infamous reversed guitar intro, colossal drum performance and more curving, squealing and flesh carving riffs than you could initially count. Not to mention the highly atmospheric breakdown around 2:00, with the slower but still precision chopping and the trill of its synthesized heraldry. 'Lords of death I summon thee!' Who could forget this? "Suffocation" attempts to beat the memory straight out of you with malignant levees of staggering brutality, alternating smooth currents of carnage in the verses to the splattering eruption of the leads and that amazing, descending passage around 1:50. Then, "Visions from the Darkside" explodes with what by this point is the most accessible, 'catchy' structure on the album, from the baleful razor bliss of the dual melody (:20) to the almost happy grooves inherent in the verse. Attention should be spent here on Vincent's bass lines, which are incredibly fluent as they twist below Trey's juggernaut exhibitions.
"Maze of Torment" opens with shrill gutter force, almost like old Death Angel circa The Ultra Violence but quickly transforming into a neck battered onslaught of perplexing rhythmic thrust that evokes imagery of seraphim being delivered multiple stabbed wounds. "Lord of All Fevers and Plague", which was exclusive to the CD version (back then you were given more for paying more) is a slicing addition with entropic leads and grisly gallantry, but then we arrive at what I must consider the apex of the experience: "Chapel of Ghouls". This is an exercise in not only intensity via Azagthoth and concrete jointwork via Sandoval, but arching and ebbing patterns of disgust that incessantly tear through the listener at unfriendly velocity before the magnificent breakdown before 2:00 with its epic, haunting keyboard line. The gates of the old chapel burst asunder, its contents spill forth into the cold night mist, rampaging silently through the sepulcher before they sate their undead hunger on the nearest village of unsuspecting living. Surely this is one of the greatest moments in all of death metal!
The final third of the album is the only place where a chink in its armor is exposed, coming with the perhaps all too straightforward "Bleed for the Devil". Don't get me wrong, this is one hectic storm of savagery that will peel the paint off artillery as surely as a nuclear wind, but despite the dizzying lead breaks and virulent speed, there was just something missing in there. It's the only reason I don't award the album a perfect score. "Damnation" is immediately more interesting with its guillotine curvature, and "Blasphemy" spits forth frag grenades of concussion through the flange effect nestled into its earlier verse, and the morbid death hymns of the bridge. Lastly comes "Evil Spells", possessed of incredibly memorable guitar rhythms, lead spatter and just about everything you liked about its predecessors, a summation of sin and scourge. The CD version also includes some alternate solo remixes of "Maze of Torment", "Chapel of Ghouls" and "Blasphemy", meant only as an addendum, and thus they don't detract from the appreciation despite the obvious redundancy.
The Morbid Angel debut felt like one of those moments where some gate to cosmic horror had just opened and there was not going to be any way to close the rend. In fact, the band's obsession with the Lovecraftian Mythos, Satanism and archaic occult ritual seems to reflect this. The lyrics rule. It's one of those precise occasions of singularity in which you know the game has changed forever. Such a defined, developed work of craftsmanship that one can be assured that the years leading up to its release were well spent. This was pretty much an instant breakout hit for Earache. I was already seeing the band's name dropped everywhere before it was even released, and even more so as the t-shirts began to infest the chests of every sick fuck from here to Timbuktu. But not often was the hype this well deserved. Morbid Angel wasted no effort in writing and executing this material, and you should spare none in tracking it down immediately if you are one of a handful of blessed ignorami who have yet failed to do so. Fundamental, and so near perfection to my ears that its successors couldn't help but breed disappointment.
Altars of Madness is the first full-length album from the legendary Florida Death Metal band, Morbid Angel. Recorded at Morrisound and released in early 1989, this L.P. features many songs that had been previously recorded on various demos and even an unreleased album from 1986. Fate determined that it would be this unholy release that brought together the evil forces that inspired Black, Death and Speed Metal to create a timeless classic.
Morbid Angel was one of the first Death Metal bands that I got into, so many years ago. At the time, I had only discovered a few others, such as Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. I immediately associated the vocal style with those bands but, musically, I thought of old Slayer. I remember sitting there, in the record store, previewing the album. I was supposed to just give it a quick listen and get the general idea; however, I ended up going through the entire L.P. right then and there, reading along with the evil and Satanic lyrics. Not only was I still young, but I was still fairly new to Death Metal, so Altars of Madness was very important in my musical development and my understanding of that particular sub-genre. I became obsessed with the album, listening to it every night, many times over. Naturally, I vandalized many school desks with my crude rendering of the Morbid Angel logo, as well.
"Immortal Rites" begins with the main riff being played backward. The guitars possess a hellish tone, similar to that found on Hell Awaits or Seven Churches. Sinister tremolo riffs flow throughout like blood from an open wound. The vocals are higher-pitched and raspier than the Death Metal vocals that I had experienced up to that point. David Vincent's ghoulish approach is far better than the deep and guttural style utilized by the legions of generic vocalists that came after him. Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle unleash Hell through their guitar riffs, as the dark melodies haunt your mind. Of course, Pete Sandoval earns his keep as drummer, being quite proficient. As everything progresses, it manages to create an epic feeling, despite the relative brevity of the song.
The next song is "Suffocation", which wastes little time in breaking into a furious speed. There are a few tempo changes, as well as a razor-sharp solo near the end. In the grand scheme of the album, it serves to heighten the level of intensity.
"Visions From the Dark Side" begins with a brilliant tremolo melody. This hearkens back to the first Possessed album, in particular, "The Exorcist". It would seem that this album managed to influence many Scandinavian bands that were soon to begin releasing albums. As already mentioned, David Vincent's vocals are in top form, on this album. This is, certainly, his best performance. It is difficult to choose a favorite song, but this one definitely contains one of the best riffs on the whole album.
"Maze of Torment" starts out with a very memorable riff that will creep into your brain at the strangest times. Within moments, the song bursts into a high speed frenzy, unleashing Hell and suffering. Already, by this point, it is amazing that there is no filler on this album. It is rare for a Death Metal release to be so consistent. As the song progresses, the pace slows down to a ghoulish crawl, creating an eerie feeling.
The next song is "Lord of All Fevers and Plague", which is a bonus track for the CD version of this album, ever since the original release. This song is very fast-paced, for the most part, though it features changes in tempo and Trey's identifiable solos weaving in and out. The lyrics were written by Azagthoth, displaying his interest in Sumerian mythology. Late in the song, the tempo shifts again, reverting to more of an old school drum beat underneath the solo. It is very apparent that the songs on this album were crafted over time and perfected before being recorded.
"Chapel of Ghouls" is next, and is one of the most recognizable Morbid Angel songs. The song begins fast enough, though it slows down a little and includes a brief solo before resuming the previous speed. Around the 2:00 mark, there is a mid-paced and epic riff that creates an eerie atmosphere of old graveyards and murky forests. Trey's solo adds to this effect. AS the song build to its climax, a chorus of demonic vocals erupts from the bowels of Hell:
"Demons attack with hate
Satan in the fires of Hell awaits
Death against you all
God hear my death call"
This classic album continues with "Bleed For the Devil", which maintains a fast pace, throughout. It is relatively short. Vincent's vocals sound even more hoarse and raspy, containing the essence of death and evil.
"Damnation" carries this feeling on, though being a little less straight-forward than the previous song. The vocals are scathing and the guitars embody the 80s sound, especially the lengthy solos. Despite being recorded at Morrisound, this does not have the generic and boring production job usually associated with that studio. The overall sound is very reminiscent of early Slayer, especially the abysmal feeling of Hell Awaits.
Rapid-fire gunshots begin the next song, "Blasphemy", with the furious drumming of Pete Sandoval coming in and emulating this with precision. The original version of this song appeared on the Thy Kingdom Come demo, though is rawer form. This song is unrelenting in speed and aggression; however, the solos still maintain a lot of feeling, unlike many other Death Metal bands that toss solos in as if they were obligatory and meaningless.
This unholy classic concludes with the song "Evil Spells". This was originally recorded for the 1986 album, Abominations of Desolation, under the title "Welcome To Hell". The pace is neither fast nor slow; rather, it is more relaxed. There are sections that speed up a bit, yet these are brief. This song possesses a haunting atmosphere and serves well to bring such a monumental album to its conclusion.
With Altars of Madness, Morbid Angel established themselves as one of the elite bands in the underground scene of the late 1980s. This legendary album set a standard that has not quite been matched by any Death Metal band, before or since. In the liner notes, it says that "this album is dedicated to the underground and all Speed, Death, Black Metal fans everywhere." Altars of Madness is truly the point where all of these styles converged to create something memorable and special; something that Morbid Angel has not been able to repeat. Few albums stand the test of time like this one has. If you don't own this, impale yourself and rid the world of your feeble stupidity.
Death metal is quite a varied genre. There are many different types and variants, but one of the more intriguing aspects is how this sometimes varies by location. For example, there’s the overly brutal, low-end heavy, thuddy New York death metal sound of bands like Immolation and Incantation. Then there’s the more high-end oriented sound of Swedish death metal bands like Dismember and Hypocrisy. And within that Swedish sound, there’s that melodic death metal sound that is focused around Gothenburg, with bands such as Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, and At The Gates (and for the love of Odin, please listen to The Red In The Sky Is Ours before ranting about how “awesome” that shitfest Slaughter Of The Soul is). But to me, the most important sound in death metal is the Florida death metal sound.
The general rule to getting into death metal might as well be this: listen to Altars Of Madness until you like it. It sounds elitist and retarded, but this is absolutely correct. This was one of my first death metal albums back when I was young, and it still stands the test of time as one of the best death metal albums ever.
Altars embodies all that is good about death metal, with aggressive, thrash-influenced yet still audibly death metal riffs all over the album, but with vocals that completely redefined what it meant to be metal. In addition, the sheer atonality implemented in this album clearly separated it from it’s thrash roots. The drumming, which may use many slower blastbeats drawn in from thrash, still operates on a much different plane than anything before it, utilizing many unexpected stops, starts, and off-time signatures, and a generally faster tempo than anything heard in thrash metal. The lyrics, while childish and juvenile in retrospect, were revolutionary in that Satanic/Anti-Christian sentiment didn’t exist on such a blatant level in metal before albums like this and Seven Churches.
This album is full of classic songs, but standout cuts include the opener, ‘Immortal Rites’, ‘Suffocation’, ‘Maze Of Torment’, and the epic ‘Chapel Of Ghouls’. ‘Chapel Of Ghouls’ in particular has a very interesting, unorthodox structure that really helped set the path for death metal to be more ambitious than their thrash roots.
But the most important thing about this album is that it is unrelentingly heavy, even by modern standards. These riffs stood the test of time. These vocals were the gold standard. This drumming is still uncompromisingly relentless. Even in times of more modern, polished production, this classic album is what death metal bands should strive to be.
Written for http://thenumberoftheblog.com/
Altars of Madness truly is a legendary album. It is one of the original death metal classics, and can be claimed to be the one that set the ball rolling and created - or at the very least, brought to public attention - the whole genre. While discussing such claims can be considered irrelevant to the quality of the album as an individual piece of music, history speaks for itself, and the importance of Morbid Angel's creation can not be dismissed. Sometimes an album is more than just an album, and if any one release within the world of death metal deserves recognition as the first cause, it's definitely this one.
Musically, Altars of Madness is the grandfather of all death metal. The juicy, crunchy guitar tone has an 80s feel to it, but still manages to create a wall of meat and bones that a lot of band strive for even today. The bass is, contrary to what people too often claim, quite audible, and while it may sometimes settle for merely following the guitars like a nice obedient puppy, it has the essential death metal feel to it, perhaps as the result of doing the same things as the guitars. The drumming, simple and straightforward as it is by today's standards, goes beyond its thrash roots. The extreme technicality of today's death metal drummers is nowhere to be found, but the ferocious speed, the way the tempo changes are accomplished, and the ruthless assaulting in selected parts of the album are all reference points in death metal 20 years later, still being built on. No neat tricks, no extra frills, just downright friendly flattening of anything standing in the way.
The vocals are not the death growls of the 21st century. The gutturals were invented later, and the vocal delivery owes more to the thrash origins of the music than any other individual ingredient in the soup. Vincent is more of a grunter than a growler, and even if the death growl was later to sprout from the kind of coarse grunting found here, the overdone pig squeals and pitchshifted rumbling some bands use have mutated further from the model given on the album than any other area within the subgenre. To a thrash fan, the vocals are enjoyable, but a latter-day deathmetalhead might find them timid and too close to more traditional forms of metal vocals.
Time has generally been surprisingly friendly to the album, and while modern bands with their pronounced technicality and striving for extremes are, of course, more precise and more complex, and naturally have better production, the album has not lost its edge. No, this is the one, true definition of death metal, and even if Death and a few others did a couple of very good albums before Altars, it is still the original, revered and widely respected yardstick for those following the original concept behind death metal, and deservedly so. Perhaps every aspect of death metal has been done better by some younger band, or maybe even every single one of them has been improved on various albums in the past two decades, but the fact remains: Altars of Madness is the original blueprint of death metal.
On a deeper level, this is exactly what death metal should be: aggressive, chaotic, non-linear. While the songwriting is still firmly rooted in the thrash foundation, the atmosphere has the essential feel of random bruising in it, and that has only recently been fading from the essence of death metal; once death metal becomes ordered and loses the illogical flow that skips around mutilating verses and cramming incompatible things together by force, it ceases to be death metal. It becomes melodeath, pop, or something fundamentally different, a domesticated housecat instead of a mean feral lynx. Because death metal, by nature, is supposed to be unshackled and cranky. Modern bands do like order, often a bit too much: a funny time signature does not equal chaos, and while the younger generation certainly has more skill, speed and precision, the crawling chaos and primordial maelstrom cannot be indexed, folded and put in a file. No, death metal must have chaos as one of its components, otherwise it's something tamed, fattened and ready to be slaughtered and devoured by some commercial entity. Maybe Altars is not quite as chaotic as it could be by today's standards, but it still opened a new view to songwriting, and that is the origin and reason for death metal, much more so than the riffs or styles of playing the instruments.
And now those who dislike excessive allegories and irrelevant silliness in reviews are adviced to scroll down to the next review. We are about to enter the realm of Twilight Zone inside Napero's disorganized mind, and if you don't like that, you probably shouldn't be listening to death metal either; both are manifestations of systematic chaos. The rest of you, please read on. Caveat emptor, or something.
I attended an interesting training course at work a while ago. The course was called something like "Technology Innovation Management", and even if the title sounds pretentious, it had some very useful content and was actually a lot closer to my everyday work than many would believe. It may tell more of my "job" than comfortable, actually, but I digress.
Anyway, during the training, a cartoonishly stereotypical but apparently brilliant research professor, a real life Dr Emmett Brown if you will, told us that he had tried to list the greatest and most influential technical discoveries of mankind since the taming of the mystical force of fire. While many of us would list cars, firearms, radio, TV, cheese grater, iPod, T-34/85, T-shirt, Harley Davidson (just kidding here... pieces of crap...), cable ties, instant noodles and the monkey wrench, he was more interested in the big picture, the kind of inventions that more or less immediately changed the world and caused a quantum leap in the way we look at it. He had ended up with a really short and condensed list of three items:
1) The Gutenberg movable type printing
2) The steam engine
3) The transistor
The list is open to discussion, of course, but those inventions had an effect on everyone's life, and changed something truly essential in an irreversible way. While the first two are bound to appear on a list of this kind, it was the last item that caused the most heated discussion among the crowd. Didn't the professor consider the mighty computer a more relevant invention than the measly spec of semiconductors on a silicon chip? Wasn't the Internet the real paradigm shift in the everyday life? His answer was devastating, accurate and convincing: no, once the transistor was there, someone was bound to put several of them together and create a computer; it was only a matter of time. And once there was a computer, someone was bound to connect two of them with a cable, and there was the Internet; it was only a matter of time. Once the fundamental building block, the transistor, had come into being and started a revolution, an earth-shaking process of progress began, and nowadays tens of millions of transistors are produced yearly for every man, woman and child on the planet, mostly integrated on tiny chips. Transistors rule the world, not telecoms, religion, IP, governments or armies.
What does this have to to do with Altars of Madness? Well, very little, if taken literally, of course. But if we assemble a parallel list of very important albums in metal history after the prehistoric taming of the fire by Black Sabbath's Black Sabbath, we are naturally bound to have the "movable type printing" in the form of Helloween's Walls of Jericho, the "steam engine" of Kill 'Em All, and a handful of others. Altars of Madness is the transistor. Because everything else in death metal is based on the concepts condensed on the album, and everything done afterwards would have been done by someone sooner or later; it was only a matter of time. Some bands have taken the commercial route and tamed the beast, neutering it to create melodic versions of the ferocious species, some have gone deeper into the chaos and managed to turn the DNA into a rabid pitbull. Still others worship the original formula, and churn out copies of the mighty Altars to this day, sometimes even surpassing the original's enjoyability factor by using the same ingredients. But anyone denying the album's status as the transistor in metal history has completely missed the point. And anyone comparing it to the newest album by Devourment, Dying Fetus or Nile is missing the point in an even more embarrassing way.
Of course, the blueprint on Altars of Madness wasn't quite as revolutionary as the transistor was. Many of the ideas had appeared on the aforementioned Death albums, for example. But on the other hand, the transistor's functions had been created before by vacuum tubes, and only the semiconductor version finally turned the world upside down. Success, once again, has some intrisic value in it, because even the greatest of inventions is worthless unless it finds a way from the inventor's shack to the great outdoors. Those before Morbid Angel were and are there, but in those days, they did not become famous enough to start a genre. Altars of Madness did.
Whatever way you wish to rate this album, don't miss the point. Disliking it is OK, but disliking it because it's less catchy that the new Cannibal Corpse album, or sloppier than the Aborted album you heard last year, simply shows you dislike the basic blueprint of death metal.
Please, don't hate metal. Thank you.
Altars of Madness is influential. I will not deny it that. It’s an album that takes a big leap from thrash metal into full-on death metal. It’s highly evolved. For that, I commend it. It’s brutal, technically proficient and evil sounding. David Vincent’s vocals are cool as hell and Trey Azagthoth’s solos and riffing are out of this world and highly influential to the genre. The album is impressive and pioneering. That is all the credit I have in my bag to give to Altars of Madness. That’s not token appreciation either. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all the praise in the world that can be given to an album that is ove-… Eesh, I really hesitate to use that word. I’m not comfortable with that term as applied to here. Just let me put it this way: While Altars is proficient and ground breaking, it on its own individual merits regardless of influence, is not the best death metal album released in 1989. That would be Severed Survival by Autopsy.
Quality is quality regardless of how short or long it is and while it is not an absolute aggravating factor, but like its thrash counterpart Reign in Blood, this record is too short to be all that. I do have one other bone to pick in addition to the point. This release in its original version contains nine songs. What’s missing? The song that should have been included in the original playlist: Lord of All Fevers and Plagues because it is the best track on the album. It’s the “anchor” or standout. That it is a bonus track inserted into the middle of the main playlist(at least on most CD versions) attests to how right I am about this and what a folly that omission was. So for instructional purposes only, I just assume that it is part of the main album. That means no, Chapel of Ghouls is not the best song here but it’s close. The lyrics are pretty awesome and the song is wickedly catchy but the breaks are too leisurely and it doesn’t finish quite like it should. Visions from the Darkside has some riffs going that are downright evil and Pete Sandoval’s blasts are meritoriously hellish. Too bad the song just suddenly stops because it doesn’t know how else to end. It’s a good song though. Something quite like what is found and expanded on in a few songs with the later Covenant.
David Vincent’s bass is not too noticeable. He should have taken charge a little more with it on Immortal Rites because Sandoval’s gravity blasts sound empty without it. It’s like they’re left waiting for more bass padding to supplement. Morbid Angel were making their studio album debut here with this record so this doesn’t always sound that crisp or consistent for each song. There’s that audio clipping in the first 10 seconds of the song. I don’t know if this was intentional but the impedance makes it sound like an early thrash recording for that little amount of time and then pops on out to be a little louder like a jack-in-the-box that grabs you by the collar and screams, “this is death metal, fucker!”. Richard Brunelle’s solo turn in the song is chromatically satanic with a hint of speed metal. It’s a little muted compared to everything else but only slightly less so than Azathoth’s unmistakable pitch bends with those crucifying squeals of torment that he can pick away so effortlessly. David wrote the lyrics on this album and Immortal Rites is one of those songs he authored where it sounds authentically like an actual satanic invocation.
Suffocation is a more fine-tuned and aggressive display than Immortal Rites and the core trio of Azagthoth-Sandoval-Vincent is evidently the focus and leadership as shown on the song since Trey’s guitar dominates. Morbid Angel is and will always be one deadly cocktail of those three. Musically, Trey is the overriding force of this band but without David’s evil shape-shifting vocals and satanically accusing lyrics, this song evidences that Morbid Angel is best heard with them and only them. Nothing against Brunelle but he is little more than good hired help on Altars. It was also nice to see David’s bass lose the shyness with his little solo in the middle of Suffocation.
The record doesn’t really get going until Maze of Torment. I have always loved looking at the cover of this album. I remember it well back when it came out. It’s still the coolest one done by Dan Seagrave. Anyways, the song Maze of Torment pretty much is representative of the album cover. I love that kind of shit. And besides all that, the opening riff is classic brutality. If I don’t count Lord of All Plagues and Fevers, this one song takes the prize as best track on Altars. Brunelle’s riffing and Pete’s hits are clearly set up for Trey to blast out some breakneck soloing. Lord of All Plagues is another incantational death metal song but it’s more along for the worship of evil Sumerian deities. What metal fan couldn’t love a chorus like that? Really, it has to be one of those things that made other bands wonder why they didn’t think of that first! Pete Sandoval is to death metal what Dave Lombardo is to thrash metal once you first hear Lord of All Plagues. Those succinct sharp blast rolls sound like a machine gun ambush from 300 meters away. I declare thee, LoAPaF, the true track of this album without taking anything away to the other fine songs that were originally placed. Remember that old Wendy’s commercial catch phrase ‘Where’s the beef!?’ Well, just consider Lord of All Plagues the slab of new and improved paddy on Altars of Madness and I will have less of a beef (no pun intended) with it. The song is a nice airlift that drops the ungodly goods. I heard the original album release and was only satisfied. But when I heard the new version with the track, there were visions of Tattoo yelping, 'Ze plane! Ze plane!'.
Bleed for the Devil takes many cues from early Slayer but does the solos in a more technical fashion to show off the newfangled death metal destruction to contrast thrash. And I believe Damnation has an influential black metal styling in it if you were to pare it all down riff by riff and in the verse placement.
I think we tend to remember things as better than they really were at the time. Altars of Madness is fondly revered as great death metal. I think it has greatness in it, yes. The record is a great start and it is part of a classic trilogy of the band’s early output but it is not perfect from top to bottom. Morbid Angel’s more recent albums probably make this album look even more golden than it probably is. That isn’t a bad thing. Overall, I have to say I love David Vincent’s vocals and the satanic riffing and destruction that attacks bleeding eardrums. It’s better for an album to be too short than too long but did it have to be this short? If you love death metal, then you must have this in your collection and have already heard it. This is not a love it or hate it album. This album is like a woman who is so undeniably hot that if you declined to fuck her in a hypothetical scenario, your orientation would be called into question. That’s the nature of this beast. That’s Altars of Madness. You don’t have to fall in love with it but you do have to give it some props if only at a superficial level if you love extreme metal.
Honestly, Morbid Angel are considered gods in the genre – a landmark band who know how to kick up the volume and crush everything with relentless riffs, stampeding drums, and with enough fire to burn the house down. No doubt going in, I was psyched as hell; I was finally going to hear Morbid Angel’s debut – the sanctified art of death metal… one minute later, I couldn’t be more displeased. Relentless riffs? You must mean tremolo heading towards a dead end. This was honestly what was going through my head. So “Immortal Rites” didn’t click, how about the other classics: “Maze Of Torment,” “Chapel Of Ghouls,” and “Damnation?” It was the same excuse for every track I was hearing – tiring atmosphere, boring riffs, lazy vocals, overuse of blast-beats, and bass that couldn’t even do its job properly. The music was 70% sloppy and I couldn’t find any reason why I should continue delving any deeper into something that obviously had no more depth to uncover.
I don’t get it: Incantation, Immolation, Death, Gorguts, early Cryptopsy, Autopsy, Behemoth, Nile, Grave, and countless other bands I have no problem getting into. How the hell are the legends not able to make it into the club? I was told it would sink in even, so I decided to wait a while and hear it again later. Coming back to it I had butterflies in my stomach and was sweating – “This is it,” I kept telling myself, “finally going to like Morbid Angel.”
No, the music is still sloppy, still boring, still monotonous, and unexciting. The production is generally great for the time; the quality isn’t sludgy like Autopsy, the guitars don’t roar on like Dismember’s signature chainsaw sound, the evil tone was done better by Immolation, and the riffs themselves aren’t that interesting. Vincent most of all I’m appalled by – Schuldiner in Death a couple years prior left us with a menacing, demonic growl on Scream Bloody Gore, but Dave Vincent here on Altars Of Madness can’t even get the signature death growl right. It sounds like he’s having an asthma attack, no joke – his growl isn’t guttural, raspy, demonic, or even loud. He sounds like he’s out of breath on every yell, and there’s no power behind them at all. Not only that, but he can’t catch up with the rhythm and actually hurts the album more than anyone else. That goes for his basslines, too, most of which I can’t even hear. It follows the rhythm extremely closely, which isn’t a problem, but I’d expect more of an impact.
Nonetheless, this is a very guitar based album – how can’t it be? Azagthoth’s is the mastermind behind the band, and his riffs really are what keep this album on its feet. His notes don’t necessarily sounds evil, and most of the time he’s just wanking off like on “Evil Spells” and “Lord Of All Fevers And Plague.” Is he trying to solo or is he scratching the strings with his palms? All of his solos are screechy and raw, which doesn’t do justice to his thrash-oriented riffs. I hear more out of Sodom in his style, which is fabulous because Sodom pull off the notorious attitude a lot better than this album. I can’t even call Trey’s playing melodic, unorthodox, sinister, or technical (closer than the rest). He’s exhausting every possible note when he solos and all while the rhythm is decent enough as it is. Are you trying to exhaust my patience? I’m not exhausted – you want exhausted? Look at Vincent, he’s having a fucking asthma attack over there call an ambulance!
Through most of the cacophony I can relate most to the berserk drumming patterns of Sandoval. He caters most to blast-beats, but what I appreciate more is his effort to stay on top of things. Rather than go complete unnatural like Azagthoth / Brunelle, he actually sticks to the general formula and manages to keep his rhythm and flare alive. The cymbals sounds high-pitched as hell, but otherwise double bass, toms, and even the snare sound organic and rich. While the main riff maintains a charging pace, Sandoval maintains precise timing and more of a punch with each of his hits than the lead can ever hope to hit you like a ton of bricks. Every time he hits the set I feel as though I’m being punched in the face, and its happening every second. I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats the guitarists in a marathon – he literally is the pacekeeper, and if you can’t keep up, then fuck-off… that’s you, Vincent.
Once in a while I stumble upon something halfway enjoyable like the short-lived intensity of “Chapel Of Ghouls,” but overall the album goes nowhere and doesn’t really have any particular style. Nothing keeps me hooked in, and the solos are spontaneous notes in non-consecutive rhythm. Vincent I bet has a sharp bite, but on this album he has no bark at all. Drumming is pulverizing and easily destroyed my expectations, which is a letdown cause drums don’t have near the lasting power as the lead. This album I see much like Immortal’s Battles In The North, since most of the songs are fast-paced, aggressive, and don’t really go anywhere or have anything interesting to say. Like that album, there are one or two songs that stick to a more simplistic formula like “Blashyrk (Mighty Ravendark)” on that album and “Chapel Of Ghouls” on this one. In this respect both bands do justice, but for the rest of them I really can’t help but pass them up for more worthwhile works.
If anything this is more of a darker, impulsive thrash metal album with clear influences from Sodom. Writing skills are present, but the execution is all over the place. Less emphasis was put forth in creating something to catch our attention and instead they opted to throw everything they had at us. Morbid Angel is honestly a band I’ll always respect for their influence and Sandoval’s drumming, but for Altars Of Madness I find a work that found too much effort being put into the wrong areas. Had less been devoted to sheer cacophony, they could have attempted to at least capture at least a little intricacy without losing their tenacity. Death did it with Leprosy less than a year earlier and Entombed accomplished even more with their debut less than a year later, so there’s no excuse…
…no fucking excuse…
What can really be said about Morbid Angel's "Altars of Madness" that hasn't already been stretched over the past 15+ reviews? Plainly, it's a genuinely bludgeoning, visceral, blood-curdling display of satanic death metal, that somehow manages to remain technical, precise and consistent throughout all of its 10 tracks. If I could liken each Morbid Angel to a criminal, this would, without a doubt, be the kerosene-wielding church-burning maniac.
"Altars" opens with the, now legendary, backwards track which leads into "Immortal Rites", which doesn't play around in the slightest and gets straight to business, buy bashing your head in with its incredible barrage of lightning-fast riffs coupled with Sandoval's unbelievably precise drumming that combines hyperblasting double bass with a brilliant technical showcase and manages to strike the perfect balance with knowing when to be conservative and when to pummel your head straight in.
Yes, I'm afraid I'm going to have to write a whole separate paragraph for David Vincent's vocals, because that's how much praise they deserve. Alongside his driving bass lines, he manages to put on one of the most astonishing vocal performances I've ever heard. His voice isn't as deep and throaty as Chris Barnes or the grunting capabilities of Mike Majewski, yet his raspy, somewhat ritualistic way of spitting out each line is far, far more effective than both of them combined. The lyrics are incredible, with some truly spectacular lines', such as the second verse of "Chapel of Ghouls" - "Dead, your god is dead! Fools, your god is dead! Useless, prayers of lies! Behold, Satan's riiiise!" - a line that still holds a place with me several years after first listening to it.
The guitarwork is spectacular too. Brunelle and Azagthoth - who is admittedly vastly overrated as a guitarist - churn out some incredible fast, technical and precise riffs, such as the driving line in "Lord of all Fevers & Plague". These riffs, combined with the hyper-speed drumming, the somewhat muddy production and the ridiculous yet somehow haunting solos that seem to cry and squeal at you as if they are dying, all create an astounding atmosphere that sucks you in and doesn't seem to want to let go.
The final, and possibly best, ingredient in the steaming casserole of death is the absolutely SUPERB songwriting. There are very, very few bands that match this level of excellent songwriting - from that subtle little bass solo in the middle of "Suffocation" to the trade-off solos in "Maze of Torment", the doubled up vocal lines in "Blasphemy" and the gradual tempo changes in "Chapel of Ghouls" that suddenly pause, and go right back to the tornado-like speeds that Morbid Angel is known for - there are so many subtle little examples of this that it leaves you wanting more and more.
Since this is the bit that most will read, I'll cut to the chase - yes, "Altars of Madness" really is that good. Yes, it really is worth all the hype. It's raw. It's brutal. It achieves everything you want from a classic death metal album. And yes, if you haven't already got it, do yourself a massive favour and check it out.
This is it. This is the ultimate representation of all things blasphemous, and it takes great pride in that fact. Before Azagthoth and Vincent exploded onto the scene, the world had never seen such twisted, godly musicianship and such hatred - Altars of Madness changed everything. Sure, there was Scream Bloody Gore; sure, there was Schizophrenia - but Morbid Angel took all that had come before, pulverized it, and sacrificed it to Satan. And a sacrifice to Satan is what Altars of Madness is all about. It's utterly heathenish; it's abstract; it's deadly. From the first second of "Immortal Rites" to the last of "Evil Spells," it's nothing short of ugly, heathenish death metal - and the thirty-five minutes in between are pure, unadulterated Hell on Earth.
You've got riffs and solos plentiful and powerful enough to send a champion heavyweight wrestler running in fear. You've got filthy vocals delivered by a death metal god. Oh, and did I mention he's a registered Satanist? There's inhuman drumming and terrifying yet intriguing lyrics, and to top it all off, ten of the best songs in the history of music. "Immortal Rites," "Suffocation," "Maze of Torment," "Chapel of Ghouls," "Evil Spells..." even in 1989, Morbid Angel had set a standard that rarely, if ever, has been topped - even by the band themselves. And just check out the ghoulish cover art.
You know you're in for a one-way trip to Hell from the first riff of "Immortal Rites." As if the riff itself wasn't evil enough, its backwards counterpart is sick, twisted... and perfect. From the very beginning, Morbid Angel were starting a revolution. That song alone could obliterate a huge percentage of entire death metal albums, with its opening buildup in the second riff, its shredding yet memorable solos, and its truly evil lyrics. "Suffocation" only improves and furthers the mastery Altars of Madness has already put on display. It's got some of the best riffs ever written, and once again, great lyrics. There's even an awesome bass solo here - see? - Vincent is a godly bassist, too!
"Maze of Torment" perhaps contains the album's coolest concept. What better topic to cover on such an album but madness itself? - what better way to do it than incorporate some of the best musicianship and lyrics ever conjured, by Morbid Angel or otherwise? And the most terrifying part is that they've got a point!
"Chapel of Ghouls" ... Besides sporting one of the most amazing two lines of lyrics in existence, it is arguably the best song on the album - and that's a hideously difficult thing to achieve. Never before and never again was there a single song that so perfectly encapsulated an entire album. It's the complete definition of Altars of Madness - compressed into one-seventh of its length.
"Dead, your God is dead
Fools, your God is dead!"
Can't beat that? Didn't think so.
And every other song on the album is a classic in its own right. The songs are organized in the best way possible, so that there's a perfect flow from song one to song ten. A sparing use of what I think is synths creates an otherworldly atmosphere when applied to songs like "Chapel of Ghouls" - it makes it feel like a real Satanic ritual. Another interesting effect is the intro and outro to "Blasphemy" - never mind if you can't tell what it is. The mystery makes it all the more intriguing. And the mystery is one thing that really sets the mood of Altars of Madness and holds it together.
I don't think it's even possible for a death metal release ever to come anywhere near Morbid Angel's debut masterpiece. Even Nocturnus's The Key, released the next year, wouldn't stack up, despite its overwhelming atmosphere and similar Satanic fury. It's nearing Altars Of Madness's twentieth anniversary of domination, and it won't be dethroned any time soon.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go listen to it again.
This album is a true death metal classic. When I first heard it I wasn't used to the style, having just discovered death metal at that time, and I couldn't really understand what I was hearing. At the time I simply didn't understand death metal, being unused to its extremeness and harsh brutality. However, as I listened to more and more death metal albums by more and more bands, my opinion changed.
As time went on, I began to realise the true greatness of this album. Now that I am able to easily tell the difference between each song, I realised that they are all quite unique after all. Perhaps not as much as the songs on later Morbid Angel albums, but this album succeeds in doing what it is supposed to: be utterly brutal and uncompromising without a hint of mercy, and not be overly deep like the following albums. Not that being overly deep is bad, not at all - both approaches are equally good, in different ways.
The first song is amazing in particular, in that it combines devastating death metal brutality with some really twisted, evil melodies. The melody of the guitars playing with that slow chugging riff underneath at around 2.05 is really evil and malevolent. Things like this would become a hallmark of Morbid Angel - the faster openings with the slower middle sections. Eventually they would create full fledged sludgy songs, from Blessed are the Sick onwards, but on this album the predominant tempos of the songs are consistently fast.
The otherworldly feel of the music that is pretty much unique to Morbid Angel is already on full display here. Not in an overly atmospheric way, more in a twisted, warped, vicious way, created by the strange sounds of some of the riffs and the atonal solos. This is particularly true on Immortal Rites, Visions from the Dark Side, Maze of Torment, and Chapel of Ghouls, although also appear strongly on many of the other songs too. In no way is anything here truly conventional, because while this album is incredibly brutal, it doesn't have to try to be brutal in order to work. It's still brutal in and out of itself, but there is far more to Altars of Madness than just brutality. There's the twisted melodies of the solos that often sound really bizarre. There's the lyrics, which range from pure satanism and anti-Christianity to strange musings on Lovecraftian topics. Lord of all Fevers and Plagues is a good example, or is that song about Sumerian mythology instead? Either way, this part of the music works just as well as the satanic stuff.
Another thing that really stands out is Pete Sandoval's drumming. No one else in the death metal world, as fast as they often were, could drum as fast as he could at the time, and the only drummers that were ever faster were grindcore drummers. But Sandoval really stands out here. His blastbeats are brutal and extremely well done. When the band plays slower he fits in excellently too.
Trey Azagthoth's guitar playing is incredible here too. His riffs are incredibly brutal, dark, and twisted. And his solos? I don't know whether I would describe them as good in the memorable way, like "hey, this is a great solo, I'll remember this one for a long time", because they aren't memorable in that way. They are excellent, but they are incredibly atonal and twisted. This was probably the whole point, as it does make the music sound more otherworldly and, yes, more satanic than it would with more melodic solos. At least I think so. However, the occasional more melodic moments don't detract from the darkness at all; in fact, they often enhance it.
Other standout moments are the massive, slow, heavy break at around 3.30 on 'Chapel of Ghouls', which is truly skullcrushing and evil, the slow, crushing riffs in the middle of 'Evil Spells' and the really creepy feel of that song overall, and the huge number of tempo changes and interesting melodies and riffs in 'Maze of Torment'.
Overall, this album is truly a classic and is right up there with all of the other classic death metal albums, and easily one of the greatest death metal albums of all time, as well as one of the most influential. This is inspirational stuff - it helped to continue the evolution of death metal, taking it away from anything remotely resembling thrash metal completely. Bands like Possessed may have helped to start death metal, but it was Death that took the idea and ran with it properly for the first time, and then Morbid Angel that took the next step in order to create a subgenre that wasn't just a more brutal version of thrash with harsh vocals, but something far more extreme in ways that were, at the time, probably quite hard to imagine. The atonality of this album is another reason it really stands out. Death had atonal solos, but not really atonal riffs. Not everything here is atonal of course, but the stuff that is works just as well as the stuff that isn't.
The overall brutality, darkness, and uncompromising nature of this album is what really set it apart at the time, more than anything else. All of those elements combining together to create something far more brutal, sinister, dark, and disturbing than any death metal band had done before. Of course death metal was only just starting properly around this time, but that only makes this debut even more special and astounding. Death was great, but they simply couldn't match this level of brutality. And this album also proved one other thing for certain: death metal didn't have to be all based on just gory horror. It could just as easily be based on satanic horror, and might be even more scary and sinister by doing so.
A true death metal classic. Anyone who is a fan of death metal must have this in his collection.
Satanism, in my consideration, is a lyrical theme that frequently shocks the average mind as it is, in a world where at the very least half the global population theoretically has a Semitic religious background, a sharp edged opposition to the common morality.
It is a theme that was a logic progression during the evolution of heavy metal, a musical genre rooted in the sentiment and act of rebellion (rebellion which was also one of the main factors of rock'n'roll culture's birth) as anger, frustration and a general distaste of modern society was reflected in the early works of british band Black Sabbath (songs like “Into The Void”, “Paranoid” and “Iron Man”) during the late 60s and 70s.
Fast-forward through time. The year is 1989, in a decade where music has divided itself into many sub-categories that have eventually fused and led to a further, more articulate musical development.
Thrash metal was at its peak. Little did people know, its time of fame was to be short, but nevertheless fruitful. Some obscure, rising bands had already taken the genre to further extremities in terms of aggression, speed, and technicality.
Melodic singing and violent shouting was fast turning to snarls, barks and growls. More riffs were getting stacked into songs, and in the process, turning less and less melodic and departing from any known scales, entering the world of atonality. Drumming that had already been considered breakneck-fast was shunned as mid-tempo in comparisons drawn to new and talented drummers.
From this rapid descent into musical bestiality, Morbid Angel was born. The project mainly dictated by the twisted yet original mind of young Trey Azagthoth was fast gaining in reputation and support. It was time for a solid and complete release, an improvement of their earlier unreleased album, “Abominations of Desolation”. Little did he know, with the help of the breath taking drummer Pete Sandoval, terrifying vocalist/bassist David Vincent and lacerating other lead guitarist Richard Brunelle, Trey Azagthoth was not simply going to improve his material, but create something wholly unique and spectacular.
“Altars of Madness” was released in 1989, at at a time were death metal was slowly gaining a respectable following but still considered as an abomination by some of the more conservative metalheads. Death's 1987 release “Scream Bloody Gore” demonstrated a virgin brutality and a enjoyable sense of horror, but “AoM” delivered more than just that.
The reversed debut riff on the first song off the record, “Immortal Rites” showcases just what to expect from the album, yet not revelaing the unheard, obscure pleasures yet to be experienced.
The song kicks in, and Vincent delivers an astonishing show of anger and madness through the use of his brilliant and impressive high growls.
Reverb on this album is used tastefully, as it works in parallel with the powerfully anti-religious lyrics by reflecting the vast, cold and inhuman emptiness that christianity has to offer and creates.
On “Immortal Rites” and “Visions from the Dark Side”, it truly works wonders alongside the unintelligibly fast tremolo picking.
The song structures are quite progressive, and they never follow a distinctive pattern within the album, but it is all for the best. Who could expect the epic bass breakdown on “Suffocation”? Who would be able to foresee the ferocious blastbeats of “Chapel of Ghouls”? Unexpectedness gives this album so much space and dimension, making us smile with delight at the sonic attacks uncoiled ex nihilo.
Lyrical themes, at a first glance, seem fairly clichéd. A deeper study of the lyrics reveals a true talent, that of David Vincent, who like a contemporary misanthropic Baudelaire images his youthful but structured hate and anger against organised religion in a way that works fantastically with the musical compositions: there is a distinctive opposition to the christian doctrine built up on the philosophy of Thelema (portrayed by the song "Blasphemy") and nihilistic tendencies ("Chapel Of Ghouls").
The drumming is devastating. Using his experience and recent acquisition of double bass drumming from previous recording “World Downfall”, Pete Sandoval annihilates his drum kit with his enjoyably dispersed blast beats, painfully yet exhilarating fast bomb blasts and suffocating double bass drumming, incorporating grindcore's speed (“Suffocation”) into the brutally oppressive atmosphere of death metal (“Evil Spells”, “Blasphemy”).
The riffs are awe-strucking. Riffs that start out melodic quickly turn atonal, and convey the decrepitude of Semitic religions. Melodies are rare but whence used are immediately followed by an artificial harmonic, like the malicious cackle of some demonic creature, like a siren luring sailors to their doom.
The soloing is immense, but better showcased on later albums. Trey Azagthoth equally uses atonality in his solos as in his riffs, creating mind bending dissonant noise that, when played with the echo effect, recalls psychedelic music.
Vincent's growls are terrifying, inhuman yet fascinating. I had never seen a death metal artist express his anger so well as Vincent does. His vocals are clear enough to be intelligible (unlike a good deal of modern death metal bands) and his lyrical proficiency is very visible. His lyrics create a sort of hopelessness, revealing the hollowness of christian words.
“Altars of Madness” is a truly excellent record, that is already considered by most of the metal community as an absolute classic of the genre. It is the point where black metal, thrash metal and death metal fuse to become a product of massive appeal, be it for the exhilaration experienced during the faster, thrashier songs like “Maze of Torment” or “Suffocation”, or the overwhelming yet enjoyable sense of madness conveyed by the yet unseen quality riffing delivered by both Brunelle and Azagthoth, in songs like “Visions from the Dark Side” or “Lord of All Fevers and Plague”.
The hellish ride ends with the decreasing riffs of “Evil Spells”, still carrying on with momentum, and leading to Morbid Angel's second and equally excellent release “Blessed Are The Sick”.
“Altars of Madness” is an album that in theory should be highly appealing to thrash metal speed addicts, black metal occult seekers and death metal brutality lovers.
Hell, it might even please christians, even in the act of brutally bashing christianity!
What we have here is a death metal classic from the early days. This one should always be mentioned when discussing the old DM together with Consuming Impulse, Scream Bloody Gore and Left Hand Path. Yes, this is one of the best 10 death metal albums of all time. One can conclude by now this also still is the ultimate Morbid Angel album.
The album has no bad songs. The whole album is one briliant concept which starts en end in quality. The into to “Immortal Rites” is cool in the evil kind of way and not too long. “Immortal Rites” itself is filled with changes in pace and massive aggressive riffs.
“Maze Of Torment”, “Bleed For The Devil” and “Blaphemy” are the fastest and most aggressive tunes here and the ‘catchy’ anthem “Chapel of Ghouls” a fan fave and live classic. Talking about catchy, check out the chorus of “Damnation”. The original CD bonus track “Lord Of All Fevors and Plague” also is one of the best songs on the album. Why they choose this song not to be on all version of the album remains a mystery.
The performance is great. Sandoval rules on drums just like he did on the Terrorizer debut and both these album carved his name in stone forever. Compare the versions on this album to their earlier recordings with Mike Browning and it becomes obvious how important Sandoval is to the speed and intensity fo the material.
Azagtoth and Brunelle both excel on leads and it still is a shame Brunelle isn’t in the group anymore. Last but not least we have mr. Vincent who sounds really great on this album. Most notible difference with other Morbid Angels album (on which he sang) is his raspy voice here. No deep grunt but I remember reading an interview back in those days in which he said he had a cold of something similar when he recorded his vocals for Altars Of Madness. Well all I can say is, make sure you’re sick the next time you record with Morbid Angel because his vocals here are the best in his entire career! They’re beyond evil and eerie.
The sound is utterly briliant. Whereas the next album would sound too deep and polished (thus losing the sense of speed and aggression at some points) with sterile drums this one is still natural, clear and brutal. Guitars have plenty of definition and the whole sound is perfectly balanced to match the concept. This album is a masterpiece.
Morbid Angel are one of the very first wave of death metal bands that during the 80s and the early 90s set the Earth aflame by their great music. Their debut is still regarded as a milestone in a particular way of doing such a vicious genre because it’s quite different from albums by Obituary, Cannibal Corpse or Deicide. It introduced new elements in an already newcomer genre like some keys sounds and the less impulsive- raw approach.
“Altars Of Madness” was recorded in 1989 (with a pause to record the Terrorizer tracks that would have composed World Downfall) by an all stars line up that featured, among the others, the eccentric guitarist Trey Azagthoth and the inhuman drummer Pete Sandoval. At the time it was so difficult to find such good players in the growing death metal genre and this great line up was completed by the vocalist, Venom worshipper, David Vincent and the second guitarist Richard Brunelle.
“Immortal Rites” already shows a totally different song writing: more focused on the complicated riffage and technical drum structures. The up tempos are a bit left alone to let the most “progressive” influences grow in a premeditated orgy of strange riffs and various tempos changes. If the following “Suffocation” is more canonical in death metal style, in “Visions Of The Dark Past” the odd guitars are again well stuck.
Brunelle is a more classical shredder in the solos, but always good and quite technical too, instead of Trey that already shows a more personal and mature approach with lots of strange melodies and techniques. “Maze Of Torment” is a truly gem made of continue up tempos, sudden blast beats and a good refrain. The technique level is always so high and the fuzz, strange, distorted guitars sound (with an hint of echo) makes this CD even more obscure and weirdo.
In “Lord Of All Fever And Plagues”, if you pay attention, you can hear the continuous syncopation on the snare drum by a restless Pete “Commando” Sandoval, while he’s martyrizing the bass drum. Vincent, with his Cronos tonality, invokes each and every forgotten, mythological God. Like in “Chapel Of Ghouls” the guitars patterns are more “relaxed” during some solos, giving you the ideas of taking part in an occult celebration.
The speed restarts in “Bleed For Devil” made history, such the blasting “Blasphemies” in a brutal mixture of distorted, dissonant riffs; restless, technical drumming and excruciating vocals. Overall, this album already dug a definitely different path in a newborn genre like the death metal was in 1989…that’s still nowadays unbelievable and, even if I prefer the Covenant album, I must admit it’s definitely worth owning.
Although formed in 1984, it wasn’t until 1989 that Morbid Angel had the proper conditions to unleash their debut album. They even refused to release what it would be their first LP “Abominations of Desolation” because they weren’t satisfied with it. I’m glad they did. Altars of Madness may be very well the best extreme metal release of all time because both lyrically and musically this is just perfect. While, for example, Slayer’s “Show no Mercy” was also revolutionary but lyrically and compositionally it lacks technique and maturity. Morbid Angel’s contains the rawness and evilness of “Show No Mercy”, indeed, but twice as mature. Altars of Madness is Satanic, but it’s not dumb; it’s Anti-Christian, but not childish; it’s dark and obscure but it’s not cheesy. This is how an extreme Metal LP should sound like. When people hear this they do not laugh at this or mock it, this is a disturbing masterpiece released from the minds of two insane motherfuckers: Trey Azagthoth and David Vincent.
There are 4 Key elements on this album: the drumming, Trey´s absolutely maniacal solos and David Vincent’s raspy and thrashy vocals but at the same time very evil and brutal. When listening to this, the listener is almost transported to another dimension, another realm. This album is the only LP I’ve have heard that changes completely my state of mind. Man, those leads leads can make your ears bleed and Sandoval’s drumming sounds like Satan pounding with a hammer on a bunch of pathetic Christians. In my opinion, he is simply the best death metal drummer ever. David Vincent’s bass is not very audible except on “Suffocation” but that doesn’t matter. I will not forget Brunelle, he is a very talented guitarist too, to bad he quitted the band after “Blessed are the sick”.
Every song here is mandatory because every song is almost a story. That’s why this album is fascinating. Every song describes a feeling, an ideal or an event. “Blasphemy” and “Chapel of Ghouls” (who has a very good chanting section in the middle, maybe the best song on the album) are true anti-christian anthems; “Maze of Torment” is the band’s own definition of Madness and “Bleed for the Devil” is the band’s choice to grind on. The album is very fast overall, only slows down “Evil Spells” but that’s the most evil (the title says it all) song on Altars. There are no flaws or throw-away tracks and the production is impeccable, even more for a debut album. I have absolutely nothing to say negative about this Metal Masterpiece.
Highlights: Chapel of Ghouls, Maze of Torment, Damnation (great main riff and chorus!!) and Bleed for the Devil (this one makes you bleed, indeed).
I can still remember the first time I heard this album. It was the first death metal CD I’d ever heard and I had no idea what to make of it. My uncorrupted mind was unable to handle the signals it was receiving. Had I reviewed this album then, my score for it would undoubtedly be about 40 points lower. Fortunately, years of thrashing it up to some of the heaviest metal conceivable has enabled me to go back to this album with a far greater understanding then when I had first heard it, and after a complete re-listen, it has since become unbelievably clear that this is one of death metal’s finest hours.
Being one of the first death metal bands of its kind, Morbid Angel had not yet polished their sound to the standard issue 90’s death metal typecast. Instead, their first album displays a variety of influences as well as innovations. Most of the guitar work can be described as purist thrash fucking metal, with twisted, Slayer-like guitar solos that sound ripped from the depths of hell itself. The drums incorporate blast beats, but unlike band’s like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide, they are used sparingly and tastefully, providing an extra dose of extremism to punish the listener, rather than an over abundant abuse of a once original and destructive percussive technique (a crime that most death metal since has been guilty of). The drumming is one of the album’s highlights, with a variety of technical playing and dynamic tempo changes. Morbid Angel had a healthy understanding of true heaviness. Heaviness cannot rely on crushing riffing or pure speed alone; rather, it requires a delicate balance of memorable riffs and alternating tempos (though a killer tone helps a lot), both of which are incorporated to their fullest. The intensity here is mind blowing and the band knew it.
I’m very critical of death metal vocalists, they generally range from almost tolerable to utterly unbearable, but David Vincent’s rasps are far better and more sinister than the ultra-low cookie monster death gargles that their imitators (and later themselves) would adopt. The lyrics are dark and delightfully morbid. Combined with Vincent’s vocal style, they’re almost black metal in essence. So here we have an album that fuses the best aspects of thrash, death, and black metal into one horrifyingly potent amalgam that is unlike anything heard before or since.
The band’s later releases would pale in comparison to this absolute monstrosity. Few other death metal albums can stand up next to this one and not look like utter garbage. That says a lot about the quality of this release by itself. There really aren’t any weak songs on it and several are arguable as classics, such as “Immortal Rites,” “Evil Spells,” “Visions from the Darkside,” and “Damnation.” I still don’t understand the inclusion of the three remixes, as the only differences are a couple altered guitar solos, but it’s a hardly a strike against the remaining material. It’s pretty much an essential listen, even if you don’t get it the first time through. Eventually its twisted brilliance will occur to you and afterward you’ll be hard pressed to want to listen to anything less brutal for a long, long time.
To get the full bug of why Morbid Angel’s now legendary debut is such an influential and key release in metal and an absolute cornerstone in the specific development of death metal, we must consider it in the context of its time of release. To this point, death metal was a strong but not altogether prodigious beast during the eighties. And as powerful and shocking as the raw, Satanic sounds of Sodom, Kreator, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and others were, the bands never really congealed into a “scene” per se, as the band of the thrash metal revolution so clearly did. But as far as death metal goes, the bands were far flung at divergent positions on the globe and musically fractured as well. This meant that from 1982 until about 1988, death metal was largely an underground phenomenon, even in the metal sense of the word.
But during this time, bands fermented in subterranean existence, some of which that would soon change the very face of metal in general. Sepultura and Entombed were two of them. But the band that would arise like a fetid gargoyle to envelop the entire metal scene in a black cloud of perdition was Morbid Angel, direct from sunny Florida. In 1989 the band were hardly unknown to demo collectors and other cellar dwellers, having spread their bastardized take on the music of Death and Possessed far and wide. Record companies dismissed their racket and were perhaps mildly repulsed by the band’s tendency to slash their limbs with razors onstage, so as to literally bleed for their music (totally true, gang, the band were very dedicated to proving their persona as a “true” death metal band in what they perceived as an overpopulation of posers in the scene). But it was only England’s Earache records, on a high from the relative fame of Napalm Death, to dare giving such a band an actual record contract.
So what’s important here? Everything. The songs are very, very well written, honed as they were over years of festering in Satan’s crock pot. Keys to understanding Morbid Angel’s sound lie in the introduction of the blast beat to death metal. Sure many other bands in the sub-genre played at scary tempos, but Morbid Angel were another story all together, as Pete Sandoval (late of grind merchants Terrorizer) upped the death metal drum ante several notches not only speed by in precision as well. Next, Trey Azagthoth (real name George Emmanuel). The guy is insane. His crafting of guitar riffs and arrangements that defy logic are a glorious thing to behold. His leads sound like demonic communications from Sheol itself. His songs seem to move sideways, backwards, in every direction but what you would expect. Plus the guy writes more riffs per album that most do in their whole careers. And while it’s true that I believe that Possessed (complexity and tempo shifts) and Death (general brutality) were profound influences on the band, their interpretation of those ideas is stunningly unique.
Best part: the songs, as barked forth by bassist David Vincent, remain some of the finest ever in death or any other brand of metal. “Visions From The Darkside” boasts profoundly gothic melodies atop ferocious rigging and speed, while “Maze Of Torment” displays the Morbid Angel machine simply firing on all satanic cylinders. “Lord Of All Fevers And Plague” is a demented trip to the Necronomicon poetry of the Ancients, with relentlessly shifting riffs and tempos, Vincent spitting out fearsome invocations in deceased Babylonian tongues. “Bleed For The Devil” is the band’s chance to blast in grind style mercilessly, while “Chapel Of Ghouls” is easily the most mature and affecting cut on hand, moving through the band’s entire bible of styles in a flurry of demonic intent. In a production sense this is also a rare example of a Morrisound (Tampa, Florida studio that would soon become the house of choice for death metal recording) studios project that retains a non-generic feel.
This album inverted the entire metal scene. For after it’s release the death metal scene truly began to rally around itself, and within a mere two years would come to dominate the metal underground in an almost epidemic sense. The influence of Morbid Angel’s music would inform this death metal scene in an all-consuming manner not unlike Slayer and Metallica’s domination of the thrash metal world. Further, Morbid Angel would perhaps produce an even better sophomore album, as we’ll soon see. But when the all bets are placed and the finest metal recordings ever are made to stand up and be counted, Altars Of Madness is destined to be very near the top of that list. Some didn’t like (or understand) it upon its release, but that’s only an illustration of how ahead of its time it was. Hear this, or forever be less of a human being.
So it's about, I don't know, September 2003 I'll say (I'm not really positive, as I go on a yearly as opposed to monthly basis). I'm thirteen years old. I go out to the mailbox, a pretty frequent activity right around that time, and what do I see except a tiny Media Mail package. Of course, I knew what it was, we all do. Once I get inside, I immediately toss the rest of the mail on the counter and tear open my bounty. And what do I lay my eyes upon but (you guessed it) the glorious tortured-soul-laden cover art of Morbid Angel's seminal death metal release, 'Altars Of Madness'. It was the first metal CD I'd ever bought. After a cursory look through the packaging, I place the disc in my computer, place on a pair of Audiobahn headphones, and start to listen.
My life thus far has been divided into two portions: Pre-'Altars Of Madness', and Post-'Altars Of Madness'.
At soon as I heard the still ridiculously sinister backward riff at the beginning of the legendary 'Immortal Rites', there was something that had fundamentally changed about my life. At that point, I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but now I understand. That was not so much my entrance into the world of metal (I'd had an awareness of it above most of my peers who were still infatuated with Fred Durst's stunning ability to rhyme words with 'motherfucker') as the point where I felt that I had an actual connection to the community, that I was a member of something that not only gave me a feeling of brotherhood, but a feeling of meaning. It was as if some sort of Deus Ex Machina had arrived to deliver me from 'normality' and into a dark and romantic world that would fundamentally change the way I felt and thought. That symbolic act of participation is something that I remember every day when I listen to 'Altars Of Madness'. Those memories of mingled fear and ravenous desire for more always inundate me when I hear this album, and it's in moments like these that I feel confirmed, as a Hessian and as an entity. This, my readers, is the reason why I am in metal, and will continue to be forever. Death couldn't stop this passion.
In retrospect, it's almost unbelievable that I liked this the first time I heard it, because in all honesty, 'Altars Of Madness' is one ugly album. The thin, reedy production makes the instrumentation sound like gasps of dust from some ancient grimoire retrieved from a witch's coffin. David Vincent in all honesty had no ability to do vocals at this point, forcing him to skeletally gasp and rasp his way through the obscenely dogmatic and blasphemous lyrics (God of lies and greed/God of hypocrisy/We laugh at your bastard child/No god shall come before me) that would appear on this one album before disappearing in favor of the more complex (but far more restrained) writings that would define their sophomore release 'Blessed Are The Sick'. His bass, while not totally inaudible, is almost impossible to hear unless one listens purely for those lines hidden behind his vocals, which will periodically peek out for an impish, sardonic fill (such as on 'Suffocation') before disappearing back into the musical stream.
Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle's guitar duo create intentionally bizarre riffs, without a single example coming to mind of one without some surreal hammer or slide maneuver delicately tucked into their utterly poisonous, churning guitar tone to heighten the otherworldliness that 'Altars Of Madness' uses as it's crudely yet carefully cultivated atmosphere. Solos clearly inspired by one Kerry King's maniacal contempt for any normal meter or scale flicker in frequently, and although these aren't nearly as brutally atonal and chaotic as some of their later compositions, they succeed in still being shocking and paralyzingly savage compared to other works at that time or even now. Pete Sandoval rounds out the group with a level of aggression that is missing from Morbid Angel's later work. The sound of his kit is always in competition with the guitars for who can be more carefully composed (in such an endearingly amateurish fashion), and, in the spirit of the rest of the album, packed to the brim with grotesquerie. Crash cymbals are distant in the background (similar to those used by modern funeral doom outfits such as Skepticism) while hi-hats, chinas and rides take the front where the former would normally be. The snare is dry like a corpse's bones bleached in the netherworld sun, while lifeless toms rattle on their frames, in dire need on new heads. Finishing off his arsenal are his dual bass drums (Sandoval reportedly learned to play double bass specifically for this album, although you wouldn't know it from his accuracy) that pack a surprisingly life-like punch, being felt more than heard in the conventional, triggered sense of today. While not technical in a traditional sense, 'Altars Of Madness' displays a sophistication above most when it comes to performance, due to the joyful inversion of typical musical dynamics that is used to such great effect. While tracks like 'Lord Of All Fevers And Plagues' might not be especially difficult to play, they are conceptually difficult to fully grasp, due to the alien nature in which they unravel.
Compositionally, Morbid Angel strikes that perfect balance between epic narration and utter absurdity, where the best of metal lies. The songs on this album are a perfect example of the beauty and power of metal; namely, in the combination of creative brilliance with pure youthful enthusiasm (best served before the expiration date, i.e. when 'maturity' sets in) that results in ridiculous but utterly sincere songs like 'Chapel Of Ghouls', who's undead denizens' blasphemous proclamations come alive with Vincent and Co.'s breakneck delivery, turning what would normally be childish and embarrassing (Dead, your god is dead/Fools, your god is dead/Useless prayers of lies/Behold Satan's rise) into a masterwork simply because every member of the band believed in it with their whole hearts and minds. This force of love and obsession comes through on every song, be it the almost too-fast 'Bleed For The Devil', the twisted-riff monster of 'Maze Of Torment', or the eternal anti-Christian anthem that is 'Blasphemy'. Morbid Angel obliterates the competition when it comes to pure songwriting; see the vindictive twists and turns of 'Visions From The Darkside' or the terrorizing death march of 'Damnation' for reference. This is most certainly one of the facets of this album that makes it eternal. While death metal has become steadily more professional and clean with the years, this still represents the period where it wasn't complacent, willing to grow fat on technicality or 'progress' in the perverted modern sense of the word.
No single band has been able to perfectly emulate Morbid Angel, especially at this point in their lengthy history. Black metal hissing, twisted riffs, machine-gunning-children-into-a-mass-grave drumming and rigid and mechanical yet organic structure created something that no one has successfully replicated in intensity and vitriol. The movements of these songs are unlike any others, with abrupt changes in tempo or rhythm that don't show off but fundamentally change the nature of the song and it's atmosphere. Closer 'Evil Spells' is a great example of this, moving seamlessly or abruptly (depending on desired effect) between rhythms before it's inconclusive but complete fade-out ending, like a camera ending a film, pulling away from an image of the evil in man conquering the good once and for all. Perhaps they've only robbed, raped and murdered the denizens of one town (which might be enough to console some people) but the unspoken knowledge amongst the audience is that yes, there will be more. And it won't stop until chaos roars over the ravaged corpse of order for the last time.
Morbid Angel's 'Altars Of Madness' is one of the greatest albums of all time, bar none. Four young guys from Tampa went out to create what in their minds was the most evil thing in the world. And you know what? They just might have succeeded. This album is mandatory not only for the extreme metaller, the forward-thinking nihilist, or the brutal anarchist. No, most of all, this is for the kid like me that wanted to put a voice to the bitter, destructive, darkness-ridden fantasies they'd had throughout their lives, but would only later learn were the truth they were searching for all along.
Morbid Angel is probably one of the biggest and most famous bands in the Death metal genre, their album sales are what you can call a small commercial succes. Appreciated by a lot of extreme metal fans, you can probably find at least one of their records in every Death metal fan's collection and with what they've made in their carreer, they certainly deserve it.
This is their debut full length. An enjoyable listen, but, with ups and downs. But it was surely a key album in the history of Death Metal after it's release in '89.
I shall start by saying that this record has a low budget production, but that is actually a good thing. I like this sound a lot : It sounds very raw and this adds to the evilness that is Altars of Madness. That's a major advantage of the album, it's very evil.
A big part in the evilness is carried by the vocalist; Morbid Angel has had quite a few vocalist, however I, and many other MA fans, think that David Vincent is clearly their best. His performance on this album is splendid, he doesn't have a deep growl, it's more something that I would call 'A tortured scream from an ancient ghoul' and this is exactly what he wanted, I'm sure of it. At certain points he even does such a good job that he scares you; Screaming out "Satan! In the fire of hell awaits" over a heavy riff.
The lyrics aren't very surprising on this album, they are pure evil and a chorus in the Ancient Sumerian Language certainly helps. You shall certainly find words like 'Satan', 'Evil' and 'Darkness' in the booklet.
The trump on this album is most likely the highly technical and outstanding performance of the musicians. I can't say that the bass is very audible except for a little mini solo in 'Suffocation'.
Two lead guitarists, that promises fireworks, no doubt. They certainly fulfill that promise, at least riffwise. Technical riff after Heavy powerchord riff and changing constantly, you will certainly remain entertained. I'm not saying that there is a lack of solos on this album, au contraire, mes amis. There are at least 2 or 3 solos or mini solos on each song, both guitarists do their part in the lead work. However they're not very memorable, if you took out all the solos and asked me to tell you which song they belong in, I wouldn't be able to tell you. There are a few exceptions, but generally speaking it's just speed and no melody and you probably won't be
humming these things whilst walking the streets. But they add to that typical Altars of Madness sound.
All my respect to Pete Sandoval, the drumming is absolutely sublime. Blastbeats, double bass and drumfills, all over the place. He is a very talented drummer, speed being his main power. If this doesn't get you headbanging, I'm assuming you're unfortunately paralysed.
Now this album isn't all lollipops and rainbows, there's a significant flaw on it. The lack of variation is very apparent. Apart from the chants in 'Chapel of Ghouls' and the Creepy horror sounds and reversed guitars in 'Immortal Rites' and perhaps the slightly more melodic riffing in 'Visions from the Dark Side' the songs are very similar. This probably rules the entire album out for people that don't like the genre. Melody is also something that you shouldn't seek on this, it has some hints of melody at most.
I own the re-released version, but if you already own the original it's probably not a good idea to buy this, it gets you a nice bonustrack : 'Lord of all Fevers and Plague', but the re-mixes aren't really all that different from the originals aside from slightly altered solos. Only for huge fans.
Recommended songs :
Immortal Rites: As described before this is a very evil song, you'll see
Chapel of Ghouls : Probably the best song on the album, with it's catchy (yes !) chanting section, evil lyrics and awesome riffs.
Damnation : Just a great song.
Conclusion : A great album, but with hardly any variation. Personally, I don't mind being hit around the ears with killer riffs and brutal drumming, but some might.
Recommended to fans of Old School Death Metal.
Years ago, I walked into my local record store--the year this album came out, in fact--and saw this album on the shelves. Now, I'd heard about this insane band from Florida but never actually heard them, so after getting such amazing reviews from friends and zines both, I had to snap it up. Popping it into the Walkman on the way home, I was instantly blown away by what is easily the most classic and definitive USDM album of all time. Oh, and did I mention that I snagged it for domestic price even though it was only available as an import at the time? *evil chuckle*
There are still riffs on this album that I am still trying to figure out what, 15 years after the fact?! That ought to tell you something. Every song on this album is a head-spinning assault of wild, atonal riffage, Pete Sandoval's godly drum assaults, and David Vincent's menacing snarl--and this isn't even one of his better vocal performances. Every song unmercifully batters you to pulp in a maelstrom of carefully calculated chaos and mayhem, and I do mean every single last tune on this album. From the trippy, reversed riff that opens "Immortal Rites" to the doom riff that ends "Evil Spells", it is a monument of gripping, inventive and inspired Death Fucking Metal!
This is the album that cemented Morbid Angel's reputation as Gods of the USDM scene, with its unending wellspring of dark madness, and still holds up to this day as a bastion of what true Death Metal ought to be. Unfortunately, too many USDM bands these days are lacking the edge of brilliance that made MA in their prime the best of the best, preferring to simply flail and make noise. With rare exceptions like Nile, we need more bands taking cues from this album to revitalize USDM into the juggernaut it once was!
I originally never knew what people saw in Morbid Angel, since I had only heard Covenant and Domination, both of which were given to me for free. The only song of theirs I liked was Angel of Disease, except for the part Korn ripped off and made into Ball Tongue. Then I heard Altars of Madness, and was blown away.
This isn't the Covenant and later era with the vocals that try to be too harsh and fail, the overused blast beats that don't blast, and the guitar work that tries to be catchy and fails. This stuff is right out of hell.
The vocals are more of a hoarse and throaty screaming, the rhythm guitars are played extremely fast with a very heavy downtuned sound, the leads are maniacal and straight out of hell, and the drumming is pure assault. However, none of it is overly excessive past the point of diminishing returns -- unlike the goregrind passing for "death metal" these days, the vocals are harsh and hellish, but aren't inhuman grunting and gurgling; the drumming is vicious and insane but doesn't drown out everything and steal the spotlight and do blastbeats through the entire album; the guitar work is brilliant and consistent, the riffs are fast and heavy, the leads put Slayer's dissonant style to shame, and the lyrics are truly demonic, not tacky drivel intended solely for shock value. This is Morbid Angel at its prime, and Altars of Madness is some of the finest death metal out there.
I'm always a harsh critic of the first song on an album seemingly no matter what, even though this song, Immortal Rites rules. I don't like the first main riff, as it sounds so... plain, even though I know it isn't. But after that, it picks up with absolutely crushing and chaotic guitar work, an unholy barrage of drumming, and dark and evil vocals. There's absolutely haunting tremolo riffs in this song reminscient of Possessed's Exorcist that adds to the theme of joining a race of immortals. Even the slower parts of this song are intense.
The introduction to Suffocation is just that -- absolutely suffocating, with a pummeling of drums, bass, and low-tuned guitar. The riffs are dynamic, the drumming bone-jarring, and the description of evil suffocating smoke, marching crucifiers, and its God forsaken victims is absolutely horrifying. At 2:48, with an "Ehhggh!" Trey Azagthoth releases an one of the most insane, hellish solos and suddenly releases the tension at the last second for a harrowing effect.
Visions from the Dark side incorporates the use of insanely fast picked tremolo riffs alongside bone-crushing bass and drumming throughout the song, laying the foundation for another nightmarish song from Vincent's bitter and hateful soul. Azagthoth and Brunelle's leads are screaming, chaotic, and nihilistic. This song is absolutely frightening and intense, and is one of my favorites.
Maze of Torment begins modestly somewhat modestly (though still heavy), only to betray it and go absolutely off the deep end. The drums receive a fanatical pummeling while the bass adds depth, with everything else in this maniacal song being a respite. Though the song does slow down a bit and doesn't remain full-speed and full blast, it never fails to be intense the whole time.
Lord of All Fevers and Plagues is the absolute incarnation of the Necronomicon. It cannot be put into a musical represenation better than this. It begins with an all out assault in summoning ancient deities with the legendary "Iak Sakkath Ia Shaxul Ia Kingu" chorus, and then goes into amazing lead guitar.
Chapel of Ghouls begins with crushing riffs and drums, immediately launching into an anti-Christian anthem. It intersperses the lyrics with killer nihilistic chaotic guitar leads before delivering with intensity lines such as "Dead, your God is dead, fools your god is dead!" Roughly two and a half minutes of destructive hell do not require words to continue the theme of the song. However the vocals return demonically as the tempo builds up in a manner guaranteed to make anyone religious cower in fear. The chorus and returns once more, and the song ends with a lead and a pounding that seals the fate of the chapel.
Bleed for the Devil is two and a half maniacal minutes of sheerintensity and insanity from all instruments. Your ears will truly bleed for the devil after hearing this. Damnation is almost slightly groove-based, but it still as intense and harsh as anything. It sounds light after the last three songs, especially "Bleed for the Devil," but the ass kicking does not relent.
Blasphemy will send you right to hell for listening to it. This song separates the true heretics from those who simply question their religion, for Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:28-30, and Luke 12:10 declares blasphemy of the Holy Ghost -- not even murder or rape -- to be the only unforgivable sin that ensures damnation. This song is absolutely ferocious, with the drumming inhuman, the riffs sheer crushing evil, and the vocals excellent and hellish once more as they encourage the listener to cross the line. It is one of the unholiest songs ever written.
Evil Spells isn't as intense as Blasphemy, but is a great way to end the album. Everything, as usual, delivers. Though the drumming is a bit slower for the most part, with pummelling dispersed when useful, the picking is fast, the bass driving, and the vocals pure evil.
This album is only 40 minutes long, but it's so intense that you will swear you have been listening to it for two hours. Though I might not like a riff or two because I'm picky, this album is entirely solid. To this day, with everyone trying to be "as hard as possible" it is still undoubtably crushing. It is legendary, and is a must-own.