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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.