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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.