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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 it’s 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 exactly 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 chords 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…