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There are two bands who without their existence, the festering and unsightly genre of death metal would probably not exist as we know it. Those bands are obviously Slayer and Morbid Angel. "Altars Of Madness," along with "Hell Awaits" and "Reign In Blood" by Slayer brought a full conceptualization of what death metal would come to be. These albums animated the corpse of the genre inside a dissonant thrash and speed metal framework.
This review is of course for "Altars Of Madness" however, and a 'steeped-in-thrash metal gone over-the-top' morbid continuation, and fuller realization of what Slayer and Possessed had done- that it certainly was. Released in 1989, this was right on the cusp- betwixt and between the forefront and smack-dab in the middle of that time period when all those hundreds upon hundreds of death metal bands came into shape, and set forth with a driven, brutal barbarity onto this world with such an extremely poignant realism. How did all these hundreds of like-minded, similar sounding bands come about so fast right around this time?
Simply put, it had a lot to do with "Altars Of Madness," and along with it the utter madness of death metal that it whole heartedly spawned. Here on their freshest, early debut album, Morbid Angel were young and they were (like Slayer) hungry to prove that they were the fastest, meanest, darkest band on earth. Look at it any way you like- but that's the very thing that makes legendary death metal.
And with songs like Blasphemy, Suffocation, Maze Of Torment, and of course, Immortal Rights, who could deny them title to the throne? In their prime Trey Azagthoth was the most ego-maniacal and eccentric shrdder on earth. When you combine this with an unusually extreme hunger to slay people with death metal, whammy bars, wah wah pedals, Marshall tube amps, and near virtuosic levels of electric guitar skills not completely out of league with fucking Van Halen- you've got the potential for a guitarist who could rightfully take over the world in a tyrannical death metal holocaust. While I'm sure that's probably exactly what he had in mind that is also what helped insure this album to be one of the sickest slabs of dark mastery in the history of metal.
All four of these gents were in their musical prime and on top of their hellish thrones at this fresh point in the bands history. While Richard Brunelle would unfortunateoy be iced shortly after "Blessed Are The Sick"'s release, Pete "Commando" Sandoval had recently stepped in (having come out of Terrorizer) and proved that he was indeed sick on the drum throne. However, I've always found the drums to be Morbid Angel's weakest link only by comparison to every other element, which are all expertly executed. Yes, The Commando is fast as fuck, but i've always thought the drums a bit pedestrian and lacking much style, and even crude in flair at times. However, David Vincent is quite simply a Dark Lord on this album. Both his bass playing and vocals are phenomenal on this release. Vincent is simply unfuckwithable on this record.
One of the greatest, but most often overlooked elements to the music here is the keyboards. They are subtle and strengthen the epic, almost midevil and otherworldly atmosphere that is emit. The keyboards are subtle, yet crucially important to this album's genius song craft and overall success.
The songwriting was in place. The aesthetic and art is intense and fully-realized, and in a visionary way that was scarcely before seen. The skilled musicianship is not only evident, but glaring, and the Morrisound production is fitting with the heaviness and atmosphere of the songs. While bands were somewhat doing this type of metal earlier; Morbid Angel were the band to fully embrace and push the style into an artistically realized genre. There is a reason they are often regarded as the biggest, highest selling and most popular death metal band, alongside Obituary and Cannibal Corpse.
This album is worth it's weight in death metal gold, because without this album death metal as we know it today may very well not really exist. Heavy traces of this album's influence can also be seen in the second wave of scandanavian black metal to a huge degree on particular records. I remember reading in interviews with David Vincent about how fucked up on psychedelic drugs they were when they were writing this album, and it truly shows in the best way possible.