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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.