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4.35 | 62 ratings | 7 reviews
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Album · 1989

Filed under Death Metal


1. Immortal Rites (4:04)
2. Suffocation (3:14)
3. Visions from the Dark Side (4:09)
4. Maze of Torment (4:24)
5. Lord of All Fevers & Plague (3:26)
6. Chapel of Ghouls (4:57)
7. Bleed for the Devil (2:23)
8. Damnation (4:10)
9. Blasphemy (3:31)
10. Evil Spells (4:11)
11. Maze of Torment * (remix) (4:24)
12. Chapel of Ghouls * (remix) (4:55)
13. Blasphemy * (remix) (3:26)

* bonus track

Total Time: 51:20


- David Vincent / bass, vocals
- Trey Azagthoth / lead guitar, keyboards
- Richard Brunelle / lead guitar
- Pete Sandoval / drums

About this release

Earache Records. Re-released in 2003 with bonus tracks. Re-released in 2006 with bonus tracks and bonus DVD concert "Live Madness '89" at Nottingham Rock City.

Thanks to Stooge, UMUR for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

Since its inception in the late 80’s, Death Metal has become one of the most adaptive and varied subgenres of Metal. The vast amount of styles and incorporations added to it are nothing short of amazing for what was originally a very strict and niche genre. I personally am a huge fan of everything the genre became and what was done with it, and what’s still being done and changed. But sometimes, there’s nothing better than some gold old fashioned honest to Satan Death Metal.

Altars of Madness is Death Metal perfected in its purest form. Every song just consists of masterful playing on every front, and only the very best of evil dissonant riffs shredding one after another. Songwriting and song structures are far from simple, adding in loads of substance between the all-out blast beat riffing. The vocals are some of the best in OSDM, very intelligible growls with decent lyrical writing to back them up.

There’s not much else to say about this beast. Pure Death Metal incarnate.
One of those essential old school death metal albums.

Wait! ONE of those? ONE?

This little baby is apparently considered one of the most important albums in the developing death metal scene and gets mentioned alongside Death's "Scream Bloody Gore". The ethos behind the music was simple: destroy everybody! Reading the quote on Wikipedia by guitarist Trey Azagthoth, the approach to the music was to create music that would make people work a lot harder after seeing Morbid Angel perform. He wanted people to wonder what in tarnation was going on, write stuff that would make other bands go run and hide.

Morbid Angel's true debut was recorded late in 1988 and released in spring of 1989. They had previously recorded a debut album in 1986 but were unhappy with the results and went back into the studio in '88. The result is a monumental album that takes a bit of Death, Slayer, Kreator, and Bathory and surprisingly some inspiration from Pink Floyd and delivers music that is fast, tight, brutal, and fairly technical with lots of tremolo picked single-string riffs played both in lower tones and higher tones simultaneously. There are stand out heavy riffs, wild leads, abrupt stops and changes in tempo and rhythm, and basically in the sense described by Trey Azagthoth, music that took death metal in a new direction, or at least pushed it further toward technical death metal than what had been achieved before.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say how "Altars of Madness" completed stomped on the speed/thrash scene in Sweden and opened people's eyes to this new approach to extreme metal.

One of the things I like about this album is that the band adds small details to the songs to make them memorable, as opposed to a collection of all brutal and immensely crushing music. "Immortal Rites" starts off backwards and then flips around. The vocals sound like a deeper version of Quorthon of Bathory. The there is this part with what sounds like orchestral sounds and the music gets a horror movie soundtrack feel. "Visions from the Dark Side" has some slow heavy riffing that resembles early Megadeth or Metallica and "Chapel of Ghouls" drops into this haunted mansion type music in the middle before changing gears a slower Slayer "Hell Awaits" song.

It's easy to play this album through and just ride with the atmosphere but it won't take much extension of attention to catch how each song is constructed independently of the others. With some albums it's not so easy to hear the distinction from one song to the next, but Morbid Angel prove they can write songs and not just a style.

Given that the development of death metal in the mid to late eighties is still something I am discovering in small bits here and there, I can't say that I personally understand all the hype about this album. But I can identify its place in the timeline from Celtic Frost, Slayer, Possessed, and Death to later bands like Atheist, Immolation, Gorguts, and Cynic.

A monumental album in metal history? I won't argue that point. And I enjoy the album more with each subsequent listen.
Vim Fuego
‘Altars of Madness’ was the album which made people sit up and take death metal seriously.

Early death metal was characterised by heavy Neanderthal riffs, double kick drum abusing percussion, and gargling vocals. Death’s 1988 album ‘Leprosy’ was the first to start refining this formula past its most basic, but ‘Altars Of Madness’ took it a step further. Morbid Angel proved that death metal musicians could be highly skilled, and that death metal didn’t have to be simple to be effective.

There is so much detail through the album. Each song is a multi-spiralling helix of twisted riffs, demented solos and leads and machinegun percussion. There is so much going on in each song that repeated listens are required to pick out even half of it. A song like ‘Maze of Torment’ is appropriately titled, because it shoots off in so many different directions, turning back on itself, twisting and writhing.

Trey Azagthoth had a reputation as a bit of a fruit loop, but no one could doubt his skill as a guitarist. Azagthoth routinely slashed his arm before playing, letting the blood flow over his instrument as a sacrifice to aid his skills. Owing equal debts to Eddie Van Halen, Mozart and the Ancient Ones, his playing was far from conventional. He often throws in off-kilter notes and unexpected guitar effects and noises, essential in weaving the ultra-complex web of Morbid Angel’s identity. Richard Brunelle matched Azagthoth for enthusiasm, if not quite for technique, and while his soloing style is less technical than Azagthoth’s, it is no less frenetic.

David Vincent’s voice is not as gruff as many early Death Metal vocalists, but it allows a certain fluidity a deeper voice would negate. It allows the listener to fully appreciate the band’s tales of damnation and evil.

‘Chapel of Ghouls’ is one of the oldest songs here, written along with original drummer and vocalist Mike Browning, but it stands out as a highlight. Believe it or not, it has a sing-along chorus. While much of the album takes several listens to penetrate, it is quite possible to pick up the chant “Dead- your god is dead/Fools- your god is dead/Useless prayers of lies/Behold Satan’s rise”. Judicious use of blast beats and the multifaceted Azagthoth/Brunelle solos embed this song firmly into your mind.

‘Blasphemy’ is the other real stand out track. It starts with machinegun fire, the rapidity of which Pete Sandoval matches and then surpasses with the snare. Ever wondered why his nickname is Commando? Vincent’s voice almost sounds out a melody, while the minimal use of solos (well, minimal for Morbid Angel anyway) helps create a short, punchy track.

The re-released version of the album has the track ‘Lord of All Fevers and Plague’ as a bonus. It is hard to see why the track wasn’t originally included on the album. The overall sound fits perfectly with the rest of the album. Lyrically though, it is Azagthoth’s ode to Lovecraftian demons, rather than following the satanic theme present elsewhere. There are also remixes of ‘Maze of Torment’, ‘Chapel of Ghouls’ and ‘Blasphemy’ added as bonus tracks, although the only difference between these and the originals are some slightly altered solos.

This album still sounds fresh. Although nowhere near as heavy as much of the death metal coming out today, ‘Altars Of Madness’ proved a valuable point at the time of its release, that brutality and skill need not be mutually exclusive.
The bizarre debut of one of the most iconic death metal bands out there, Altars of Madness requires an attentive ear and a little patience to really get to grips with, but it rewards repeated listens greatly, gradually unfolding its numerous secrets. Trey Azagthoth's guitar playing is incredible, with riffs and solos coiling in on themselves like the tentacles of Lovecraftian gods, whilst the fast pace of the album makes its already brief running time feel even briefer than it already is. As a short, sharp blast of well-produced and well-performed death metal, it's pretty damn good, and though I do not think it's the outright classic it's often said to be I still think it's worth a listen.
The debut album from Morbid Angel was my introduction to the band, and what an introduction it was! At first listen I was blown away by its pure intensity and power, as well as the way it managed to be so accessible at first listen. A lot of death metal albums take a while to sink in at first, but Altars of Madness is filled with memorable riffs that made my first experience with this band a very pleasurable one.

The musical style played on Altars of Madness is old school U.S. death metal. The sound is pretty typical of the Tampa, Florida death metal scene at the time, and if you enjoy bands like Death and Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel (especially on this album) should be right up your alley. The tempo is usually pretty fast (not as fast as grindcore or black metal, though), and the music is usually pretty heavy. However, Altars of Madness isn’t as heavy as some other death metal albums, mostly due to the light production and evident thrash metal elements. Despite the fact that Altars of Madness isn’t as brutal as some other death metal albums, it still isn’t melodic by any stretch of the imagination, and not recommended for the faint of heart.

When it comes to old school death metal from the late eighties, you can almost always count me out. Seminal albums like Eaten Back To Life (Cannibal Corpse) and Scream Bloody Gore (Death) do absolutely nothing for me, and I’d much rather listen to a modern death metal masterpiece. That is not the case with Altars of Madness, however. I absolutely love almost everything about this album. One of the reasons why I praise this album so much is that there is a lot of variation, which isn’t too common in old school death metal albums. There are a lot of tempo changes, killer solos, and riff changes that keep the album interesting.

The musicians are fantastic on Altars of Madness, though they would get even better on future albums. Pete Sandoval deserves a special note for his fantastic drumming. He’s improved over time, but he shows his chops more than enough on this debut album. David Vincent’s bass playing is solid, and his vocals are generally enjoyable, though not flawless. His voice isn’t really a deep guttural roar, but more like a higher pitched growl. The vocals can be a bit questionable at times, and I wish he would go into the lower register a bit more. It’s still good, though. Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle are both great guitarists, and fit the mood of Altars of Madness perfectly. Expect a lot of fast, shredding guitar solos backed by rapid riffing on this album.

The production is very good. Usually I don’t care for this type of thin and raw sound, but it works well here. The production is stripped down to the bare bones, yet still powerful enough to get the job done.

The original version of Altars of Madness is 35:09, consisting of 9 songs. That’s a pretty perfect length for music of this nature. It never gets repetitive and stays intense and powerful for the entire duration. My favorite songs are Immortal Rites, Suffocation, Chapel of Ghouls (this one especially), Maze of Torment, and Evil Spells. They’re all great death metal tracks, though.


Altars of Madness is a great album by Morbid Angel, and is an essential album if you’re into old school US death metal. I only have a handful of Morbid Angel’s albums right now, but I really look forward to buying and reviewing all of their other works in the near future. A 4 star rating is deserved for this fantastic death metal album.
Altars of Madness is the debut full-length studio album by American death metal act Morbid Angel. The band already recorded the Abominations of Desolation album in 1986 with later frontman David Vincent acting as producer, but it was not released until 1991. Abominations of Desolation was available in several bootleg versions until its 1991 Earache Records release. So Altars of Madness ended up being the official debut album by Morbid Angel. Released in May 1989 by Earache / Combat, this is one of the seminal albums in death metal. The original LP version lasted 35:09 minutes and contained 9 tracks.

The music on Altars of Madness is technically well played death metal. The vocals by lead vocalist/ basssist David Vincent are not deep growls as they would be on later releases by the band but more an aggressive higher pitched type of growling vocals. The pace varies from mid- to fast- to blasting which means the album features good variation. There are loads of solos on the album of the screaming, arm-bending, fast-paced non melodic kind ( Slayer haven´t lived in vain). The tracks are of high quality but especially the tracks on side 1 of the original LP, Immortal Rites, Suffocation, Visions from the Dark Side and Maze of Torment, stand out as excellent. The tracks on Side 2 sound a bit more dated to my ears and I much prefer Side 1. That doesn´t mean that the songs on Side 2 are average or bad. On the contrary they are actually very good and powerful. Just not as great as the songs on Side 1.

The production is pretty raw yet greatly enjoyable.

As stated above Altars of Madness is a seminal album in the death metal genre and a great start to Morbid Angel´s career. While they´ve made more sophisticated and IMO better albums later in their career, Altars of Madness still deserves 4 stars.

Members reviews

I rarely listen to death metal; Morbid Angel is the only "old school" death metal band I listen to regularly. I think my very high rating for ALTARS OF MADNESS has something to do with that fact. The creativity and musical skill that the band showed, starting with their first album, places them above almost every other band in the genre IMO. Although I'm far from the first person to say it, major credit has to be given to drummer Pete Sandoval. I can't imagine the skill it takes to play these constantly changing rhythms, even within individual songs.

Some have complained about the sound quality. I listened to ALTARS OF MADNESS on a decent pair of headphones (this is music that definitely requires attentive listening), and had no problems with the sound. Although Morbid Angel may have refined their approach on later albums, that takes nothing away from the brilliance of ALTARS OF MADNESS.

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