MORBID ANGEL — Altars of Madness (review)

MORBID ANGEL — Altars of Madness album cover Album · 1989 · Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
voila_la_scorie
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.
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more than 2 years ago
Well, I may have to get Consuming Impulse later on then. And Leprosy is also on my hit list. Then I can draw my own conclusions about the crossing point from thrash to death.
Vim Fuego wrote:
more than 2 years ago
@voila_la_scorie Neither are bad choices. Consuming Impulse is slightly more accomplished, while Malleus Maleficarum still has the roots showing like a dirty blonde. ;)
@siLLy puPPy To each their own brother! ;D

siLLy puPPy wrote:
more than 2 years ago
@Vim. Everybody seems to have their own opinion about what death metal is. For me a lot of the early stuff is basically thrash with some growlier vocals or juiced up blastbeats or whatever but nothing 'felt' like death metal for me. Morbid Angel finally took the evolving sound and made it 'feel' like something totally new. Don't get me wrong, i love Leprosy and the rest, they just feel like warms ups for the true death metal sound :)
more than 2 years ago
I ordered... can't remember the spelling. MM. Maleficius Marcnfrmbugger. You know the one. I checked out Pestilence some time back because Consuming Impulse showed up on some old school death metal playlists on Utub. Then I listened a bit to that one and MM and found I liked MM better after the cursory skim-listens. Later I heard someone somewhere on the Net say he prefered the MM album to Consuming Impulse, so I thought I might not have made a bad choice.
Vim Fuego wrote:
more than 2 years ago
All I'd say is go and listen to a few contemporary death metal compilations, or even Speed Kills 4, and you'll get a better idea of what things were like.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
more than 2 years ago
@Voila, i just went through a Pestilence marathon. Personally i like their more experimental albums like Testimony Of The Ancients and Spheres but i'm a fan of their pure thrash as well
siLLy puPPy wrote:
more than 2 years ago
@Vim, yeah i know the debate about Leprosy and this one. I don't feel Death reached the final death metal steps quite yet. Their download status was like 90% there but Morbid Angel received the first fully downloaded death metal floppy disc and ran with it :P
Unitron wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Which one? Consuming Impulse is the best imo and one of my favorite death metal albums.
more than 2 years ago
And now I've ordered a Pestilence album.
Vim Fuego wrote:
more than 2 years ago
@siLLy puPPy I'd give the first true death metal album status to Death's Leprosy, which pre-dated this by about a year. It was one of the first albums where thrash fans were starting to say "no, too heavy for me".
more than 2 years ago
Yes, from what I am gathering, this album took that final step that landed the music into a new subgenre. The thrash elements are nearly gone, whereas I can still hear the trash influence in a few other albums around the same time and even after.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Love this album. Personally i consider this the first true death metal album. Scream Bloody Gore and Possessed's debut were definately on their way, but this one finally delivered ALL the death metal goods. Great review about a great album.
more than 2 years ago
Ha, ha! And Pestilence is the last of these I need for my collection. It is really interesting for me to see how the subgenre developed, sense its roots, see where it was heading. This impetus to be faster, heavier, more brutal and, at the same time, more technical is very exciting. It shows human beings once again pushing themselves further and coming up with new sounds and styles.
Vim Fuego wrote:
more than 2 years ago
It's hard to understand the hype behind this album now without the 1989/90 metal scene vibe. All of a sudden, you no longer had to be a tape trader to get hold of real death metal. This one was waaay out there with the technicality at the same time as you got Death leading the way, Obituary slowing things down, Entombed introducing the Swedish sound, Atheist throwing in a jazz influence, and Pestilence well... being Pestilence.

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