Morbid Angel

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Altars Of Madness

Morbid Angel - Altars Of Madness ©1989 Earache
1. Immortal Rites
2. Suffocation
3. Visions From The Dark Side
4. Maze Of Torment
5. Lord Of All Fevers & Plague
6. Chapel Of Ghouls
7. Bleed For The Devil
8. Damnation
9. Blasphemy
10. Evil Spells
11. Maze Of Torment (re-mix)
12. Chapel Of Ghouls (re-mix)
13. Blasphemy (re-mix)

Azagthoth/Sandoval/Vincent's first album release [with Richard Brunelle on board] still stands as one of the genre's definitive outputs. Back in 1989 when most idiot grindcore enthusiasts were gawking at Mick Harris' single-foot-blast-wonder and his band and Carcass were (unwittingly) busy filling Earache's pockets, Trey "Azagthoth" and his functionally dysfunctional gang of satanic super-musicians had already transcended grindcore to give us Altars of Madness. And madness it is, with some superlative performances in all departments; now only if the songwriting was as good as on the next one. But the two releases are meant to accomplish different things, so comparing them is rather dumb.

The sound is thick with drums and vocals, but the guitars (as always with Morbid Angel) are rather muddy, blunt and black-metallish. This, in fact, is considered by many to be borderline black metal. There's something almost hysterically frantic about it, as if Trey and company are in the greatest hurry to get it done with. I can imagine Sandoval frothing at the mouth while drumming: I don't know if it is sheer hatred and spite that propels these people, but whatever it is does the job very well. I maintain that David Vincent is the best death metal vocalist to ever appear on a CD and here we get his second best performance. Powerful and charismatic, back when he still had a concept of good music and lots of energy and ideas to go with it (as opposed to now, where he indulges in unspeakable decadence and musical debauchery). His basswork is probably good, since it's impossible to hear anyway ('cept for a rare moment on "Suffocation", on which I largely base my opinion). Of course, Trey's solos are the most remarkable aspect of Morbid Angel. It's like pure, nihilistic frenzy: a possessed Malmsteen already on crack couldn't dream of coming up with something like this, which is about as fast as his own solos but infinitely more twisted. Uglier than a frostbitten hag with warts, they're about as far removed from the normative concepts of "human music" and "melody" as possible. But definitely enjoyable - not just as some freaky sounds, but as genuine expressions of nihilism from the creator. It takes time to appreciate them, but it's like an epiphany when you "get" them. The riffs are unplayable by most guitarists: too technical and convoluted for even the above-average wrist to reproduce, but enjoyable nonetheless. The lyrics constitute deliberate dysphemism of satano-sumerian poetry. Christianity here is mocked rather clumsily, with total disregard to any sort of literary elegance (well, at least they could've tried!).

An extremely energetic and rewarding listen: don't dismiss it just because it is the band's first. Often, the first record captures a band at its rawest and craziest, and it is definitely the case here. Blessed are the Sick might be better, but it's more restrained. Catch Morbid Angel in their wickedest spell, now (since 1989, actually) in the form of a CD near you!

Review by Rahul Joshi

Review date: 03/1999

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