Review Summary: Essential early death metal that marks a step forward for the genre but is unfortunately very samey throughout
Few bands within the gory and dark realm of death metal can claim to be as successful as Morbid Angel. This is a band that has inspired almost every band to come after them, from their signature blast beats to the overall style of their music. Their first two albums are often considered to be classics among the genre, whilst both Covenant and Domination also receive a lot of praise for their enjoyable nature. Songs such as Where The Slime Live no doubt contributed to the fair degree of commercial success that the band has garnered. Of all their albums, their debut Altars Of Madness is frequently cited as being the best for a variety of reasons.
This album was released in 1989 and is influenced by many of the faster thrash bands such as Kreator and Dark Angel as well as other early death metal acts like Death and Possessed. On this album, however, Morbid Angel really set out the prototype for many staples of the death metal genre with some incredibly fast riffing and phenomenal drumming at times. This is also an album that is absolute evil in its purest form, with dark lyrics and a crude production job that is surprisingly effective. The overall atmosphere developed on this album is both murky and cruel-sounding, and this truly is helped by the production. It was clearly recorded on a very low budget but somehow the band didn't let this get in their way and delivered a release that will get under your skin.
This is not an album with any real standout musicians nor songs, as they are all of a very high standard that arguably set the bar for death metal of its time (and some would say this hasn't often been surpassed since). The lead work is intense throughout, with the guitarists often cramming numerous solos into the songs whilst showing a nice level of technical proficiency in the riffing. There are fast tremolo picked guitar lines here, slightly more technical slower riffs and some interesting moments with power chord riffs that keeps for a nice feeling of variety. Immortal Rites is probably the best track here for the guitarists and they really give there all, whilst retaining a surprising degree of melody that many of the newer death metal acts ditch in favor of brutality.
The drumming is all over the place. Pete Sandoval really has it all in terms of style, he can play fast blast beats (which were really Morbid Angel's trademark that set them apart at the time this was recorded) as well as some slower beats that are more groovy and thrash beats. This is a well-paced album and both Pete and the bassist anchor down the rhythm section with tight performances whilst the guitar work is absolutely schizophrenic. The vocals are not the best in the genre by a long shot, but David Vincent at least puts on a solid showing here. The lyrics are the usual evil Satan lyrics and he delivers them with a lot of rage and aggression whilst remaining decipherable throughout, so props to him for that one.
It is a shame that an album with such strong performances across the board could be so flawed, but really this album is. Primarily this is due to the lack of variety in the songs themselves. Whilst there are some varying tempos, the songs all come across feeling exactly the same, without anything to distinguish song A from song B. Visions From The Dark Side is one track that sticks out a little due to the fact the riffs sound slightly more catchy than on any of the other tracks but avoid from that, this is devoid of variation in the songs. They are all structured rather predictably, the music itself eventually appears to just blend into one solid wall of sound and the tracks just feel like they are Morbid Angel going through the motions. For this reason, the follow-up to this album is far stronger and this remains just an essential slab of early death metal.