First Impressions: Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness


If this series has taught us anything, it’s that the whole of the Toilet’s writing crew is a bunch of posers. Not only have none of us listened to anything considered classic, but we’re apparently not terribly impressed by them either. Lacertilian found Peter Steele’s crooning more mind-numbing than dong-expanding, and Hans greeted Sacramentum’s debut with a hearty “eh.” Perhaps Morbid Angel’s universally-loved debut will break that streak.

This one is a bit different in that I’m actually somewhat familiar with the band; Gateways is one of my favorite death metal albums ever, and I’ve heard smatterings of their music from across their career. That said, prior to writing this, the only three I’d heard all the way through have been DominationGateways, and Kingdoms. Having recently been made aware by a couple other Toileteers that this was a travesty, I decided to go back to the beginning and check out the band’s roots. I realize that my opinion, regardless of how positive or negative it may be, is just a drop in the bucket at this point. Morbid Angel’s success and influence on metal renders all of this pointless, but I like shouting my opinions about music on the Internet, so here we are. But before we get to my horrendously late/under-qualified take on the album, a couple other, smarter writers have words of their own to share.

Leif Bearikson:

“I am truly envious of anyone who gets to experience Altars of Madness for the first time. Seriously. My own first attempts of the album were half hearted listening sessions, the album playing as background noise while I played videogames or studied, my attention largely elsewhere. ‘Oh yeah, it’s pretty good,’ I’d say when asked about it even though I hadn’t truly heard it. I decided one day to sit down and listen distraction free and everything clicked immediately: This shit is every fire emoji. Every single one. Perfect from front to back (though not as perfect as Domination, obvs). The main riff to ‘Immortal Rites’ is still an all timer, and 30 years later the entire album remains an absolute must listen.”


“My first experience with Altars Of Madness was during the infamous p2p file sharing boom of the early 2000’s. Being already familiar with some of Covenant (an interest sparked with a late night recording of the ‘God Of Emptiness’ film clip to VHS), and weirdly Formulas Fatal To The Flesh (courtesy of a friend’s CD), I decided to hit Napster/Kazaa/Limewire/whichever was prevalent at the time and check out their discog. Altars was a comparative monstrosity. The almost primal urgency and relative rawness was initially off-putting, but rapidly became the record’s major draw. Tracks like ‘Evil Spells’ helped fill in the cognitive codon gap and complete the sequence between the thrash traditions I grew up with, and death metal’s divergence down the phylogenetic tree. An unquestionable classic of the genre”.

0:10 – This has more of a traditional thrash vibe to it than I expected. Not sure how much I’m going to be into this.

0:29 – Raspier vocals than I’m used to, but pretty legit.

0:36 – Okay, I’m pretty fucking into this.

0:49 – Ugh. Not a fan of the the instant hard switch into an unrelated riff that every OSDM band seems to do, but at least it’s a sweet riff.

1:40 – I like the strings over the high notes here. It’s cheesy, but in an endearing B-movie slasher sort of way.

2:20 – There’s one of those big menacing riffs I’m used to.

3:48 – And there’s one of those crazy solos. It’s interesting hearing the same style in a more straightforward presentation.

6:00 – While I get that this is a landmark album, I really don’t buy the whole “they sounded like nothing else at the time” spiel people go through when they talk about this album. Just about every riff in “Suffocation” so far has been pure Slayer. But, y’know, competent.

6:11 – And sweet bass break into a completely non-Slayery riff. Just gonna chew on my words a bit over here.

7:17 – That ending was nuts. Totally makes up for my earlier misgivings.

7:43 – Whoa, is that some melody I hear? Did not expect.

9:45(ish) – I’m definitely enjoying their slower/mid-tempo riffs more than the super fast stuff. They’re much more distinctly Morbid Angel.

11:40(ish) – Just lost my headphones to headbanging. Woops.

14:41 – That turnaround that goes slightly lower than your ear expects is awesome. More of this kind of unpredictability, please.

17:51 – This has been my favorite solo so far. Perfect blend of shredding and wailing on that tremolo bar.

19:04 – I just realized that this is every black thrash riff ever. Man, even the original blackened thrash guys weren’t very original.

21:24 – Spoopy


25:40 – All the blasting in this section really makes me appreciate how effectively they use it. Never more than is necessary.

28:57 – That brief break in the drums for those octaves is great. They hit way harder that way.

31:07 – So is this going to be the prequel to “Calamus Will Animate,” or… oh, wait, never mind.

31:50 – I can’t help but feel like this song would have been better if the synth gunshots just kept going and they jammed to the beat of them.

33:35 – This solo backing riff sounds like something that could have been on Domination. I approve.

34:30 – I bet that was super shocking in 1989.

35:42 – Aw man, that last riff could have gone on uninterrupted for a full five minutes and it would have been the best death metal song ever written.

36:10 – Okay, that riff and this one.

36:26 – Oh, it’s back! I missed you, riff.

38:00 – Beefy

38:51 – Well, that ruled.

Suffice to say, I liked that quite a bit. I have to say, though, I’m glad the band ended up moving in a less thrashy direction over time. I can see why Altars would have been a mindfuck in 1989, but having heard it as late as I have, that particular style sounds played out to my 29-years-late-to-the-party ears. While it’s not going to be replacing Gateways as my favorite Morbid Angel album anytime soon, I did enjoy it thoroughly and can see why it became the death metal cornerstone it is today.

Previously on First Impressions:

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