Altars of Madness

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Altars of Madness
Studio album by
ReleasedMay 12, 1989 (1989-05-12)
RecordedDecember 1988
StudioMorrisound Recording, Tampa, Florida
GenreDeath metal
ProducerDig and Morbid Angel
Morbid Angel chronology
Altars of Madness
Blessed Are the Sick

Altars of Madness is the debut studio album of Florida-based death metal band Morbid Angel. It was released on May 12, 1989 through Combat Records/Earache Records; the album was recorded in December 1988 at Morrisound Recording in Tampa, Florida. The album is one of the earliest examples of death metal and is considered to have helped pioneer the sound along with Possessed's Seven Churches in 1985 and Death's Scream Bloody Gore in 1987,[1] and set a new precedent for heaviness and extremity, both musically and lyrically,[2] it is one of the most celebrated albums in death metal history,[3] and one of the most influential heavy metal albums of all time.[4] The overtly Satanic and occult lyrical themes were a significant influence on the early Norwegian black metal scene.[2]

Musical style, writing, composition[edit]

Frontman David Vincent's vocal style was influenced by the early English grindcore scene and fellow Floridian Chuck Schuldiner of Death;[2] the album's style is also characterized by extremely fast performances, complex compositions, and technically demanding musicianship. Guitarist Trey Azagthoth has noted that psychedelic music was an inspiration for his writing on the album, particularly Pink Floyd;[5] when writing guitar solos on the album, he abandoned the use of traditional scales and said that "I would just pick an area on the guitar and play it without really looking at it. I'd connect it in a different way."[5] Speaking about his motivations at the time of writing and recording the album, Azagthoth said that

Back then, I really wanted to destroy everybody. I wanted people to have to work a lot harder after the fans witnessed what we had going on. I wanted to smoke people. I really believed that bands were challenging each other, trying to outdo each other and make each other quit - almost like the rivalries with East Coast and West Coast rappers. I really kind of thought people wanted to write parts that would engulf the whole world. I wanted to get onstage and have people go, "Holy shit - what the fuck is going on?" I wanted to write stuff that would make other bands run and hide. It's not really very nice, but that's what drove me."[5]

Recording and release[edit]

The album features a number of tracks that were originally recorded for what was supposed to be their debut album 'Abominations of Desolation', originally recorded in 1986 but which was only released in 1991;[6] the band was unhappy with the final product of 'Abominations of Desolation', Azagthoth in particular, who did not believe it was what he had envisioned.[5] In December 1988 the band returned to the studio to record what would become their true debut release, 'Altars of Madness'. Almost all of the songs on that original demo recording have since been re-recorded and appeared on various Morbid Angel albums; the band has explained that in many ways they felt unprepared when they entered the studio, despite them having practiced extensively beforehand. The band chose the studio because it was located close to the band in Tampa, and considered it the preeminent studio at the time. David Vincent called it a "trial run", but that he was "really pleased that everything came together when it finally did."

Bonus tracks were included on the CD version as well as the remastered 2003 release; these are remixed versions of songs from the album. The album saw a 2006 DualDisc release with the 2003 remaster on the audio side and Live Madness 89 recorded at Nottingham Rock City on November 14, 1989, on the DVD side; the album was remastered and reissued by Earache Records in 2011 and 2015, and in May 2016 a 'Full Dynamic Range' remaster was released digitally and on vinyl.[7] On November 23, 2018, there will be a digipak edition of the album, with remastered sound and the bonus tracks, along with a bonus clip of Immortal Rites.


The cover artwork, by Dan Seagrave, depicts "a flat disk made of a fossil material, that has captured souls".[8] Seagrave has said that,

This was something I'd been working on at home, which the band saw partially finished, it consequently became my first Death Metal cover. Prior to that I'd been making album covers for British thrash bands like Warfare, and Hydravein. Even though I was 18 when I did it, I still think it's quite interesting. It's not supposed to be spherical as has been suggested. It's more like a flat disk made of a fossil material, that has captured souls.[8]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3/5 stars[9]
Decibel Magazinefavourable[10]

Many death metal fans and critics consider Altars of Madness to be one of the best death metal albums of all time.[3][11][12] Jason Birchmeier of Allmusic wrote that one "cannot deny its influence",[9] and MetalSucks likewise wrote that it is "impossible to ignore the importance of this release to the death metal genre."[13] UK magazine Terrorizer rates this album as both Morbid Angel's and death metal's finest hour, describing it as "bludgeoning and raw but also technical, exacting and intimidatingly consistent".[citation needed] Altars of Madness has appeared at the top of lists of the greatest death metal albums of all time by Decibel magazine[14] and Terrorizer magazine.[15] In April 2006, the album was inducted into the Decibel Hall of Fame; the magazine wrote that the album "would turn death metal both upside down and inside out."[16] Robban Becirovic of Close-Up Magazine credits Altars of Madness with launching the popularity of death metal in Sweden:

"...Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness changed everything [about the Swedish scene]. Before that there was no clear distinction between death, speed, or thrash among regular metalheads, it was just brutal metal. But Altars of Madness opened people's eyes, and made us realize something new was going on. Everybody bought that record. Everybody, and thrash was executed by it – the whole genre just disappeared."[17]

Track listing[edit]

1."Immortal Rites"VincentAzagthoth4:04
2."Suffocation"VincentAzagthoth, Vincent3:15
3."Visions from the Dark Side"VincentAzagthoth, Vincent4:10
4."Maze of Torment"VincentAzagthoth4:25
5."Lord of All Fevers & Plague"AzagthothAzagthoth3:26
6."Chapel of Ghouls"Azagthoth, Mike BrowningAzagthoth4:58
7."Bleed for the Devil"AzagthothAzagthoth2:23
8."Damnation"VincentAzagthoth, Vincent4:10
10."Evil Spells"AzagthothAzagthoth4:13


Morbid Angel[edit]



  1. ^ Purcell, Natalie J. (2003-05-05). Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture. McFarland. ISBN 9780786415854.
  2. ^ a b c "Altars of Madness - Morbid Angel | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  3. ^ a b "No. 4: Morbid Angel, 'Altars of Madness' – Best Debut Metal Albums". Loudwire. Retrieved 2017-05-03.
  4. ^ "Altars of Madness revisited - the birth of death metal". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2017-05-03.
  5. ^ a b c d Mudrian, Albert (2009-07-21). Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780786749621.
  6. ^ "MORBID ANGEL -". Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  8. ^ a b "Dan Seagrave | Altars of Madness".
  9. ^ a b Birchmeier, Jason. "Altars of Madness - Morbid Angel". Allmusic. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  10. ^ "Morbid Angel "Altars of Madness"". Decibel Magazine. Archived from the original on 2013-12-30. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  11. ^ "Killing Art: Exploring Old-School Death Metal Album Covers - Metal Injection". Metal Injection. 2015-06-22. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  12. ^ "Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness". Invisible Oranges - The Metal Blog. Retrieved 2017-05-03.
  13. ^ "MORBID ANGEL'S ALTARS OF MADNESS: HAS IT REALLY BEEN 20 YEARS ALREADY?". MetalSucks. 2009-05-12. Retrieved 2017-05-03.
  14. ^ "Morbid Angel - "Altars of Madness" — Decibel Magazine". Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  15. ^ "Terrorizer Magazine..." Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  16. ^ "Morbid Angel - "Altars of Madness"". Decibel Magazine. April 1, 2006. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  17. ^ Ekeroth, Daniel (2008-01-01). Swedish Death Metal. Bazillion Points Books. p. 140. ISBN 9780979616310.