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Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness
Review: Raw origins of death metal carved from deliberately minimalistic power chord metal, inspired by both the roughest of the savage and primitive black metal bands and the most architected of modern music. In the style of death metal pioneers Slayer this band wraps a sequence of quickly-strummed notes into a phrase or melody, working the rhythms and atonal similarities to integrate chromatic and dissonant tonal combinations.
Strumming power chords in speeding columns of energy, guitars synchronize with bass to communicate multiple rhythms through complex and violent stroke patterns. Rigid precision percussion nails emphatic moments and gives significance to fills, otherwise lost in the speeding alteration of phrases. Of all the bands to attempt this ambient style of composition, where percussion becomes the matrix and the lead instruments change the rhythm in a "riff salad" of recombinant phrasing, Morbid Angel are the most eminently qualified in the simple wisdom of their phrase construction, the elegance of their minimalism, the patterned refractive complexity that gives evidence to their conceptual mastery.
A strong narrative voice guides each song through its developments as its conflict is unveiled, leading through the seemingly chaotic front to the implications of what will be the revelation. Like black metal and some death metal to follow, Morbid Angel use extensive epiphanies to unify their songs much in the style of later Ozzy period Black Sabbath, although at a much faster pace. Their abilities to encode several rhythms into any part of a riff create songs of boundless potential, aggression and energy unified in a mystical force under a moving rhythm.
This release is foundational to death metal and highly influential on much of the underground music to follow, including unrelated genres. Trey Azagthoth's maniacal atonal lead guitar inverts symphonies into nihilistic and expressive masterpiece works of sculpture, using technique and composition in liberated ways at high speed and high density complexity. Rhythm, as liberated in this album, freed guitar to intermix the speed of chord changes (and the form of the main riff) with the hummingbird wings of strumming frequency, in which was interwoven the wrist motion of the player, adding another layer of whipping, driving tempo to the mixture.
Epic and meaningful lyrics depoliticize evil in favor of encoding darker more confrontational elements of the human soul, namely our weakness and destructability in face of the energy gained through the metaphorical "ancient ways" of mystical power. Complexity in lyrical meaning hides under metered verse with an intense study of metal vocal rhythm with elements of rock music titrated out, and meta-composition shows on the song and album level that through careful cutting and layering of work into the songs from their youth, Morbid Angel made a vast masterpiece.