Home > Music > That band with the evil – How Morbid Angel’s “Altars of Madness” differs

That band with the evil – How Morbid Angel’s “Altars of Madness” differs

So here we have a band that plays bass heavy music with death growls, atonal guitar solos, blast beats, tremelo riffing, and often Satanic lyrics. I know you’re going to say those are all qualities of death metal, but I want you to listen to “Altars of Madness”, and then listen to some of the foundational Norwegian black metal works (Darkthrone, Immortal, Mayhem are most relevant to this discussion). Then I want you to listen to other early death metal works (Suffocation, Autopsy, Master, Entombed, and so forth). When it comes to pure aesthetics, Altars of Madness resembles the death metal. But below the aesthetics, we aren’t so certain.

Firstly we need to discuss the Norwegian black metal “sound”. It doesn’t exist, per say, but on average, black metal contains distorted vocals, tremelo picked riffs, blast beats, and when you get guitar solos (which are rare, but exist in some early works), they’re generally atonal. But in most cases, black metal is more melodic than death metal – that’s easy to notice. At times, Altars of Madness displays a great deal of melody. Seems that it shifts between such and a more atonal, chromatic style of riffing. Songs like Immortal Rites (approx 1:00 in), Visions From The Dark Side (a recurring phrase starting about 0:30), and the three songs rerecorded from Abominations of Desolation show several sections containing somewhat normal sounding but “evil” melodies. The sort of thing that could be transplanted into Darkthrone flavored fuzz and not sound too out of place.

Another thing we notice is that Altars of Madness relies on very steady beats at times. While Pete Sandoval produces a lot of fills, they come in over constant blast beats and such, which contrasts with the more varied rhythms we see in your average death metal band. The guitars tend towards fluid riffing without many starts and stops, while a band like Suffocation would’ve filled even more of the album with start-stop drumming and most likely fewer sections of straight blastbeats.

But irregardless, Morbid Angel’s debut shares a great deal in common with the Norwegian black metal scene that popped up in the early ’90s. This, on the other hand, came out in 1989, just as death metal was seperating from thrash metal. Mayhem was really the only band to be directly involved in the second wave that existed by then, and the band was still in a period of transition between their earlier thrashier works and the work that would characterize their debut. As far as I can tell, a lot of Norwegian black metal musicians listened to and were influenced by this music, and without Morbid Angel, many of them would not exist in the form we recognize and so dearly hold as our own.

The albums immediately following this (Blessed Are The Sick and Covenant) show these “blackened” tendencies to varying degrees, but that’s another post.

  1. Kevin Ayala
    2010/06/28 at 05:10

    Man, I really suck at Quake.

  1. 2013/03/06 at 13:09
  2. 2013/10/17 at 14:12
  3. 2014/04/30 at 18:05

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