So yes, I’m listening to this without ever having heard Altars of Madness. That is likely a mistake but I have a good reason: despite its reputation within the metal community, mainstream critical appreciation isn’t really there, so I missed it in 2019. As a result, I’m likely going to say something stupid.
This is pummeling but relatively catchy death metal with more variation than you might expect from a 1991 death metal record. It both hits all the death metal tropes – blast drumming, growling, crazy solos – but it also has a few tracks that deviate pretty far from the conventions (at least for the era).
Some of the riffs are actually surprisingly memorable, especially given how knotty or “technical” they are. There’s a fair amount of variation in the riffs, too. This is definitely on the more technical side of early ’90s death metal, which is a positive for me, so it’s kind of remarkable that there is some sense of melody. (I stress “some.”)
The guitarists are absolutely nuts. Most people seem to credit Azagthoth with all the solos but whomever is playing them, they are bonkers. Like if Eddie Van Halen was in a real metal band and also really didn’t care about melody at all. They are certainly the most fun part.
The tempo varies more than you might think, with some pretty intensely fast sections, as you would normally expect, and then some almost sludgy sections.
And then there’s the weird deviations, like “Doomsday Celebration,” which feels very Celtic Frost of them and is something which has no place on a traditional death metal record. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear a death metal record this early where they are willing to make music that is, you know, not death metal. For me, these kinds of goofy side trips make the whole album work better. I’m a lot less likely to get bored.
Just great stuff and so much more diverse than I was expecting.