Guest Blog: Filmmaker Sam Dunn’s Extreme-Metal Soapbox, Part 2
Welcome to my brand-new weekly blog Extreme Metal Soapbox. As many of you know, all of us at Banger Films are running a second IndieGoGo campaign to create the Extreme Metal episode of Metal Evolution. And to bring awareness to the campaign the good folks at Revolver have given me the opportunity to present Extreme Metal’s All-Time Top 5 Albums. Here’s how it works:
Each week I will shamelessly pontificate about what I feel is one of Extreme Metal’s best albums. The album will be chosen on the basis of its impact, innovation, ongoing influence and, of course, how damn killer it is. Then all of you will have the opportunity to tell me whether I’m on the mark or full of shit. Really simple.
But I don’t want this to be a bloggy bitch-fest. This is meant to be an informed and passionate discussion for metalheads who care about Extreme Metal and how its history is told. I’ve met a lot of smart metallers in my travels who have great ideas – so speak up. The Extreme Metal Soapbox is yours for the taking!
Here’s my second entry:
Morbid Angel “Altars of Madness” (1989)
Jagged riffs, bludgeoning guitar tones, eerie keyboard patterns, tales of ancient Mesopotamian gods. Released in 1989, Morbid Angel’s debut full-length Altars of Madness marks the end of Extreme Metal’s formative decade and signals the beginning of its maturation as a sub-genre. No question that earlier releases from Napalm Death, Carcass, Death and others had stretched the limits of extreme music – faster tempos, sharper production, grislier artwork and lyrics – but Altars was all this and more. So much more.
Altars had all the things a great Extreme Metal album in 1989 was expected to have: brutal riffs, blistering double-bass, harrowing vocals. But the real power of Altars lay in something less tangible: its mystery. It’s an album rife with things you love precisely because you can’t explain or define them. “Immortal Rites,” the album opener, begins with a riff unlike any we’d heard before: A grinding, repetitive guitar figure accompanied by a wispy backward-sounding loop. As a 15 year-old, I was asking “How did they do this?” “Did they play that riff backwards?” “Are these guys even human?!”
The mystery of Altars went beyond its riffs:
Ninnghizhidda – open my eyes
Ninnghizhidda – hear my cries
Plumed serpent of the deep
Plumed serpent of the gate
I command – come before me
I command – bring the key
Rise from the depths
See the fire in my wand
Ia iak sakkakh iak sakkakth
In today’s entertainment culture, where “epic” means a $300 million Peter Jackson film, the lyrics to “Lord of All Fevers and Plague” seem like child’s play. But to a teenager in ‘89 these lyrics were not only epic, but evocative of something ancient, hidden or even ritualistic. Screamed-forth by lead vocalist/bassist David Vincent, they seemed to be connecting us to something forbidden or forgotten, and perhaps Vincent was serving as our guide to a world not known: “Who or what is Ninnghizhidda?” “Was this an incantation, a spell, a command?”
By invoking the mysterious through sounds, lyrics and imagery, Altars of Madness helped build what has become one of Extreme Metal’s most important foundations: adventurousness. Critics have often maligned Extreme Metal for its rigidity, for being too constrained by the limits of being extreme. But Altars was just the opposite: it was the very redefinition of what it meant to be extreme. And it’s an album that would shape a decade of Extreme Metal to come.