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Of the 20 or so notable US thrash debut albums in the '80s, this is among the most unique and timeless. Right up there with Kill 'Em All and Speak English Or Die in its pioneering status, Seven Churches not only stands as among the most cutting edge, forward thinking and beautifully primitive of pretty much any '80s thrash album, it is also amongst the most hellish, twisted and fucking heavy of those albums too (possibly barring only Hell Awaits.) The sheer magnitude of this release is needless to say; though this isn't a fully fledged death metal album, you will be hard pressed to name any other point at which the death splintered from the thrash. Possibly Haunting the Chapel and Hell Awaits, but even they feel like thrash, just fucking evil thrash. This is kinda different.
Don't get me wrong here, this is still thrash, just fucking weird and intense thrash; and the most critical aspect to all of this weirdness is the frankly terrible and really stilted song construction. Every last track on here has about 3 or 4 sections, but their transitions are very awkward, as though they hadn't worked out fully how to change things up. Often a short fill is a transition, and it just moves on having completely changed direction, as though nothing happened. This is possibly the main thing that separates this from practically any other thrash album of the day; it hits you over the head with a brick rather than settling into a groove, flowing from one part to the next like Hell Awaits did.
Add onto all of that a highly technical, frantic but also jarring drum performance, one which utilises many strange snare patterns, oddly placed fills and rolls and being stitched together haphazardly like the songs themselves, and this leads to music that doesn't feel like thrash. It lacks the inherent 'bounciness' and groove, rather coming across as not only intense, but also frantic. These aren't smooth, progressive songs, and nor do they dwell on one or two riffs. They are unpredictable, frenetic and jarring in nature. This type of non-flowing song construction can be seen today in the more brutal side of the death metal spectrum, and can be traced right back to here. The one thing to note about the songs is this: they still feel like fully formed songs, not random bits rammed together in a spastic and random fashion. The songs don't flow, but they do feel like a unified whole and don't come across as fragmented.
Another critical aspect to this album's weirdness is the riffs, as well as the guitar tone itself. The riffs are of the thrash variety, but also eschew pretty much all melody in favour of an atonal variety that separates it from the NWOBHM and speed metal influences upon which thrash was built. The riffs are pushed even further in this direction than what Slayer were writing at the time - they aren't all that removed from the more orthodox thrash-oriented death metal riffs of Scream Bloody Gore or Altars Of Madness, and it is clear to see where that variety of death metal (and many others besides) got their riffs from. The guitar production is something else that would be carried over too - a really heavy, thick and deep guitar tone which I have now dubbed the 'sledgehammer' tone; one which all deathrash and thrash-oriented death metal acts would imitate. The riffs take on a lethal quality because of it, and become pummeling and driving in a way no album was at the time.
It is a pretty similar story with the vocals. They aren't fully fledged death growls, just a really distorted and harsh thrash shout. They sound twisted and just fuckin' possessed. They are an instrument in their own right, one which just lays on more atonal mayhem to the churning riffs and frantic drumming. Jeff here actually does a better job of death metal vocals than actual death metal vocalists; primarily because his growls have a more expressive quality to them (i.e: they aren't monotone), and take a leaf out of the first wave book by being really fast ranting, preventing any monotony at all. The line between this performance and David Vincent's earlier work is all too apparent, though Jeff Becerra is arguably the better vocalist.
Now, lets ditch all that. Lets just look at this album for what it is, never mind the influence it clearly had on death metal. Then it is still a fucked up, cacophonous and evil thrash metal album, one which made Possessed the most lethal band of the Bay Area, even more so than Slayer. Every last song on here is from start to finish, a mass of twisted riffs, hellish vocals, curiously NWOBHM inspired melodic solos, and thumping bass lines. The tempo hardly ever drops, barring something like the first 2 minutes of 'Pentagram'. The production on the whole is loud and raw as hell, lacking any of the (relative) polish that several of their contemporaries had. The drums are an ambient hiss in the background, something taken from Discharge. Meanwhile, its aesthetic, vocals and riffs are taken directly from the first wave acts Venom, Bathory, and Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, just turned up to '11'. Everything is sloppy as hell and loose, whether it be the songwriting, vocals, drums or cover art. This couldn't be any more primal if it tried, and rarely did it get more primal than this around this time.
There isn't much variation here, with all the riffs being cut from the same cloth. One vocal style is used throughout, and the album on the whole flip-flops between near-death metal and Slayer-esque thrash, with 'Death Metal' probably being the most thrashy song on here. Pretty much every song is 3-5 minutes of morbid, twisted thrash that never lets up in its heaviness. There is practically no places where it all drops off for atmosphere (barring a few of the intros, like the synth intro to 'The Exorcist'.), and the album is just intense as fuck, balls to the wall deathrash. Absolutely amazing, pioneering and essential stuff. Any and all death metal fans must have this, as should pretty much every thrasher and first-wave black metal fan. Pretty much no album of the time was like this, and even now, nothing since has been so weird and contorted for its day. Something like this only comes once in a blue moon people, so enjoy it as much as you can.
What we've got here is....failure to communicate to each other which genre this is, so you'll get what we had here last week... a bunch of thrash and black metal breaking out. No, but in all seriousness, this record is like combining early thrash and black metal elements to give us an output close to what we know as death metal. After all, those are the main ingredients to the start of death metal, in my eyes, as many view Seven Churches as the first death metal record, even though the sound was not complete. Possessed certainly gave a good start with this. It's basically a combination of four earlier records that come to mind: Venom's Black Metal, Slayer's Show No Mercy, Celtic Frost's Morbid Tales, and Kreator's Endless Pain. So it took one band to put all of these chemicals together and get what we know as one of the pioneers of death metal.
So, first off, we are given a big combination of different riffing styles here. Some of them aren't as speedy, rather dark, heavy, and thick sounding, such as the mighty "Pentagram". No, it certainly isn't slow by any means, but listen to the main riff in that song. It is not fast at all compared to some of the other tracks on here. It's played at a very moderate speed, with rather simple power chords for a lot of it. Here we can certainly hear more of an early black metal approach, especially because of the content of a lot of these songs, I mean holy hell man! (pun definitely intended). On the flip side, however, we get some more thrashy speed driven songs, such as "Evil Warriors", as it starts off right off the bat with a shredding solo and intense aggression in the riffage that follows this up. It's a crushing kind of speed you could find right out of a Slayer album given a dark and evil tone that Celtic Frost would use, and together this gives us a dark and crushing guitar piece that just sounded so significant at the time, taking heavy guitars to a whole new level. But there is no denying where this came from. Even listen to the bridge that connects the solo and verse about two thirds of the way through "Fallen Angel". Look me in the eye and tell me that isn't a spitting image of the intro to Slayer's "Black Magic". Nothing is significant about the solos, other than the fact that they are great, but they don't stand out in any way from anything else that was released around the time. So good work there, I just prefer the riffage on here over them.
Jeff Becerra's vocals are definitely something new as well, as we are given crushing aggression and anger in his delivery, much like Mille Petrozza from really early Kreator. He gives off such an angry vibe, and sounds like he's about to devour the next person to cross his path. It's not far off from stereotypical thrash vocals at the time, but he really stresses that growl element that was not used too much before this release, as a lot of extreme metal at the time used high pitched screams and shouted vocals. However Kreator would certainly be the closest match, as both records were released in the same month of the same year. So I can't really say that they were influenced by this band directly, but it still sounds super close in sound and style. What we get on Seven Churches is just a bit more intensified. Honestly, it is sometimes what I would picture a demon to sound like (or what about that demon growl in the opening to "Pentagram"?) These harsher vocal outputs and intensified guitar shrieks make for a new sound, and I absolutely love all of it. I think it was purely experimentation at its best, and although it may not be completely death metal, it doesn't distinguish the fact that it is great metal from the time, and would allow future bands to expand upon this sound.
Along with this, I love a lot of the effects that are done here. First off, the bell at the beginning of "Fallen Angel" to make it sound even more evil, as if I'm standing outside in a graveyard full of demons, as well as the demon growl I mentioned earlier. But what I really love is the keyboard at the beginning taken right from The Exorcist film was an ingenious idea and made for a very creepy intro to such a dark album. Plus, that transition going from that to the malicious riff that it dives right into is quite mind blowing, and one of the greatest starts to an album ever. Although that first track is very messy (as well as some others on here), I still very much like it. It gives it the darker atmosphere, with rather poor production helps with that blackened atmosphere, much like something that Venom would do, and that effect certainly worked in their favor.
Drum work on here, much like the solo work, isn't anything new. Blast beats were toyed with before, but in this case, it's like that old saying "if the shoe fits, wear it". These worked very well with the sound that we were given from these new experiments. Especially that beautiful intro to the beginning of the closing track "Death Metal". It basically topped everything off. So tying this all together, it's a lot of mixtures from black metal and thrash metal, and making both elements more harsh. With such a combo, we get rather messy song structure, but there's nothing wrong with that in my eyes. It was a great start to a genre that would be loved by many, and expanded upon in years to come.
It was 1985. Many fledgling bands were releasing their debut albums and metal music kept growing and evolving. Releases such as Megadeth's "Killing Is My Business" and Exodus' "Bonded By Blood" were pushing the boundaries of metal music. Out of all these amazing releases, the most legendary one, the one that revolutionized metal, was the most overlooked and underrated. Seven Churches.
This album gave birth to death metal. Period. This album was the heaviest, fastest, and most brutal thing that the world had ever heard at this time. In my humble opinion, it beats almost any other metal album of its time in terms of speed and aggression. It was also much more technical than much of the other albums around its time. This album is an absolute benchmark in metal history, yet it is one of the most underrated in metal history.
Now onto the album. It is dark & bleak. It talks of the horrors of hell and paints a very realistic, albeit horrifying image of what hell is. It's an album that would scare the "hell" out of a devout religious person. It is definitely not an album for the faintest of heart.
Onto the music itself: fantastic. The musicianship is top notch. It's even more impressive that they wrote this album and recorded it during a spring break, and also consider the fact that they were still in high school! The intro to "The Exorcist" is probably one of the best intros I've ever heard. I know it's from the actual movie of the same title, but they seriously put it to better use here. The majority of the album is fast and brutal. Just in-your-face killer, but at the same time there is a very technical edge to it.
Now onto the instrumental and vocal sections. The drums are extremely jazzy for a death metal record and set this album apart from a lot of other death bands. The riffs are crunchy, heavy, and melodic. They combine melody and heaviness very effectively. The vocals aren't meant to be pleasant. They sound like a mad, barking dog. They are gritty and angry as they should be. The bass for the most part isn't too audible, but the bass lines are killer if you listen closely.
The production is surprisingly good. It is a little fuzzy in some parts, especially the guitar tone, but for the most part, considering the low budget and time span this album was recorded in, it's a sharply-produced album.
In the end, "Seven Churches" is a landmark in metal music, one of the most underrated albums in metal, and most of all, this is the father of death metal. Without this album, death metal wouldn't be where it is today.
Recently I’ve listened to many absolutely killer new death metal bands that try to resurrect the traditional, classic sound and style of this music, and many really did succeed in this, recording absolutely crushing demos and albums. But once in a while I just feel a strong need to go back to some cult and original releases of the forefathers of the genre… and why not do this today with Possessed’s classic release “Seven Churches”? Definitely this album is a great introduction to thrashing death metal for everyone who wants to check where the origins of this music are, because as much as Venom and Bathory have been creating what we think black metal is, Possessed did the same with death metal. All in all, “Seven Churches” does include the song titled “Death Metal” and this is also the title of their debut demo from 1984, right? This San Francisco-based outfit, formed back in 1983 by guitarist Mike Torrao and drummer Mike Sus who soon were joined by legendary guitarist/vocalist Jeff Becerra, are surely pioneers of death metal and they took something of what bands like Slayer and Dark Angel did into even more evil, dark, obscure, and aggressive territories.
Of course I doubt people who listened to “Seven Churches” back in 1985 or '87 were calling it death metal though…for them it was more aggressive thrash metal band and when I listen to “Seven Churches” nowadays I can understand why and to be honest if I was bothering to give it any tags, then it would probably just be a thrash/death metal, as clearly “Seven Churches” is not as raw, obscure, and brutal as the first pure death metal lp “Scream Bloody Gore” and music-wise Possessed was leaning into the technical thrash metal quite much. There’s a clear “Slayerism” noticeable in many parts of the album, but not just that, luckily, as I feel like Possessed had also quite much in common with their Teutonic rivals Kreator. When you’ll listen to the opening song “The Exorcist”, then you may get quite put off at first by its almost chaotic and messy character, especially if you listen to the drum parts, then the vocals, which are almost out of tune at few times…it is pure madness what happens in this track and clearly Possessed must have been possessed (haha) when composing it! After something like this, “Pentagram” may seem much easier to listen to, with a catchier main riff and with the overall more straight forward attitude. Ha, this is thrash/death metal in its perfection – eerie atmosphere, dark and satanic! “Burning in Hell” starts like good old Sodom, and I definitely don’t mind that as it is a real headbanger. I especially like that part that follows the guitar solos. It is just killer stuff. But then “Evil Warriors” comes in and I must consider this track as one of the weakest parts of “Seven Churches”. The riffing in it is quite boring to be honest, and its “Show No Mercy” influence is very audible here, but really “Evil Warriors” is not as classy. The title song is way better with a really awesome main riff and generally killer feeling, one which could even be close to not only Slayer, but also to “Kill ’em All”, only Possessed made it way more cruel and violent, plus it shreds with many chaotic, cacophonous guitar solos that are equally fast as they were a mad race on the scales.
Side B of the vinyl definitely is more killer for me as it included a couple of my favourite tracks from Possessed. The first one is the cult “Death Metal”, of course – and I cannot imagine a better culmination of such a great record. It is a real bombardment of thundering drums and razor-sharp riffs, plus very memorable choruses, etc. That main riff belongs to those riffs, which has its place in the metal history among the most perfect accords ever put together by a man and the beast (as obviously dark forces must have helped Possessed creating something like this). “Death Metal” is an absolutely amazing song and I do consider it to be one of my favourite tracks from the '80s along with… eeeehhh, no, too many to mention, hehe. But if you don’t know this song, then you must learn your metal history, man! “Satan’s Curse” is so wonderfully fast and so relentless that it just makes me bang my head all the time through and I can hardly stop doing so - really good song indeed. And finally another highly-esteemed song is “Fallen Angel”. Just listen to the opening theme of it, that slow and epic riff and bells that accompany it – what a great result and something that will stick with you for ages. Afterwards this song turns into quite fast and merciless motherfucker, quite chaotic for few moments again, but this is just pure death/thrashing metal slaughter. I’m afraid, though, that again a couple of tracks from side B may seem nowadays to be more filler than something that can stand on the same level of excitement and thrashing death extravaganza as those that I just mentioned. I mean, a song like “Twisted Minds” is just hmm… dull? I’m not saying it is terribly bad or whatever, and I like few parts from it, mainly this riff that accompanies the guitar solos and overall it basically is a classic thrash metal song, but is just not as utterly aggressive and memorable as one would expect from an album that supposedly opened the gates of hell for a new genre called death metal.
Standout tracks: “Death Metal”, “Fallen Angel”, “Pentagram”, “Satan’s Curse”.
It's a fool's errand to point to a single person or band and attribute the birth of an entire genre to him/them, as there are always multiple players involved in such macro-evolutionary events. Nevertheless, it isn't out of line to credit the pioneering San Francisco act Possessed with beginning the putrid beast that is death metal, and not merely for putting forth a song title that became the genre's name. There is a certain threshold that is crossed when the intensity and vileness of thrash gives way to something even more evil, and while Slayer was definitely hinting at this eventuality, the first LP that truly captured all the essential elements was "Seven Churches", an album that has rightly earned its place as one of the sickest and most formidable offerings of the entire 80s decade. While some have taken a revisionist approach to this album and simply pass it off as a unique thrash offering due to the wide gap that exists between it and the brutality-obsessed character that Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse ushered in during the 90s, it's pretty difficult to miss the heavy similarities that this album shares with the early offerings of Death, Morbid Angel and Deicide, bands whose death metal credentials have never been questioned.
As with any lofty claim of historical significance, there comes an obvious necessity for something truly groundbreaking to be present in such an album, and "Seven Churches" clearly listens like an album years ahead of its time. The atmospheric aesthetic in play here is far darker and more morbid than anything that Slayer had put together on "Show No Mercy" or "Haunting The Chapel", and hints pretty heavily at the deep, haunting deluge of chaotic rage that typified Morbid Angel's "Altars Of Madness", missing only the signature blast beats that were a staple of said album. But while blasting is not in the drumming repertoire, this album more than makes up with it by offering up a rapid shifting array of beats and fills that actually appears to be predicting techniques that would be employed heavily on Cannibal Corpse's more technical works in the early to mid 90s. Similarly, the vocal work found on here is the first really distinctive example of the guttural barking sound that would come to dominate the late 80s Florida scene, though Jeff Becerra's David Vincent-like shout is still a far cry from the unintelligible frog-groans that took over in the 90s and has since been considered a requirement for a qualified death metal sound.
Yet while the guitar tone is definitely darker and less percussive, the drum work far more chaotic and wandering, and the vocals clearly on the road toward something far removed from the orthodox thrash shout of Hetfield and Araya, this album still maintains an essential thrash metal quality to it that makes identification with a number of early extreme progenitors of the redder variety of thrash very easy. The mixture of palm muted stops and starts, along with the introduction of the tremolo based melodic line still see a strong affinity with the mid 80s Slayer sound, and definitely shares a high amount of commonality with contemporary international thrashers such as Kreator and Sepultura, though their respective LP offerings that warrant the strongest comparisons wouldn't come to be for another year. In the same essence, the guitar soloing style is heavily informed by the Kerry/Hanneman approach to dueling leads, though restrained a bit more and having a stronger melodic sensibility rather than a continuous bombardment of scale runs and whammy bar noise. And ultimately the songwriting mostly conforms itself to a standard high octane thrash effort, one that is maybe a little bit more muddied and crushing that "Hell Awaits", but operating on a very similar wavelength.
If nothing else, the distance that Possessed put between itself and the Big 4 warrants an equal if not completely separate level of recognition in shaping the overall tone and character of extreme metal in the years that followed 1985. The eerie atmospherics that are accomplished in the haunting keyboard intro of "The Exorcist" and the doomsday bell with a hint of dissonant turbulence of the melodic character of "Fallen Angel", alone put this in very different territory from anything that Slayer or Metallica had delved into by this point. Likewise, while the riffs are still largely based in the speed metal repertoire and tonality that was borrowed from the NWOBHM acts to help birth thrash metal a few years prior, the manner in which they are implemented is quite more involved and complex than the formulaic repetition heard on "Hell Awaits" and the rigid, heavy metal-like structure of "Ride The Lightning" (not to downplay either of these very consequential albums). Even the aforementioned song "Death Metal", which was first head on Possessed's 1984 demo and is one of their more simple offerings, touches upon far darker territory than the most messed up moments on "Haunting The Chapel".
There is literally no way to downplay the significance of this album without engaging in some really outlandish leaps in revisionist history, which would obviously involve downplaying Chuck Schuldiner's impact on death metal's formation since this band inspired him to move beyond conventional thrash metal. For someone who doesn't listen to 80s extreme metal and thinks that true brutality only exists when the lyrics of an album are as gore obsessed as a raving lunatic suffering from surgical addiction, dismissing the entire 1st generation of death metal albums that were still tied, in some respects, to the thrash style is somewhat logical, but it also involved severing the tree from its life-giving roots. While it may be possible to dislike this album musically because of its dated and low-fidelity production, denying its significance shouldn't be. Anyone who enjoys any brand of extreme metal, be it death or black in persuasion, should hear this album at least once, and all self-respecting death thrashers should multiply that number by a much larger one.
How I wish many of the so called extreme metal bands of today would look back at this album and realize what heritage it is they're pissing on. If there is such a thing as "true death metal", Possessed's masterpiece Seven Churches is by far the best.
I have been looking for the origin of death metal's identity for a long time, and now I have most definitely found it. Seven Churches is as evil, raw, and qualitative as death metal will ever be in my opinion. Let me tell you why my love for this album is so God damned strong!
First of all, this album contains what many modern extreme acts lack: a strong, well written structure that accompanies the sheer rawness of the sound. While many other extreme bands out there emphases the extreme part way to much, they tend to forget what is most important while making music: the song itself. This is what makes Seven Churches my very favorite death metal album, if not my very favorite metal album altogether. The sound is fast, extreme and raw yes, but behind all that reverb, distortion and speed you find some seriously good music, with chord progressions and vocals that create that very evil sound we all love!
I hear people complaining about the extreme amount of reverb. Perhaps you do not know the history behind this album. It was written and recorded during a spring break! Jeff, Larry, Mike and the rest of the guys had neither time nor funds to create the most polished album out there. And thank God for that! This album was never intent to sooth you. It's not easy listening. This is pure fucking death metal! Hadn't it been for it's raw charm, I, and many many others, wouldn't have loved it just as much as we do. The reverb is painful at high volumes yes, but that is the way it's supposed to be. As the French Foreign Legion says: You haven't trained hard unless you puke afterwards. Well, you haven't really listened to Seven Churches unless you have a weird tone in your ears afterwards.
Now for the musicians! Mike Sus is truly a good drummer. If I had to explain his drumming, and the overall structure of the album, with one word, it would be "unpredictable". You never know when the tempo will change in the middle of a song. You think you just got into the tempo of a song, and suddenly a far more complex version of the tempo starts of, usually with Mike marking the change. What is amazing is that none of the young musicians ever get lost in the tempo changes.
Some find this hard to adapt to, I say it's a matter of getting used to it. Like i previously said, this is not an easy listening album. This is for die hard metalheads who love complexity.
Larry LaLonde created the death metal way of playing with his guitar work. Think Venom and Exodus on speed! Complicated riffing and perfect chord progressions set the tone of the album. Although the sound is raw, you always hear Larry and Mike Torrao's guitars bringing you closer and closer to the chaos of hell as the album keeps going.
Jeff Berecca's inhuman proto-growling is very fitting. Since most of the lyrics is about how you will end up in hell for doing evil things, they really need a voice that tells you "this is not a joke, you really will burn in hell". Even though Possessed never really were "real" satanists, you can understand why many people feared this album back in the 80's.
The lyrics, vocals, low production value and imagery (consisting of inverted crosses, studs and blood) really created something special back in the days. I can only hope this album will forever be remembered by the generations of metalheads to come.
Seven Churches will always be the album I compare other extreme albums to.
This is as good as it gets.
"Seven Churches" is no doubt the evillest thing to come out of 1985. Whilst the rest of the western world were prancing around in pink shell suits and high heels whilst wielding mobile phones larger than my house, Possessed were instead playing a dark, evil and chaotic brand of thrash metal that was absolutely key in laying the foundations for the next wave of extreme music - death metal.
Possessed for the most part go about their thrash business as normal; fast paced drums, thick, rapid, aggressive riffs and rough, torturous vocals that definitely lean towards the soon-to-arrive death metal sound. The band itself are skilful, but have a loose and sloppy way of playing that serves to highlight the violence of "Seven Churches" most excellently. Mike Sus's drumming is full of fills and martial-style snare rolls, Jeff Becerra growls reasonably (though he is sometimes hard to focus on over the guitars) and plays some thoroughly decent bass, and Mike Torrao and Larry LaLonde riff and solo away like their lives depend upon it. Torrao's style is basically Kerry King style whammy bar abuse (nothing to write home about), whilst the superior LaLonde actually sounds like Kirk Hammet does on "Kill 'em All" in many places, though more uncontrolled and with moments of startling creativity. Overall, Possessed are chaotic in a way that most thrash doesn't come close to. A favourite tactic of theirs on "Seven Churches" is to proceed with what at first appears to be a standard thrash riff - only to throw the entire thing into disarray by injecting a bizarre, out of time, high-pitched lick into the end of it. This kind of behaviour gives the album a unique and deranged character which I must say is rather enjoyable. Not only that, but there are some truly spine-chilling moments on here which really help this album to stand out.
On "The Exorcist", the band desists in attempting to beat your ears into a bloody pulp for just a few moments, and allows an eerie melodic tremolo-picked section to soar free, bulls-eyeing the 'dark and evil' feel with perfect precision. On "Burn in Hell", a ferociously fast and furious song that would definitely give Slayer pause for thought, the end of Larry LaLonde's unearthly solo collapses into a freakish, atonal and deliberately paced arpeggiated spasm that appears to grab the music by the scruff of the neck and shake it to a standstill - before the band let rip with a churning, hellish slow/midpaced riff that seems to shake the very foundations of reality to its core. At the end of "Holy Hell", Possessed conjure up a riff that literally sounds like the call of a hunting horn - "TADALA DA DA DAAAA!" If you know what I'm driving at - and channelled through their cacophony of battering drums, crunching guitars and sinister vocals, the effect is of a Hell hunt bearing down on you; hideous, pitchfork-wielding demons riding over screaming sinners on giant black steeds, while the foaming Hell Hounds bay and rend. Fantastic stuff.
Elsewhere they pull off other fine moments, like the demented arpeggios in the title track, or the powerfully dark, bell-chiming intro and intricate riffage of "Fallen Angel", or the subtle but absolutely killer rhythmic cymbal-work pulled off by Sus during the bridge riff of "Death Metal", or the impossibly thick and devastating ending riff to "The Exorcist", or the basswork during the solo riff on "Twisted Minds", or Torrao's strange and disconcerting solo on "Pentagram" - about the only place in the album he succeeds in outshining LaLonde. The album is peppered liberally with several more classic and pitch black thrash riffs; always a recommended feature to include on your death/thrash album.
Whilst all this a veritable feast for the ears of the discerning listener, in a sense it's also frustrating. This is because some of these songs are slightly padded out with 'filler' - it's not bad filler in any sense whatsoever, but Possessed occasionally slip into the trap of just bashing away with any old riff whilst Becerra growls over the top (mostly during the verses of the songs). Part of the problem with this is that Becerra's voice is not as engaging or dynamic as, say, Kam Lee's or Chuck Schuldiner's - so where you're supposed to be focusing on the vocals, they often don't hold the attention as well as they could. If only Possessed could kick as much arse as they are capable of, all the time, "Seven Churches" would have been completely untouchable. Still, as it is, it's 'merely' extremely cool, raw and atmospheric death/thrash played with zeal, and infused with moments of genius. Sounds dreadful, doesn't it? I don't know why I even like this shit.
Possessed, is, as most of us know, one of the founders of the glorious genre that is Death Metal, and often considered to be THE creators of it all. If so, it started with this album, released in 1985. This is Possessed, "Seven Churches".
The opener, "The Exorcist" is the perfect way to open this album. Starts off with a slower, softer tune, and right then you know that your in for something fucking awesome. You hear the little clinks of the cymbal and it just blasts off. Now this is classic Death Metal at it's finest. You gotta love it. Heavily distorted dual guitar riffs, insanely fast, and even though the it's lacking in technicality a little bit, it's glaring. I mean, imagine hearing this in 1985.
The solos are great as well, well placed, well paced, neat, and not wretchedly overused. This is pump music. It's the type of music that makes you wanna down a keg of beer and jump off buildings. It's party music. If there was a metal-head party in town, this is what would be on the stereo. A perfect example of this is the song "Holy Hell". It just has that beat that makes you wanna go crazy.
The drums on the album are like any classic Death Metal: lacking in the variety department. It's mostly bass and snare, maybe an occasional cymbal, you know, nothing overly impressive, nothing special. Just classic Death Metal drumming. While they're lacking in variety, the beats, and use of beats varies, which is a good thing too. It's not the same beats with the same drums over and over, so there is a little variation, but not enough to save it from sounding repetitive. I also feel like the drums are a little bit too loud in some parts, and the guitars not loud enough. I get the feeling that the guitar and bass are being drowned out by the vocals and drums, which is understandably a little disappointing.
The bass for the album, from what I can hear of it, is fair and follows on it's own according, and not with the guitar much, if you know what I mean. It does stand out fairly far in some songs. Referring back to "Holy Hell" again, the bass is really audible in this song, and can give you an idea of what it's like.
The vocals are awesome. The vocals for me, are the best part, along with the speed and aggression of the guitars and the song's themes. Now, Jeff Becerra is a god. His vocals are incredible. Every thing you'd come to expect and even more, in an awesome Death Metal band. Harsh, crude, perfect. Not much else to say about them.
With all this said, this album is awesome. I shouldn't have to tell you that Possessed is awesome if you're already a Death Metal fan, because chances are, you already know full well that they kick ass. A great first full-length album, by possibly, it is debatable, the first Death Metal band ever. With this said, it's my job to tell you the undersides. The problems I have with the album are nothing really serious. The guitar and bass are very unclean, and are drowned out by the drums and vocals. The drums are very repetitive as well. More variety would make the album way more pleasurable.
Seven Churches is one of the most sick, twisted and brutal albums ever. Those guys at the time where exceptional. Recorded during the Easter holidays (hell yeah!), we can easily say that these 10 songs invented a new form of doing metal, opening the gates to new genres like black and death. Ok, let’s take a look at the musical panorama at the time (1985): Slayer put out the dark, violent “Hell Awaits”, Kreator were at the beginning with their first album “Endless Pain”, Sodom had just released the mini “In The Sign Of Evil” in 1984 and Sepultura the “Bestial Devastation” EP. Wow, what a year for the growing extreme scene.
Despite the bands I mentioned before, Possessed were even more obscure and “black metal” in the way of dressing and acting, keeping alive the Satanic spirit presented few years before by groups like Venom and Slayer…it’s a sort of prosecution by these young fellows. Their main influences were exactly the thrash metal and the very first extreme thrash metal bands with a death touch. So, if Becerra was to come an idol for the future generation of deathsters (Chuck Schuldiner), it’s good to know that he wanted to sing like Cronos and his vocals went into too extreme direction, contributing in creating a new thing.
Their influences from the horror films would have become a classic stuff in the lyrics by the very first death metal groups and the Satanic hymns for the future black metal groups. The sound is unmistakable, unique and truly evil. The guitars sound like mad chainsaws and a song like “The Exorcist” is a classic amongst the classics. The furious, raw up tempo parts with fast rolls on the snare drum and the tempo changes are well mixed with the evil single note riffs made on a single chord, like it would have been for the black metal bands in the near future.
The growls at the beginning of “Pentagram” are truly scary and innovative for that period. This song is great for the lead guitars riffage during the tempo changes and the sulphurous aura. “Burning In Hell” is awesome with the malignant riffs and vocals beyond human comprehension. No one at the time could play faster, harder and so evil. The solos are in pure Slayer direction with shredded parts and whistles. The bass drum work on “Evil Warriors” seems endless, with great march rolls, and the wall of sound from the guitars on “Holy Hell” is pure madness.
“Satan’s Curse” is great for the drums stomps on the hi-hat, creating a really catchy, but dark as hell, sound. It’s really hard to describe the atmosphere these guys can create on this album because they seem like coming directly from hell for malignance and evilness. “Fallen Angel” is truly creepy for the bells sounds in some parts during the song and the final “Death Metal” is the very first hymn to this genre, embracing all the characteristics a band should have to play this kind of infernal music. An ever shining album.
I never got QUITE as into this album as a lot of other people have; I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I have difficult relating with a lot of music from half a decade before I was born. I'm not going to fawn over it because it's 'oldschool' and 'legendary' when there's no way I'll ever be able to TRULY connect with stuff from an era in metal that's so radically different from the one I'm currently involved in. I've always thought it's kind of silly when teenagers go on about how incredible Iron Maiden or old Metallica is. While those artists both might have amassed a collection of truly great music, it just feels sort of disingenuous to me to hear people fawn over an album that was produced before their particular sperm cell was even close to being spawned. That being said, I like 'Seven Churches' a pretty good amount. It's not amazing as a whole (though there are a few moments that are), but it is a very respectable album, and, of course, an incredibly important one.
Much like Venom's 'Black Metal', 'Seven Churches' is an honorary death metal album more than a sonic one. A lot of people waffle around and try to imply that there's something truly yet abstractly different about this release which separates it from 'mere' thrash metal, but the fact is that it's really just a weird and unique thrash album. It's a very good one though, and you can clearly see how this influenced early death metal greatly: numerous riffs sound like they're out of the early Morbid Angel book, and the overall feel does approach early Death pretty frequently. It doesn't sound like pure thrash, admittedly; the riffing is very twisted, hellish, and more atonal than usual, and the rougher vocal performance, though still somewhat theatrical in a Nuclear Assault sense, is obviously a step forward from thrash convention. The drumming is a strange element; think the drumming of mid-era Slayer, but more tentative and uneven, like Mike Sus was really, really afraid of screwing up at any moment, and there's a lot of weird beat decisions with snare/bass/snare rhythms bleeding into awkward skank beats and strange snare rolls. It's thrash without the bounce or feeling particularly 'thrashy'. It's more directly hellish, the closest approximation being, again, Slayer.
All in all, a lot of these songs feel very raw and unformed, like this album is really one big demo without all the kinks worked out quite yet. Or any of the kinks, for that matter. The songs are designed very awkwardly, and most sections transition into each other just by stopping and switching riffs or with an abrupt tom fill and immediate, stilted shift to the next movement. That being said, there are points that are more clearly developed than others. 'Burning In Hell' is the best track by a mile, with the most sinister riffs and vocal performance on the record and an overall structure that feels very organic; hell, it almost sounds like Morbid Angel's 'Bleed For The Devil' with its too-fast pace and evil delivery. The title track also sounds like an old Morbid Angel track with particularly Azagthoth-esque solos and riffing style. And then, finally, there's 'Death Metal', which is ironically probably the thrashiest track on here along with being the most strange and awkward; however, it has a sort of innocent charm about it that's fun to listen to.
There's little that's professional about this album, from the uneven playing to the thin production and even to the minimal, slapped-together cover art. But it is an important, worthwhile listen that greatly influenced early death metal. Should you get it? Of course! It's a weird, fascinating classic of early extreme metal that everyone should hear at least once to gain some proper perspective, even if you don't really like it very much in the traditional sense. After all, what could be more important to listen to than the very first death metal album?
All those bedroom black metal projects and brutal technical grind death bands could learn something from this. Possessed doesn't need much of an introduction, but they were a good old thrash band that took their sound to the extreme, a daring move which ended up leaving them with this album. Seven Churches is pretty much the antithesis of politically correct-ness by its name and thematic alone, with such charming and classic song titles as "Satan's Curse" and "Pentagram." I wasn't around when it was first released, but I imagine it, along with the cover, did not make Possessed many friends in groups like the PMRC back in those days, even when such people had not even heard one note of the music contained inside. And the music on here definitely lives up to the band's crazy, unheard-of-in-1985 Satanic imagery, being a whirling cacophony of hard hitting, devilishly catchy thrash riffs, twisted, evil solos, drums that were faster than speeding bullets, and a vocalist in Jeff Becerra that literally sounded like he was coming from Hell to drag you down to the Devil himself, to be tortured for all eternity.
The songs on Seven Churches are simple and they all sound quite alike, but hell, in a case where sounding alike means that your album just consistently applies a steel-toed boot to your ass, as it does here, I'm not complaining. Every song here ranges from 3 to 5 minutes, as on a lot of older thrash albums, and every song is pretty much equally good, with standouts being exceptionally difficult to choose. Things start off with a calming, rather haunting synth intro, when suddenly the floor drops, and you're plunged into an orgy of jugular-tearing riffage, pierced by Becerra's netherworldly rasping, and if you can't get into "The Exorcist" after that, then you're a lost cause. "Pentagram" has some absurdly cool guitar trills running about it's hellish exterior, a meaty and healthy thrash appetizer that doesn't fail to please. "Fallen Angels" is another killer track, starting off with some somber, hypnotic church bells and then leaping head first into the aural equivalent of a machine gun fight, with the fastest riffs on here, only to drop out towards the end with the church bells again, before going back to the throat-cutting, too-fast-for-the-speed-limit riffage and a winding, demented solo that will send chills up your back as it ascends from the pits of Hell. Holy fuck. Every other song here kills too, there are no duds whatsoever.
If you're a fan of extreme metal, this is more than mandatory. If you dislike extreme metal, then you should still at least try to enjoy this one. It might be short and it might be repetitive at times, but that's why it's so damn cool. This is a burst of Hellish fun that you'd be hard pressed to find an equal to anywhere these days. Go get it.
My gods, I remember buying this at a used record store in my home town because I liked the cover--simple and effective--and I was a big fan of what was on both Combat Records and Metal Blade Recrods at the time (early 80s). This was when Metal Blade were the best in the field and Combat was right up there with them, mind you.
Then I got home and threw it on the turntable and was amazed at the rush of fury and power that bellowed from my speakers after the haunting intro of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" (better known as the theme from William Friedkin's classic horror epic, "The Exorcist") . And the song of that same title follows it with razor-sharp riffing and Jeff Becerra's glass-gargling screams and growls over Mike Sus' chaotic drumming. Sus' coming from a jazz background accounted for his off-kilter style that was atypical of drummers in those days.
Mike Torrao and Larry LaLonde (who'd have thought he would go on to Primus after this?) scatter, spray, and shred shards of screaming metal madness in the form of lead guitar breaks that took what Slayer laid down and ran with it. And twisted it into a whole new mutation of extremity that was at the time unprecedented. Torrao's style was the more predictable of the two, as he tended to play a lot of the same licks and patterns, whereas LaLonde was slightly more inventive--as a student of the great Joe Satriani I expect no less. Their riffing was bizarre and weird, and it was utterly their own sound as they went for the throat. Larry simply shrugs this off as "a bunch of drunken kids from El Sobrante trying to be heavy" these days, but I don't know if he realizes just how much influence these early recordings of his hold in the underground. On the title track, bludgeoning beast that it is, they are at their most deranged and manic and it is a wonderful sound indeed.
Jeff Becerra was the first vocalist I was aware of to do this sort of thing, the glass-gargling growl/scream approach, and he sounds really sick on this album. He sounds as though he wants to break into your house and massacre your entire family before your eyes! as he pukes out what at the time were shockingly Satanic lyrics Of course, some would argue that his vocals are over the top, but what do they know? His bass work for the most part stays in the background anchoring the low end, but he gets in some tricky unison bits on "Pentagram" after each chorus. It's all about his vocals on this album and he sounds frightening, which is what matters. And vibe and feeling are what this is about.
The production is one of the few Carl Candey production jobs I like, as it has a nicely cavernous ambience that conveys the otherworldly feel Possessed had at their best, that feeling of madness sent by the Lovecraftian Elder Gods that Morbid Angel later on harnessed to such deadly effect. WIthout this band, it can be argued that MA would've sounded far different were it not for their inspiration. The guitars are crunchy and evil, the drums boom out at you like artillery fire, and the vocals are just right in the mix, muddy though it comes off as at times.
This is a perfect intro to the roots of modern death metal and you need it for purposes of context and history as well as incredible shredding power. Look to the title track (one of the best death metal songs ever, IMO), "Pentagram", and "Burning In Hell" for standouts to illustrate the scope of their sound, as well as "Fallen Angel" with its tricky verse riffing. Just get this already. You need it.
There are only few classic bands, that today sound as good as they sounded back in the mid-80’s. Possessed is one of these bands. It sounds like thrash metal put in a blender with rawness and a bit of brutality. Nowadays, we’re living in a world of drum machines and stuff that make music faster and faster(and more brutal?). Still, Possessed’s sound is something hard to explain. It’s unique, it’s raw and it’s fast. It’s clear, that Possessed was something never heard before in the early and mid-80’s. To me, this album sounds like early Slayer with a bit more aggression. And that can’t be bad, can it? Well, enough of this worshipping-crap.
Seven Churches starts with a true classic song, ‘’The Exorcist’’. The first time I listened to this song, it sounded like total chaos. After some closer listening, it all started to take form. There is this simple riff, but somehow Possessed managed to make it sound great. The guitars sound very raw and evil, and are played low. And then Jeff Becerra’s vocals kick in. And oh boy, what a singing style! He shouts, he growls, and it’s great! I can only imagine how sore his throat must’ve been after the recording session. You just wait for the moment when his voice starts to loose it’s power, but it doesn’t happend.
Possessed almost manage to keep their line troughout the album. After ‘’The Exorcist’’, a song called ‘’Pentagram’’ kicks in with an evil growling from probably Satan himself. Another great song with a bit slower start, but in the half-way the drums start the thrash-beat again and Lalonde’s and Torrao’s solos come in. Even though all the songs sound a bit the same with lyrics about Satan and death and thrash-beats and insane solos, there’s still something interesting in each song. You just don’t want to stop listening (and headbanging!) to this album. And you can even have some good laughs by reading the lyrics. Or how does the phrase ‘’Hell evil Satan’s curse’’ sound to you?
By saying ‘’almost’’ I mean the two songs, ‘’Holy Hell’’ and ‘’Twisted Minds’’. They are the weakest links in this album, but still they are not ‘’non-listenable’’-bad. But, you don’t have to wait long for a song to repair this gap. It’s the final track, ‘’Death Metal’’, and it’s the best song in this album, no argues in this. Yet again, a simple riff played over and over again with rage. Simple verse-chorus-solo-pattern works great. The chorus is very catchy even though it has only two words in it. Then, in the middle, the band kind of slows down to recharge their batteries, but what the hell, the batteries are full! Becerra starts another of Mike Torrao’s insane solos with his ‘’Kill them pigs!’’-scream and the headbanging starts again. This is a song you have to listen again and again and again... Brilliant.
Only one question lies ahead; will this album last for another two decades? I think it will. This is something remarkable in the history of metal, this is one of the starting signals of death metal, this was, is and will be death metal. The only reason why I didn’t give full points is that this isn’t a perfect album and I haven’t yet found one. So throw away your melodic death metal-albums and get Seven Churches. Be possessed.
This is the one album that has SO much controversy; nobody is exactly sure what to call it. Seven Churches is believed to be the “first death metal” album ever made. To a certain degree, I can agree with that. I believe that the term Death Metal in that era was really just a nickname for such brutal thrash metal, also considering the facts that many also consider Kreator’s pleasure to kill to also be Death Metal, AND how Death Metal itself as a genre did not take place till Death’s Scream Bloody Gore was released. Sure, for it’s time, it could have been Death Metal for what it was, but really, since Death Metal didn’t take place till S.B.G. I am therefore going to call this a Thrash metal album.
Seven Churches is a classic without a doubt, and since I LOVE thrash metal, especially 80’s Thrash, really makes me love this one a lot more. Unfortunately, and I am sure that it has been thought by many, this is a VERY over-hyped/over-rated album. To compare this to S.B.G., I like Death’s album much more, because I really think that this is MUCH too sloppy and unstructured. I love it either way, but that really makes me wonder if I should give it a 90. Originally, I was gonna give it am 95 at the most, but I really thought about it, and felt it should get a 90. NOT a 100 percent worthy album or a 95, but a 90 isn’t too damn shabby. Some of the reasons for me giving it a lower rating than everybody else is because as was said earlier, it’s over-rated, WAY too much reverb on ALL the instruments, sometimes you hear the same guitar solo in a few of the songs, and most importantly the songs are TOO short.
To start the album off, we have The Exorcist. It starts off with the tubular bells intro, and if you listen to it carefully, it is played a little wrong by I believe ONE note. It’s funny how ONE note can make a BIG difference, but still. Once the song kicks in, we get introduced to one of the heaviest songs EVER! The lyrics are piercing, the vocals are crucifying, and the music is insanely brutal. Need I also mention a POSSIBLE influence to the ALBUM (not exactly an influence to the band) This album has a similar sound the Speed Metal group Exorcist, particularly in the vocals, even though Possessed has been around longer, but it seems like they could be a possible influence. Maybe even a somewhat tribute to them with this song? One of the highlight tracks. 10/10
Pentagram is up next, which starts off with a very demonic growl for about a few seconds, THEN it kicks in. I personally do not like the intro riff, but after that passes, the rest of the song kicks ass. HELLA HEAVY! Not much to say other than that. 8/10
Burning In Hell is a REAL headbanger. Instead of starting it off with little crazy intro’s to accent the songs, they cut right to the chase and deliver a HEAVY ass tune here. VERY Brutal sounding and a MAJOY headbanging tune. I bet back in the day, this song was probably considered to be a real Wall of sound because of how heavy this one is. DEFINITELY one of the highlights. 9/10
Evil Warriors is not bad. I love this one, and it’s hell-a heavy, brutal, and crazy. This one sounds like it was written for the purpose of headbanging, because it’s NON STOP Heavy. Cool guitar solo, and Jeff gives off a real evil scream on this one. Almost never heard a vocalist sound so horrifying on a CD before. SIX SIX SIX!!!!! 9/10
This next one is the self titled track Seven Churches. The intro riff to this one is really crucifying, but it’s played a little too fast for the drums because it goes off beat with this one, which I think makes this song not very great. Even though the funny thing is, this one is one of my favorite songs on here, and probably my top 3 favorite tracks. 9/10.
Satan’s Curse is not that great of a song. Actually, I find this song to kinda fail to have the same amount of horror and shock that the other songs bring. But also, it’s very different from the other songs that this album has all because it’s less brutal (at least in my eyes). Not really one of the best, but good because it’s not like the others. 7/10
Holy Hell is a crazy song. This one kinda reminds me of songs that have been played by Macabre (who was also considered to be one of the first Death Metal bands). This one is a real headbanger as well, BUT also does lack some. Not really a track I would like to listen to ALL the time, but also, it’s NOT too bad. Tolerable but not loved. 7/10.
Twisted Minds – this one is finally a track with length to it. Actually this one is the longest album on the record. Starts off slow, then as it continues, it gets faster, BUT it doesn’t get that much faster. Not exactly a head banger, but the Jeff gives off some real good yells/screams with this song. 8/10
Fallen Angel goes back to the routes of the first 2 tracks with the sound effect intros before the song gets heavy. This one is a PURE Thrash song, and really delivers. A REAL Headbanger, BUT also somewhat lacks as Holy Hell and Satan’s Curse. However, I do enjoy this one because of the bells at the intro which give it a more chilling sound. 8/10
Now, my favorite Possessed song and the BEST and MOST different song on the album DEATH METAL! The lyrics are VERY appealing. The double kicks at the intro help make the song different from some of the others. Definitely the MOST brutal song on the album and is very intimidating. So intimidating that bands who have covered it have not even made a good enough attempt to make it as the same league as these guy’s version. If Possessed was to make a music video, this would be the song to make it, and in the concerts, this is the song that would probably get the crowd going violent. Definitely an innovator and a true classic.
BOTTOMLINE: Though this album is very overrated, and many have made it seem SO great that Scream Bloody Gore does not live up to it’s own hype. I still prefer Scream Bloody Gore by Death over this album BUT that doesn’t mean this album isn’t great. It’s a classic and like most people who have heard it, it is highly recommended. Especially since it is not only an innovator, but it HELPED Death metal come into play (it did NOT create it like many say, because this is just Thrash Metal played to a more extreme demeanor.) If you find it, do NOT Hesitate, and buy it IMMEDIATELY!
I'd like to quote Chorazaim (from Megiddo fame), from his review of this very same album: "if you've never heard this, forget everything you think you know about death/black metal, as you don't know shit". That could leave the review right there. From everywhere I go and see, so called "death metalheads" "proudly" stand from "the rest", even if they never heard the Possessed name, and how vital they and their music are to the birth of the genre.
The album begins with 'frightening intro' and then kicks off with "The Exorcist". Pure fucking mayhem, as the incredibly well done production on this album preserved all the sheer malignant viciousness that was the soul of this band. Drumming is a bit unusual in the verses, and some brickheads would have a hard time trying to appreciate the whole spectrum of the songs because of this, but less power to them, I guess. "Pentagram" starts a bit "dancey", but it is still malignant as hell. This album doesn't have the best lyrics on the genre, but these are strictly to-the-point and have the passion that most of by-the-book death metal bands seem to lack these days.
"Burning in Hell" starts off fast, but waste no time and after a short good-old-fashioned lead guitar interchange, here comes this riff!!! Fucking evil and mercilessly crushing, it takes your head and apply enough pressure to have your brain come out of your nose. Awesome vocals to complement (you can never have enough of those animal-like vocals, courtesy of Jeff Becerra, the man that, to me, INVENTED the classic death metal vocal style).
More highlights: "Evil Warriors", great lead guitar, amazing riffs, nice breakdown somewhere in the middle (the "aaaaaaaarrrghh" and "six six six!!" parts). "Twisted Minds", great alternation between fast and midpaced riffing. And no, it doesn't let go, quit being a pussy and headbang, dammit! "Death Metal" ends the album in a great straightforward fashion as it is the simplest (but among the best) song here.
I could have done a song-by-song revision, but we all know how boring those are. Just a few more words, in case mine or the other reviews haven't convinced you to pick this up: 0% filler, non-pussy material, headed directly to your throat, death METAL!!!!! Still not convinced? Take your chances and get this. Waste no time, chances are that you'll like it. Of course, if you're a true metalhead, if you're not....well, you know what I think of you.
Death metal just should've kinda stopped right here. I mean Possessed had it all figured it out, that you are really not supposed to take out the thrash riffs and replace them with entrails and cunts.
This album seems to be the next logical step after Slayer's "Chemical Warfare" in the vein of extreme music. Similar thrash ideals to "Hell Awaits" are combined with insane fucking vocals, and a guitar tone that will rip your arms in half and shove them into your gallbladder. The death-metal sense of chaos is definitely evident, without resorting to the self-mockery of many later albums that just can't figure out where the riffs went.
There is also a very well-defined sense of melody to be found here. Slayer's "Show no Mercy" is approximately the best analogy for how the guitar solos sound, though Judas Priest "Stained Class" may be even more appropriate. Not overall shredding, and the solos don't sound "pretty" in the classical sense, but they avoid Slayer's "cat in a blender" wankery in the name of general memorability. The opening to "The Exorcist" manages to be both frightening and catchy at the same time, as does most everything else here. The lead work also tends to worm its way into the rhythm guitar at times, with riffs resembling those of Whiplash abundant on this album - think of the intro to "Power Thrashing Death" and you've got a decent idea of some of the riffs here. This idea of course would be completely bastardised by later death metal bands who needed a quick counterpoint to the wall of noise, but here it is used to its full potential.
Great songs? All of them! Especially "Burning in Hell" - my absolute favourite, and maybe the greatest death metal song ever. Also, "Death Metal", "The Exorcist"... Hell, they're all, at the very least, excellent. SATAN SAYS THIS ALBUM OWNS YOU!!!
Yep, the first death metal album. And it hasn't been topped. Nocturnus had some good stuff in "The Key", as did Atheist in "Piece of Time". "Scream Bloody Gore" and the related demos were also pretty nice, and has a lot of similar ideals, but this is just fucking awesome to the N+3rd power!!
When POSSESSED hit the scene in 1984 with their Death Metal demo, they generated an underground buzz the likes of which had rarely been seen before - here were some San Francisco kids more on a first-name basis with Satan than the VENOM guys, yet playing metal that, though faster and heavier than anything of the time, still retained a very refined sense of musicianship. People were going nuts to hear them, and when Combat finally signed them and released their debut album Seven Churches, less than a year after their formation, they were not disappointed in the least. (And neither was Combat - Seven Churches was the label's biggest-selling album.) After an eerie intro lifted from MIKE OLDFIELD's Tubular Bells, the album explodes into the heavier-than-hell opener "The Exorcist", and for ten songs the band doesn't let up one little bit. It is to producer Randy Burns' credit that the album sounds as raw as it does, but he focuses the chaos perfectly, getting great sounds and mixing them expertly to generate one of the best sounding metal albums ever. (He went on to produce MEGADETH's debut and DARK ANGEL's Darkness Descends, but that's another review . . . ) The drums are crisp. The bass is full and round. The guitars are HUGE, crunchy on the rhythms and screaming on the leads. And the vocals sound straight out of hell.
Of course, as METALLICA proved with "the black album" and Load, garbage in, garbage out, but fortunately Randy had some great stuff to work with. Except for detuning, Possessed epitomized death metal just as it founded it: superfast riffs, machine-gun drums, crazy solos, and the guttural growl of Jeff Becerra's vocals. But there is so much more there too: "The Exorcist" isn't just fast - it's all over the damn place. So is the stellar title track "Seven Churches". And then there are the riffs in "Pentagram" and "Burning In Hell" - so fast they sound like blurs. And then there's the constantly- morphing compositional masterpiece "Twisted Minds" - visiting more musical feels in one song than some modern death bands visit on entire albums. But, of course, there's also plenty of just 'crush-your-head' brutality, like "Satan's Curse", "Evil Warriors" and of course, "Death Metal."
Mike Sus amazingly not only keeps up with Possessed's breakneck tempos, he stays ahead of them, sounding like a percussion whirlwind with four feet for kick-drums. The twin-guitar attack of Mike Torrao and Larry Lalonde (yes, THAT Larry Lalonde) is relentless. They shred rhythms like there's no tomorrow, and then take off on leads that are at once chaotic and perfectly appropriate. Torrao tended more to going nuts on the whammy bar while Lalonde leaned towards shredding modes and scales, but they frequently crossed into each other's territory. And finally, Jeff Becerra, the bassist, vocalist, and frontman, played all duties admirably - the basslines support the riffs and fill them out, while his vocals draw the line between metal and death, and have surely inspired thousands of fans to raw throats: a death-edged shout that everyone from Chuck [Schuldiner] and Co. on down has tried to copy, with ear-piercing screams thrown in for good measure.
(Originally published at LARM and Eternal Frost Webzine #1, (c) 1998)