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"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.