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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)