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DEATH METAL! - 100%

Napalm_Satan, December 28th, 2015
Written based on this version: 1985, 12" vinyl, Banzai Records

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.