Sunday Old School: Possessed
Death metal is without question one of the most popular sub-genres in heavy metal, with thousands of bands emulating the likes of Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse and the like, but there was a band before the Florida based legends came along which pioneered, and some say invented death metal itself. Namely, San Francisco based, Possessed. Possessed was formed in 1983 by guitarist Mike Torraro and drummer Mike Sus, along with bass player Geoff Andrews and vocalist Barry Fisk. This original lineup was not to last long, and ended in tragic fashion when Fisk, who was homeless at the time, shot himself in front of his girlfriend, resulting in Andrews no longer wanting to be a part of the group. The group soon picked themselves up when they recruited Jeff Becerra from the Pinole based band Blizzard to handle both bass and vocal duties, as well as hiring another guitarist in the form of Brian Montana. Possessed got to work spreading their name in the Bay Area scene, performing with local titans such as Slayer and Exodus, the latter of which helped Possessed immensely when they gave the band’s three song demo, "Death Metal" to Metal Blade Records head, Brian Slagel.
Slagel agreed to put Possessed on his forthcoming compilation album, Metal Massacre 6, the same series of compilations that had previously helped Slayer and Metallica become noticed, including the song, "Swing Of The Axe" on the record. Metal Blade did not sign the group but the compilation found it’s way to Combat Records, home to such acts as Megadeth. Combat were able to sign Possessed, who had since replaced Montana with Becerra’s former Blizzard bandmate Larry LaLonde and in October of 1985, the band released it’s debut full length album, "Seven Churches" through the label, with Roadrunner Records handling European distribution. The album was an underground hit, owing to Becerra’s guttural vocals (something quite different for metal at the time) and it’s extreme lyrics which, along with frequent use of the word, "fuck," led to it becoming one of the first albums to receive the famous RIAA "Parental Advisory" sticker. It impacted many burgeoning musicians including Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris, who claimed that "Seven Churches" was his introduction to metal, and Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner, who reportedly told his bandmates that he wanted the band to base their sound on the album.
After performing at the WWIII festival in Montreal along with many other extreme favourites of the time such as Celtic Frost, Destruction and Voivod, as well as touring with the likes of Slayer and Venom, the band began working on new material, culminating in their second album, "Beyond The Gates," which was released on Halloween 1986. Reception to the album was mixed with the general consensus being that it didn’t come close to the quality of "Seven Churches," though many Possessed fans today enjoy the record. They then caused a stir by switching to a more thrash metal approach with an EP entitled, "The Eyes of Horror," which was released in May 1987 and saw a total absence of the Satanic lyrics present on former albums. The lukewarm receptions to "Beyond The Gates" and "The Eyes Of Horror" factored into internal problems and the band called it a day soon afterwards, with band members finding differing fates awaiting them. While LaLonde would join Blind Illussion and later find success as a founding member of Primus, Becerra was shot twice by drug addicts when he was robbed on the street, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Although Torraro resurrected the band in 1990, he soon gave up on the band following two demo recordings and the group was laid to rest once more, only to be brought back again in 2007, this time spearheaded by Becerra who originally was backed by members of Sadistic Intent and performed at the legendary Wacken Open Air festival the same year. Since then, Possessed has been performing sporadically, making appearances at European festivals as well as performing small club tours. No it’s unlikely the group will release new music again, they have certainly left their mark on metal music, changing it forever with the advent of death metal.
Possessed - "Satan's Curse"
Possessed - "Holy Hell"
Possessed - "The Heretic"
Possessed - "Death Metal"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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