Seven Churches (1985)
Would you believe that before joining Primus, guitarist Larry Lalonde played in a death metal band? Well, not just any death metal band, but the death metal band that practically started the genre. Although today their music may sound more akin to thrash, Possessed are widely regarded as the innovators of death metal for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that their debut album concludes with the aptly titled track "Death Metal." There is still some argument over whether Possessed or Death actually made the first death metal record, but for me the answer is clear. Many of the gods of the genre, from Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse to Deicide and even Death, have hailed Possessed as a major influence.
This review is not about debating the genre of the band, however, and were we to concede that it is thrash, it's still very different from most of the other thrash albums of the 80s. Larry Lalonde and Mike Torrao create a chaotic churning maelstrom of madness with their guitars while Mike Sus pounds away relentlessly on his kit and Jeff Becerra roars into the microphone with a ferocity more demonic than Tom Araya at his prime. The raw production also plays a role in the unique feel of the album, particularly how everything is soaked in reverb, sounding like malignant spirits crying out from beyond the grave.
Seven Churches begins with the haunting theme from The Exorcist, right before appropriately launching into an unyielding onslaught of audio terror. The first time I heard the opening track, it almost felt painful to my ears. Possessed couldn't have picked a better name, playing very dissonant, tremulous, and noisy riffs through that reverb-overkill production job in a manner that grates on your nerves and confuses your mind. Unlike much of modern death metal, Possessed also doesn't stay on the lower end of the strings, but freely moves about from pummeling chord attacks to screeching strangulation of the higher notes, like some sort of apparition gliding frightfully through the night air.
Lyrically, the band was clearly competing with Venom and Slayer to write the most evil Satanic songs they could come up with. Practically every track dishes out the devil and hell, not in a very creative way, but like blunt force trauma to the head. Lines such as "Pounding death from my hands / Spreading Satan through the lands" and "God is slaughtered, drink his blood" are characteristic of Seven Churches. Here you get the best of both worlds: shameless blasphemy and Satanic pride. Combined with the equally irreverent music, what you will hear on this record is wicked indeed (as if the inverted cross and demon tail on the cover don't give it away). By no means would I recommend this for everyone, but if you're curious about the origins of death metal, or you're willing to try something a bit crazy, you may just someday find yourself congregating at the Seven Churches.