Possessed – The Exorcists Of Death Metal

Possessed – The Exorcists Of Death Metal

1983, Bay Area, California.  The Thrash Metal explosion has already begun with bands like METALLICA, SLAYER and EXODUS.  Some local young lads though, are not thrilled and want to be even more extreme….this is pretty much how POSSESSED were formed! It was October of 1985 when POSSESSED shocked everyone with their legendary debut “Seven Churches”, giving birth to Death Metal itself!  More extreme than SLAYER, more satanic than VENOM, with an unprecedented sound for that era! Through the years, the name POSSESSED became a cult, with their music influencing the extreme metal scene in its entirety. After a long time of absence, they take the stage once more, at first for a few live shows and later, fully reunited!  In 2019 they release a new album, the masterpiece “Revelations Of Oblivion”, reminding to everyone why POSSESSED are regarded as the fathers of Death Metal! So, for all these and many more, we had the honor to talk to the band’s “general”, Jeff Becerra, in one of the lengthiest interviews he has ever given! Enjoy!

– Greetings from Athens, Greece Jeff! It is a great honor for me and for THE GALLERY.GR to have an interview for our Web Magazine! Let’s start….Your latest album “Revelations Of Oblivion” was released on May 2019. Are you satisfied with the final result, when you listen to it one year later? How does it make you feel having a new full length album after 33 years?

Jeff Becerra: Yes, amazingly enough “Revelations Of Oblivion” is now one year old. May was its one-year anniversary. And yes I’m extremely happy with the outcome and with the work that my bandmates achieved. We all put our heart and soul into this one and we are all extremely proud of the outcome. We were lucky enough to get Peter Tagtgren to help us and Peter was the perfect fit. It makes me feel an immense sense of fulfillment. This album was a long time coming and something that I personally have wanted for such a very long time. So it feels amazingly good. And of course it feels great to make new music!

– What was the writing process for “Revelations of Oblivion”? Furthermore, you produced the album. Compared to POSSESSED’s previous albums, were there any differences with the way you recorded? How would you characterize this new album to an old POSSESSED fan?

Jeff Becerra: With lyrics I keep a bunch of spiral notebooks around the house conveniently located so that if an idea comes to me I can simply grab a notebook and jot it down. A certain amount of my lyrics come from dreams. From time to time I will wake up from what I call, “beautiful nightmares” which make for interesting lyrics and write them down. As far as the music, if a good riff comes to mind I will simply pick up a guitar or bass and record it. I save riffs that I think work well together in a folder then once I have enough for a song I will send what I have to Daniel and he will clean them up and fit them all together as a song. Many of the new songs were written musically by me and Daniel. Some songs Daniel wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics. A couple songs were written by myself, Daniel, Robert and Emilio. Basically, we picked from the best of what we wrote. It’s similar in many ways to the old days but this time we have better equipment.

– You became active again after a long period, in 2007, playing festivals and shows as well. How did this idea come up? Also, why did it take you so long to release a new album?

Jeff Becerra: The first time POSSESSED only lasted a few short years. After the first round of guys quit on me (Larry La Londe went to PRIMUS and the other guys decided they no longer wanted to play in POSSESSED) I had really wanted to keep going but unfortunately, before I had a chance to put something together, I got shot twice on a robbery. Because of my injuries my life was turned upside down and it took a very long time before I was ready to play live again.

Of course, I continued to receive correspondence from POSSESSED fans and supporters all over the world who really wanted me to reform POSSESSED. In late 2006, early 2007 I was approached by the guys in SADISTIC INTENT who were producing a POSSESSED Tribute album. SADISTIC were recording a cover of “The Exorcist” (POSSESSED) and they asked me to do vocals. I drove down to LA and hit the studio with SADISTIC INTENT and we banged out a really cool and heavy version of “The Exorcist”. During the recording process we became friends. Afterwards, while we were partying, Rick, Bay and Emilio from SADISTIC asked me if I wanted to sing a few POSSESSED songs live on stage with them and I said yes. I ended up singing like three songs as a cameo ending. So after SADISTIC INTENT did their regular show I came up and we played a few POSSESSED songs. The crowds went absolutely crazy. We then decided to bring back POSSESSED and started playing shows again.

– “Revelations of Oblivion” was mixed and mastered at Abyss Studios by Peter Tagtgren. How did the recordings go with this “crazy” and beloved guy??! Was there someone from the band working with him before? Also, what is your opinion about his Death Metal band HYPOCRISY?

Jeff Becerra: Working with Peter Tagtgren was an amazing experience. It’s kind of a cool story how Peter came into the project. Since I had been out of the loop and out of the scene for so long, I really didn’t know that many people. So what I did was to Google “top 10 best death metal producers”, I quickly noticed many of the same names popping up over and over during the many searches. So, I wrote down the names that I kept seeing in my searches and I created my own Top 10 list which I then sent to Gerardo Martinez, President of Nuclear Blast. Gerardo informed me that Nuclear Blast works with almost everyone on my list so me and my band mates had a meeting and decided that Peter Tagtgren would be the best fit. We then reached out to Peter Tagtgren and got super lucky, because Peter was totally into it and excited to work with us. Peter came out of retirement for this project, so we were truly blessed. This was our first time working with Peter but all of us are longtime fans of HYPOCRISY.

– If I am not wrong, you have a three-record deal with Nuclear Blast. Are you working on a new album? Have you written any new songs? Give us all the details allowed….

Jeff Becerra: Yes, we have a three full-length album deal with Nuclear Blast as well as several bonus songs, and materials/videos to come. We are still touring “Revelations Of Oblivion”, but still have two more albums coming in time. It’s too soon to release the second but it will come. And yes, I am already writing.

– Lets go a little bit to the past now. POSSESSED are regarded as the “Fathers” of Death Metal. Do you agree with this portrayal? You were the first to use this term and you were the first to play so brutal. Reminding to our younger readers that POSSESSED’s first demo was released back in 1984 with the title “Death Metal”; please tell us who decided to use this title and who is responsible for your amazing logo?

Jeff Becerra: Yes, definitely POSSESSED was the very first band to call ourselves Death Metal and to play in the original Death Metal style of music. The original logo was made by a good friend of mine in high school 10th grade named Keri Luis. Later the logo was revamped by another good friend of mine named Vince Stevenson. And after that our logo was even further refined. Fun fact, I was coincidentally just speaking with Vince Stevenson last night and he is going to fix up our logo yet again. I wrote a song called “Death Metal” as a sort of anthem back in 1983, as a sort of way to announce Death Metal and POSSESSED. Of course it takes all bands to have a genre but POSSESSED were the very first to call ourselves a Death Metal band and actively sell ourselves as “Death Metal” band.  Back then, our music and what we were playing was so obviously different. It was a brand new sound so it made sense to put a name to it.

– POSSESSED came from Bay Area where the Thrash Metal explosion occurred! On the other hand, the Death Metal scene was at Tampa Florida. How did you decide to sound so brutal and have this satanic image and lyrics?

Jeff Becerra: Death Metal is very much a SF Bay Area creation. If course, two years after us it moved to Florida but POSSESSED have always represented the SF Bay Area. Back in the early days SF Bay Area was the place to be. It still is and always will be. Lots of bands actually moved into the Bay Area just to be closer to what was happening out here.

Chuck (DEATH) was one of those who made the “pilgrimage” to the Bay Area. Chuck moved in with Krystal Mahoney who was our POSSESSED Fan Club President out here in Antioch, CA. Later, when Krystal moved to Florida, Chuck again moved with her. But the very first old school Death Metal bands were POSSESSED then SADUS. After that Death Metal spread with Chuck into Florida. Keep in mind, with most musical influence it’s more subtle, but with early Death Metal the music was so obviously different it made it easier to follow. Back in the beginning all Death Metal had elements of Thrash. Just listen to early POSSESSED, SADUS, DEATH, MORBID ANGEL, OBITUARY, CANNIBAL CORPSE etc. The earlier works of these bands all have strong elements of Thrash which is what makes it OSDM (Old School Death Metal). It’s imperative to realize that this is an important trait to early Death Metal.

Later on, Florida’s Death Metal began to grow into its own unique sound which is awesome and brilliant. But it’s important to realize that even the Florida sound turned into something else, as Death Metal continues to grow and expand. These days Death Metal is so much more than just the SF Bay Area sound or the Florida sound, it’s us all, if these things and more. Death Metal is no longer just one thing like it was.

These days there is Folk Death Metal, Viking Death Metal, Technical Death Metal, Brutal Death Metal etc etc. Just look at how amazing the New York Death Metal scene is. Bands like INCANTATION, SUFFOCATION, IMMOLATION have also created their own unique Death Metal sound. And don’t forget Scandinavian, Swedish, Norwegian and all European Death Metal also has its own vibe. Asia and all the variations.

POSSESSED with their manager Debbie Abono (Rest In Peace)

In my opinion, today Death Metal is one of, if not the most exciting genres in music because it is continuously branching out and morphing into so many different things. And certainly, it is narrow-minded when people try and claim that Death Metal can’t have Thrash elements, or that true Death Metal can only have one sound or that it has to be a certain way.

– When “Seven Churches” was released it was banned because of the inverted cross on the cover. Your music and your image scared people but, nowadays, bands can release more brutal covers. Have the people and music industry changed so much?  What is your opinion about that? Also, how would you describe the “Seven Churches” sound nowadays?

Jeff Becerra: Yes, in the beginnings calling ourselves “Death Metal” was both good and bad. While the image and inverted crosses attracted a strong underground following at the same time it alienated us from the mainstream media and got us banned from outlets and the big record stores that existed back then. Back then our music and image was still scary to a lot of people and even today POSSESSED has never been PG-13 enough to hit the mainstream. Of course, we will never sell out but I still hope to reach as many people as possible. The “Seven Churches” sound was us intentionally trying to break boundaries and cross as many lines as possible. Right from the very start our sole intention was to create the heaviest, fastest, darkest band ever. Back then this was still possible and in my opinion we were the heaviest band on the planet for a time. We have always made the type of music that we wanted to play.

– Chuck Schuldiner often cited POSSESSED as his big inspiration. What do you remember from those old days with Chuck and did you ever make plans to do music together? Moreover, what is your opinion about MANTAS and later DEATH? What is your favorite DEATH album?

Jeff Becerra: Chuck and I were friends. Chuck looked up to me and was one of the first people to really understand what Death Metal was about. To be honest back then I was so wrapped up on what I was doing with a POSSESSED, I never thought to ask Chuck about collaborating. I was very young and, while I was flattered that Chuck looked up to me so much, I never imagined that Chuck would go on to become so big. In hindsight, I wish I would had thought to work with him and this is one of my biggest regrets. Keep in mind when I knew Chuck none of us were really known or famous. Being 100% honest I am just getting into DEATH over the last year and really listening to their music. I love it all and it makes me wonder where POSSESSED would be today if we never broke up and I never got shot. At the same time it’s amazing to see how Chuck really brought so much to our genre. It’s completely obvious that Chuck was a genius and what he brought to both Death Metal and Progressive Metal is immeasurable. Still, to me Chuck and DEATH will always be associated with Death Metal. I’m proud to have been friends with Chuck and knowing he was one of the first real musicians to look up to me as an artist. RIP to my talented friend and Brother.  

– There is hardly anyone talking about the “Beyond the Gates” album nowadays, however I believe that it contains some great songs like “Phantasm” or “Tribulation” and has an intense horror atmosphere. Was it just the poor production the factor that undermined that album?

Jeff Becerra: Well, in truth “Beyond The Gates” was the biggest selling album on Combat that year. I’ve seen articles that talk bad about “Beyond The Gates” but beyond the opinion of a journalist I really like that album and it has some of the best writing elements of any of our albums. It is true we had some problems with the mastering process. When we left the studio the guitars sounded heavier but I still really enjoy BTG and it’s one of my favorites.

– “Beyond The Gates” and “Eyes Of Horror” had a more Thrash-y Metal approach and feeling. What made you change your sound and why you did you decide to alter the brutal direction “Seven Churches” had?

Jeff Becerra: After “Seven Churches” we wanted to expand our sound. We were really afraid of just being one thing and only having one type of sound. We wanted to widen our play style and be able to incorporate more. Keep in mind we were teenagers, so this was our way to stay diverse. We tried to make each album as different as possible.

– I would like to touch a very sensitive subject, with your permission. In 1989 you were involved in a shooting, which left you paraplegic. What gave you strength to go on with your life all those years? Did your music and the support by POSSESSED’s fans help you at all?

Jeff Becerra: Definitely, if it weren’t for the fans and supporters of me and POSSESSED I honestly don’t think I would be here today. Music and art and all those thousands and thousands of people that wrote to me asking me to bring POSSESSED back literally saved my life and brought me through the very dark times and back into the light. This is why today I am forever grateful to all of you that listen to POSSESSED and continue to support my music and my band.  Music and our supporters literally saved my life.

– What is your opinion for the Black Metal and Death Metal scenes nowadays? Is there any band that you would like to collaborate with? A band that you would recommend to other metalheads to listen?

Jeff Becerra: I love Black Metal and Death Metal. In truth, I am into all types of music but of course I gravitate to the extreme. As far as collaborations. In a perfect world I would love to work with EXODUS, KING DIAMOND, BELPHEGOR, BEHEMOTH, DARK FUNERAL, OBITUARY, and a ton of others. I am always open to collaborate. Recently, I did guest vocals for CADAVER and a video for a single called, “Circle Of Morbidity”. Even more recently, I have collaborated with Spain’s PANICO AL MIEDO, James Murphy (DEATH/OBITUARY/TESTAMENT) and Karl from BOLT THROWER on a new song (coming very soon) to benefit Coronavirus research.

– Do you have any funny stories to tell us from POSSESSED’s first days and tours? Do you miss those days?

Jeff Becerra: We really did have some amazing times. So many killer times playing our home town in Ruthie’s Inn, our first European tour in ‘86 with VOIVOD and DEATHROW, all the shows old and new with EXODUS, MEGADETH, VENOM, DRI, CORROSION OF CONFORMITY, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, KREATOR, DESTRUCTION, CELTIC FROST, DARK FUNERAL, MAYHEM, BEHEMOTH, BELPHEGOR, .SOD, DARK ANGEL, DEATH ANGEL and countless other amazing bands way too many to name. We did our first partial US tours with SLAYER on the “Show No Mercy/Seven Churches” & “Haunting The Chapel/Beyond The Gates” tours back in the 80s. All the amazing people who I’ve met and come to know over the years. All of the beautiful girls. All the bands I have toured with, all the opening bands, all the bands I have opened for. All of the people I have jammed with and who have been in POSSESSED over all the years. And of course, to my current band mates who are the best group of guys in the world. I have had so many amazing times.

– What can you remember from your live appearance in Greece? Any strong memories from our country?

Jeff Becerra: Athens and Thessaloniki were fucking AMAZING shows! The fans are so into it and it really felt like stepping into a time machine and going back to 1983. The way you dress and embrace the old school culture is so great. We got in stage and the crowd went wild from beginning to end. One of our funnest shows ever. Thank you

-Thank you very much for the interview. For me personally it is a dream that came true. We hope to hear soon another great album from POSSESSED and see you live again in Greece…

Jeff Becerra: Thank you, it’s an honor to talk with you here and rap about things. I just want to end with saying thank you to all our supporters both new and old. I hope to see you soon

Interview: Nikos Manousis
Cover Artwork:  Giorgos Tsiliggaridis
Design & Editing: Alexandros Soultatos
Date: April 29th 2020
External Link: POSSESSED – Official Page
Copyright © 2020 by THEGALLERY.GR

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