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Seven Churches (1985)

Possessed originated in San Francisco in 1983, when Mike Torrao and Mike Sus's garage band recruited Jeff Becerra, following the suicide of vocalist Barry Fisk. Brian Montana was recruited on guitar, and the first incarnation of Possessed was created. The following years were spent practicing and working on their sound by performing at local venues. Through their early live performances they met fellow bay-area heavy metal band Exodus; it was Exodus brought the band's four-song demo recording to the attention of Brian Slagel, head of Metal Blade Records. Slagel showed interest in the band and offered to put one of their songs on an upcoming compilation, Metal Massacre VI. The track included was titled "Swing of the Axe". Following the release of the compilation, guitarist Brian Montana left the band due to creative differences. He was replaced by Larry Lalonde. Although Metal Blade did not offer to sign the band, the compilation drew the attention of Combat Records. Possessed signed with the label and released the album Seven Churches in October 1985.

At some point in high school, I met up with some people and found myself at a birthday party for someone I didn't really know, outside of meeting at various shows. Not being a very social person, at all, I quickly grabbed a couple albums and headed down for the basement. The walls were painted black and the room was illuminated by candles that were positioned on the walls. In this dark, subterranean dungeon, I experienced Seven Churches for the first time. I had first heard Possessed on the Metal Massacre VI compilation. That was a pretty intense thrash metal song, though this was something different. This album was darker than what I had previously heard from them. The first thing that came to mind was that this was a heavier and faster version of Venom, with some of the feeling of the early Slayer albums mixed in. The similarities were very obvious. Sitting alone in the dim candlelight, I was discovering a classic black metal album. Some years later, I read that this was considered the first death metal album, maybe because of the title of the last song. I could never fully comprehend this, as all I heard was the legacy of Venom with some of the feeling of Slayer. It was all there; the speed, the hellish atmosphere, the Satanic lyrics and artwork. Despite this minor discrepancy that would come later, I was very impressed with Seven Churches.

"The Exorcist" begins with the theme from the horror movie of the same name. This helps to create a dark atmosphere. Once the song bursts forth, the feeling changes. The intro builds tension and dread where as the opening riffs are like the darkness receding, revealing the flames of Hell. The Satanic lyrics are delivered in a maniacal manner and the guitars slice through your very soul with a haunting tremolo riff that is, in many ways, the highlight of the whole album. Jeff Becerra sounds far too demonic to even manage to enunciate the lyrics, properly. There is a sense of urgency in the music that really adds to the feeling. Mike Sus isn't the greatest drummer in the world, but he serves his purpose well enough.

The next song begins with a deep, demonic voice speaking backward. As the song comes in, it seems very reminiscent of Venom. Of course, this is heavier and somewhat darker, but the similarities cannot be dismissed. As the song progresses, the pace speeds up quite a bit and Torrao and Lalonde unleash wicked solos that suit the feeling of the song. Of course, the lyrics are dark and Satanic, as they should be.

"Burning In Hell" begins at a scorching pace. The drummer seems to be struggling to keep up, but it all works. After some blistering solos, the song slows down with a mid-paced thrash riff before resuming the previous tempo. Not to make some stupid joke, but the vocals sound like a possessed version of Cronos, in a way.

The next song is "Evil Warriors", which sounds a lot like Slayer's "Captor of Sin", from the first moments. This song, in particular, seems to have been a large influence on Tormentor's Anno Domini album. Some melodies appear to have been mimicked very closely. The song ends with a demonic scream and more infernal lead solos before the final verse carries it to its conclusion.

"Seven Churches" begins with a real sense of urgency, turning into a maelstrom of Satanic chaos. There is some very interesting guitar work on this one, showing a bit more variation in the sound in order to add to the hellish aura. Listening to this, you really feel like you are burning alive. The lyrics are classic black metal.

"Seven churches down in hell
In the land where Satan fell
Vows of Satan's sacred scripts
Bring out the evil from its crypts"

The production is a little fuzzy, which may cause some of the riffs to blend together and not stand out as well, but it works for the benefit of the album, in the end.

More tension is created with the opening riffs to "Satan's Curse". By this point, the album gets a little repetitive. There is nothing wrong with this song, but it doesn't stand out from the rest as the album keeps the same pace throughout its duration. This would, probably, stand out more if presented on some sort of compilation. With all of the songs being strong and consistent, it becomes difficult to say why one is any better than the next. But rest assured that the feeling of Hell is present here.

"Holy Hell" begins with some wicked riffs that give the feeling of descending into a pit of flames. The drum beat finally seems to change a bit, being more old school in its execution. This evil song is easy to headbang, even if you don't do that sort of thing anymore. As the song progresses, the guitar melodies work to build more tension as another wild solos is unleashed from nowhere. Of course, the lyrics are classic.

"Holy Hell, death to us
Satan's fell, unholy lust
Devil's water starts to flood
God is slaughtered, drink his blood"

The vocal delivery isn't quite as inspired as on other songs, but it's not bad. This is one of the more memorable songs on the album, contradicting what was said with regard to the last track.

The album continues with "Twisted Minds". This one begins with a very unique riff, being very heavy and disjointed for the intro. The pace isn't too fast. It actually remains a little more subdued, allowing for the atmosphere to spread like funeral fog over a graveyard. Several demonic screams precede a mid-paced section that includes a very good lead solo, reminiscent of Venom. This doesn't last too long before the speed picks up once more. More riff changes are accompanied by some double-bass, finally doing something different with the drums. The solos have a hellish feeling and you can almost smell the burning flesh as the lead mimics the screaming of the damned. This is one of the best songs on here.

Funeral bells begin "Fallen Angel" The feeling is very dark and sinister for this one, which was one of the first ones I really noticed upon my initial listen. After the intro section, the song picks up the pace pretty quickly. As the title of the song may indicate, the song is about Lucifer being cast down and creating his own Kingdom Below. The song slows down, mid-way through, returning to the sound of the funeral bells and the more evil-sounding riffs. Following this, there is even a section where the drumming sounds reminiscent of something from Iron Maiden's Killers, during one of the solos. From the intro to the song structure itself, this is one of the most distinctive tracks on the record.

The album ends with "Death Metal". Despite this title, the lyrics are very much more in keeping with the traditions of black metal. A drum intro precedes another aural portrayal of Hell. This song possesses a great deal of intensity and speed, with the chorus section almost reminding me of the first Bathory album. After this, the riffs take a different direction, yet they still maintain the feeling of the fiery abyss. The lead solo only serves to burn your flesh like flames reaching out from the blackened gates. The final scream of the album is insane. Speak of death all you want, but this is the true sound of Venom possessed; this belongs to the first wave of black metal.
(18 Apr. 2009)

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