By Arto Lehtinen
Possessed, the most respected and first true American death metal band from the legendary Bay Area, San Francisco, gained a real huge cult status following in the short life time. They have influenced a number of other death/thrash and black bands around the globe during two decades, in the 80’s and 90’s. They basically set new standards and created the whole death metal concept with the brutal flesh ripping and tormenting grunt vocals by Jeff Becerra, insane thunderous drumming by Mike Sus and nasty vicious guitars by Mike Torrao and Larry Lalonde.
But where and how everything started out in the first place and what they gained and why Possessed ceased to exist and what’s up nowadays ?! Let’s take a glance at the historical point of Possessed first of all…
The existence of this legendary combo started out in 1983 as a local garage band formed by young high school kids Mike Torrao and Mike sus and the vocalist of that time named Barry Fisk who then decided to make his own solution by committing suicide. When Jeff Becerra stepped in to sing, the band began to find its own identity and the name was chosen Possessed. Before teaming up with Possessed Jeff Becerra used to play in a local metal called Blizzard which was heavily influenced and inspirited by the Black Sabbath stuff and in general the stuff of the 70’s and the 60’s as well as a few heavy metal tunes like Jeff Becerra has cited. Blizzard even once opened for Mercyful Fate in the early 80’s.
The band started rehearsing a lot and recorded their first three track demo in 1984 and even once bonus track called “Fallen Angel” in the same session which never made to the demo, but instead got spread out by tape traders. The tape ended up to Brain Slagel’s hand from Metal Blade who showed his interest in the band asking for Swing Of The Axe for the Metal Massacre Vol 6 comp album, which ended there as a renewed recorded version. The track has been said to be one of the highlights of that compilation and has been included on the best of “Metal Massacre” compilation album.
After getting the demo out the band found one weak link in the line up being Brian Montana who was sacked from the band. Afterwards in several interviews both Mike Torrao and Jeff Becerra have unveiled about the real reasons for that departure was because of Montana’s attitude and dedication to the image what Possessed stood for didn’t represent the same thing and his playing skills have also been criticized. At that time there used to be a bunch of rumours floating around about Kerry King joining Possessed because of endless fights with Tom Araya, but as usual rumours are always rumours and the needed replacement was found and picked up from Jeff Becerra’s old Blizzard a guy called Larry Lalonde.
The band used to do a lot of gigs in the SF area a lot mainly with their good friends from Exodus. Both the bands gained the real extreme reputation of being the most violent, aggressive and dangerous live acts in the local scene.
Despite a track for Metal Massacre and Brian Slagel’s interest toward Possessed and Exodus’ label Torid offered a suitable deal, but the band instead accepted a deal with Combat which had picked up several thrash metal bands from the area of San Francisco and Los Angeles like Dark Angel, Megadeth. On Easter 1985 the band entered the Prairie Sun studio to record the debut album with Randy Burns behind the desk producing. Four drunk metal heads’ only aim was to make a bunch of noise and a want to have more distorted kinds of noisy sounds. Seven Churches was born !!! The true death metal classic in every aspect, no need to start to explain what for…
The band spent the whole year touring and gigging all around with several bands. One of the most memorable tours and gigs for Possessed was with Slayer and above all their idols Venom. Especially the gig with Venom and Slayer in a club called Kabuki in their hometown, San Francisco, has been described the most memorable and unbelievable show ever by several old death metal heads of the 80’s. It has been said the band put a lot of energy and passion into that show. In general Possessed’s gigs were nothing, but chaotic metal mayhem.
In 1986 (On Halloween by the way) the second output Beyond The Gates was unleashed. The album was criticized for its weak production done by a person called Carl Cannedy who had played in a band called The Rods and also worked with Exciter and Anthrax before. Despite the weak production approach the album however includes a lot of killer death metal classics like Seance, Tribulation, Phantasm.
They set off for the three and half week Euro tour with Voivod and Deathrow. The tour got problems in Bochum, Germany where all hell broke on loose literally as the crowd started rioting and the club owner had called the riot police to calm down the situation. Mike Torrao was asked to clam the audience down and he was booted off from the stage, but however after the short break they continued to finish the gig.
After the European tour the band went out with the LA thrashers Dark Angel for the US tour “Gates of Darkness “ in the early 1987, but on the tour the conflicts between the band’s members were getting to have more and more aggressive and violent tendencies as they had literally several merciless fist fights. Afterwards Mike Torrao has told the whole tour in general was really awful besides fights, the band had got problems with their manager Debbie Abono.
Mike Torrao decided to put the band on hiatus, until in the beginning of the 90’s and started searching potential members to join Possessed. The line up went through several changes until it settled down. Torrao recruited three new faces to the rank who had been friends of the band during the whole 80’s; Bob Yost (bass, ex-Desecration member), Walter Ryan (drums, later has been in Machine Head and Madball) and Mark Strausberg (guitar). That line-up recorded one demo tape in 91, but the result was quite catastrophic to be honest. They did three gigs all in all and one of them was with Machine Head. Once again the line up underwent some changes when Bob Yost was dismissed. In ’93 the Possessed pt. II, as it was called, did another tape featuring three new tracks. The stuff was much more the typical brutal growling US death metal and definitely not match to the old material by any manners.
After the demise of Possessed, Larry Lalonde teamed up with Les Claypool’s Blind Illusion and did one album called “The Sane Asylum”. But later Lalonde and Claypool became extremely well known and gained the successful reputation in Primus (suxx ass!!). In several interviews when it was inquired about Lalonde’s past in Possessed, but he usually refused the whole existence of Possessed obviously in order to protect his reputation in front of eyes of the Primus fans and managed to obtain a plenty of enemies for that. Primus have done a bunch of albums, but it is really obvious there is NO need to start talking about them, because PRIMUS SUXX!
Mike Sus returned back to school and graduated as a psychologist and the last time from what I have been informed nowadays he would be teaching and helping injured people to live on their own in normal everyday routines and also helps drug addicted. He is pretty much out of the music scene.
Mike Torrao, well he at least tried to continue with Possessed with other guys, but it never worked out and decided to lay Possessed to rest. As far as I know he used to have another band called Iconoklast, but nothing has been heard of that. Instead Mike Torrao would have founded a firm working in the landscape business.
Jeff Becerra, the legendary death metal vocalist ever, there have been a bunch of all kinds of nasty rumours and gossips about Becerra’s situation. It has been written by various magazines and journalists he became a newborn Christian and would have blamed everything what happened to him for his past in Possessed. But the fact is when he was on the way to home when he got robbed and shot causing paralysis from the chest down. He went through difficult periods since the robbery until he returned back to school and started studying at San Francisco State University where he was majoring in Labour Studies with a Minor in Social Science. He is still entirely involved in the labour issues and things and a few years ago he became a father of a young son.
It was discussed a long time that some record company might get the rights for the whole back catalogue of the Combat Records. Well the dream came true for Century Media after all which did a real cultural job when getting the rights in order to re-issue the whole back catalogue of Possessed and it was a worth of every penny indeed. The old Possessed albums of course are available in a high quality cd format can be found kinda easily in normal albums stores nowadays.
But I have been told that Century Media acquired the rights only for Europe whereas Relativity, being the parent company of Combat, released their own versions of the Possessed albums in The US. Relativity’s versions have had quite poor layouts.
When I asked Jeff that how he still nowadays feels about the old Possessed stuff he stated this statement; “Of course I still love the old Possessed tunes, as I put many hard hours of work into their production and existence. I sacrificed my life for that band and it will always be held dear to me. Possessed was a meat and potatoes, blood sweat and tears type band. People needed us in order to rebel against a society that isn’t worth a shit.”
It is real obvious Possessed will never be reformed and seen on the stage, but the legend still lives thanks to death/black metalers of today who have kept the cult name flaming by doing covers for example Angelcorpse, Amon Amarth, Absu, Cannibal Corpse, Rampage and several other bands having been influenced by Possessed. Even the LA deathrahers Sadistic Intent was privileged to have a great honour to get Jeff Becerra to sing in their rehearsals and the result was the new version of “The Exorcist” with Jeff Becerra growling. The track is supposed to come out on the Possessed tribute album released by Immortal Records from Poland, but delayed quite badly.
The current death/black metal generation should immediately get a hold of the Possessed albums to find out what they were and what death metal was and still is….
I would like to thank the webmaster of the Possessed homepage, Lord Vic, for helping out with some details and of course each of you must visit the official site of Possessed!!