Reviewed: June 2019
Released: 2019, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
“Forefathers of genre X” (or some variation) is a term that gets bandied about a lot. This doesn’t mean it’s being misused though: few genres owe themselves entirely to a single artist, and most will have a number of early bands who influenced that genre’s formation. The earliest examples, the prototypes, might not even really fit into what will eventually become of the genre, instead standing as a bridge between what came before and after.
All of which brings us to the mighty Possessed. Along with Chuck Schuldiner’s Death, they really are one of the earliest influences on death metal. Their first demo, from all the way back in 1984, gave the genre its very name, and their first full-length came the following year, Seven Churches. While thrash metal was still in its formative years, with classic cuts of brutality like Reign in Blood and Pleasure to Kill still to come, Possessed were pushing the ferocity and extremity of heavy metal music to new heights (or maybe depths, if you prefer). Their follow-up, Beyond the Gates, was equally highly regarded.
But from there, things ground largely to a halt. The band didn’t disappear entirely: they released an EP, The Eyes of Horror, in 1987. In 1989, frontman Jeff Becerra was shot during a robbery and left paralyzed in his lower body. They reformed briefly from 1990-1993, and then again in 2007, but it’s only now, over 30 years after Beyond the Gates (and with a mostly new line-up, aside from Jeff himself), that it’s time to receive Possessed’s third full-length album.
First things first: Revelations of Oblivion is absolutely a continuation of the deathrash goodness Possessed are known for. The instinct is to say that it picks right up where Beyond the Gates left off, but that’s only partly true, for the production values are much higher. It doesn’t sound like it’s desperately trying to replicate the exact sound of those classic albums, and nor should it. Other classic returning bands like Hell have shown us what wonders an updated sound quality can do when married to veteran song-writing chops, and Possessed achieve much the same here. Revelations is not an attempt to cash in on an old legacy, nor a radical departure. Instead, it picks right up where they left off, just with a few decades in between.
Much like their earlier works, Revelations never feels like it’s trying too hard. It’s vicious, it’s nasty, it’s brutal and forceful and aggressive, a true barrage of riffs and rhythms. But it never devolves into simply being so for the sake of it. It has a clear (and violent) purpose, but sticks to that. Long-time fans will appreciate how no-frills their approach remains: there are no progressive or melodeath influences here. This is the classic sound through and through, the sound of death metal’s violent birth, ripping and tearing its way out of thrash metal’s womb, slathered in blood and guts and screaming obscenities the whole time.
The blasphemous edge of the band is upheld too, with song after song casting down the holy and hailing the heretical and the demonic: just listen to the wicked mid-tempo stomp in “Demon”, as Emilio Marquez’ frantic, rapid-fire drumming gives way just for a minute before erupting again along with explosive solos of controlled chaos:
Drink blood, destroying all the churches,
While laughing at the fire!
Kill, kill, slaughter all the clergy,
Watch the flames burning higher!
Burn, burn, burn the fucking world,
And cry, humanity lost!
There’s no hope, nothing left to live for,
Tyrants of the Pentecost!
Humanity died while choking on its blood,
There’s no god, nothing here to save you!
The Christian churches’ tyrannical song,
While dead religion enslaves you!
Fall, fall, down on your knees,
Pray to the air up above!
No one cares about your disease,
I will bow to no god!
Or the gleefully infectious mantra of “Graven”:
Six, six, six on the head and the wrist,
The bloodied, battered crucifix!
These, alongside the more thrash-focused numbers like “Omen”, “The Word” and “Damned” are personal favourites, but honestly, there isn’t really a mis-step on here.
Perhaps more than anything, this album is one surging with confidence, certainty and passion. It doesn’t attempt to re-invent the band, but why should it, after all they did to help establish such a cornerstone of heavy music as death metal? Instead, it screams, it bellows, it ROARS that Possessed are back, and still every bit as visceral and profane as ever.