Does this band need any introduction? If a death/black metal banger ain’t aware of Possessed, it’s about time they get a lesson in just how important and influential Possessed have been for the thrash/death/black genre. Frontman Jeff Becerra put Possessed back together for a Wacken show in 2007. After some line-up changes, Possessed started working on a highly anticipated new album. That album, REVELATIONS OF OBLIVION, came out earlier in 2019, and what an album! Metal-Rules.com sat down with Jeff Becerra to talk about that and a lot of other interesting subjects.
The first time I managed to see Possessed was at Wacken 2007. I think you believed that it was one kind of thing, the nostalgia thing when you got on the stage at Wacken. Did you feel that way?
A nostalgia thing?
Yes, when you started up again in 2007.
First of all two things. Several things were going on at that time. One, I had never played a big European festival. I didn’t even know they really existed at that capacity for death metal bands like us. That was very overwhelming. Leading up to that point I was tentative or worried that people wouldn’t accept me in a wheelchair. When I came out there two things happened. I was like, “Holy fucking shit, look at all these people for Possessed!” That’s never happened. Possessed is a club band from the ’80s and so that was overwhelming. Then to see people, grown men and women crying up in the front row and so emotionally into it and happy and excited. Oh my God! I was shaken. Of course, I was thinking, “I picked a really bad time to quit drinking” *laughs* My life up to that point it had been pretty stunned. Then a second thing happened, I realized like, “Fuck! If people were going to like Possessed. I need to get a real band together and brush up on my vocals”, because that performance was sub-par at best. It was excellent in the fact that people didn’t give a fuck. I think that’s been the story of Possessed. All our lives we’ve been kind of blessed like with the fact that we were the first and people loved it. They loved how raw we sounded on SEVEN CHURCHES, and now it’s turned to a whole different animal.
I love the competition, I’ll always be competing with my own legacy. That’s been Possessed from day one. Here is what people do: They go, “That’s not death metal”, because they don’t factor in the history of death metal. Take Venom. They say Venom is not black metal. Venom is very much the first black metal band and nobody should argue that. I know that Venom is probably a bad comparison, but they were the first. Possessed was the first unequivocally. You were there. You remember dude, you were there. Nobody wanted to claim death metal back then because there was no value in it. There is still no value in it today. You’re not going to get rich by playing death metal. What people do as they come and they jump on that bandwagon, “That’s not death metal, its thrash”. When you listen to any ’80s thrash compilation band. You have that happy aspect, it’s super skippy, it’s all clean-cut, hair is sprayed and shampoo. Possessed is very straightforward, very devilish and it’s a whole different logic. I don’t think I would even call Slayer Thrash more or less Possessed. They come in there and they’re like they expect to hear thrash, because everybody has told them that Possessed is a thrash band. They say, “This is too fast, this is too heavy! This is not thrash. This is a horrible thrash!” Because they’re not used to it. They haven’t prepared themselves to take that next step in their journey towards fucking extreme metal.
During the ’90s it was quiet and nobody talked that much about Possessed except for the Norwegian black metal bands. They, of course, kept the spirit of Possessed, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, and Destruction alive. Do you think that Possessed has gotten more respect and attention in recent years?
Yes, I think that black metal has always supported me. I’ve always loved black metal, of course. I never got that logic, that a lot of people have today. Like, I was watching this fucking YouTube video the other day. He put out this YouTube article and said, “What killed death metal?” I was like, “Death metal is not dead.” It’s the most like probably one of, if not the most, colorful genre in music today. I think Death Metal is one of the most, if not the most exciting genre in music today. We’re comparable to the Jazz era. It’s crazy. He said, “Black metal killed death metal.” I was like, “What the fuck?” They act like we don’t have black metal and death metal. I like both! That argument is done.
Anyway, now there are definitely a lot more people who know who Possessed is. Possessed is blowing up in a huge way and hopefully people…because there is a natural tendency for people to see any modicum of success and go, “that band’s a sellout and gone commercial”. Like that one guy on that one channel, because Morbid Angel sold 150,000 until and Kim Kardashian was in a Morbid Angel shirt that death metal is too commercial and is no longer viable as extreme music. That’s setting our goals really fucking low because that’s just the first step. While other bands enjoy unlimited success as pop bands we in the Death Metal genre are so far removed from that. But I’m like fuck all that I would love to see Death Metal blow up in a major way without having to sell out. Hopefully Possessed can play their part in that. I would want a lot of people to listen to my music. I don’t care what anybody says, that’s what everybody wants.
You’ve toured with Absu and Belphegor as well; do you feel that death metal, black metal and thrash metal should be unit? Generally, people respect that but still argue about what is or isn’t the “real” thing.
As long as they’re real. I don’t like any fucking shitty metal, like pseudo-metal or people who pretend to be metal that really isn’t. I gravitate towards the real bands, not somebody who’s pretending to be another band or whatever. Like Belphegor, Absu, Marduk, and Danzig; it’s all metal; we’re all one family. I think that us old school people, we can sense if someone is real or not.
Possessed has always had a cult status. I’ve come across lots of different kinds of releases like the VICTIMS OF DEATH collection, AGONY IN PARADISE, etc. I guess those albums were real ones but there has been plenty of bootlegs too. What do you think about these bootleg Possessed albums?
Just keep looking on the back of those you’ll always see something like Spurge or PJ Records and there is always my name like backward on these things. That’s how I supported my career, whenever I wasn’t signed, trying to get those out. All those things have to do with me. Some of them are bootleg, you’re right. Possessed is one of highly bootlegged bands; they’re on eBay every year. People just bootleg the shit out of Possessed. Before we got signed at places like Nuclear Blast, that was kind of our PR machine. We didn’t have a social media agent.
I’ve got to ask about this REVELATIONS OF OBLIVION album. First of all tell me about the title of the album, what does it stand for?
REVELATION, it’s kind of like a thread upon a thread, the overall idea is what the world looks like with the absence of God, or religion. A lot of my songs is about the mark of the beast. It’s not something cheap, but you don’t have to take it seriously. That’s just the way that I write, it can be something different to everybody who listens to it. Some of the topics were that godless world or a sleeping theme. Some of the dark spots in my life, I guess they’re demons that I had, just trying to turn positive and negative. You have that cathartic yelp on wax and it turns the bad things good. There are so many topics, I don’t think that we could go into it with the time that we have. I think that it kind of speaks for itself. You can read as deep as you want into it. There’s a lot of hidden meanings, duel entendres and word plays. All the albums have that and people are still haven’t found some of those hidden meanings. I think a lot of time, even though it might seem like its death metal. I take a lot of time to put value up and meaning in my words, even though it might just seem like it’s all about Satan. That’s certainly not the case. I’m writing about everything from current events to politics to the uber-elite that controls our world. I try to be both deep and shallow and try to have fun with that.
I’m staring at the front cover of the REVELATIONS OF OBLIVION right now. It looks like a church, and is a more surrealistic piece of art I think. There is some kind of Arch Angel. Is the front cover somehow linked to the title of the album?
Yes. “Z”, I call him “Z” because his name is Polish and I can’t really pronounce it, he was very keen on getting the lyrics and the music early on so he could brick by brick build the art on the foundations of the lyrics and put it in the structure of the church. Within the structure, you’re seeing a lot of my lyrics and it’s kind of like…it sounds corny but like Satanic “Where’s Waldo” of all the lyrics.
Can you tell me a little bit about your lyrics on the album?
I grew up in a very Catholic family. We went to church at least three times a week. I went to catechism and for a couple of years I wanted to be a priest. I was seriously contemplating going to the seminary. Then life hits you and you lose your faith and then you become disgruntled with that; you get pissed. You come to your realization like maybe there is no God and maybe this is all just opiate of the masses. It’s just like in college, everybody turns into communist for a year after they read Marx. Then you get over that and you start diving deeper and deeper into theology and religions, the values that mankind and sort of installs and instills in themselves. To a certain extent…not saying about the devil at all and quite the contrary, most of my lyrics I would say are not glorifying hell, but they’re saying that hell is not such a good place. Whether that be spiritually, or metaphysically, or supernaturally, or maybe just the demons that live within our soul. It’s not good to be insane and that is truly what hell is, insanity.
When I was listening to the album, you were singing about “burning churches to the dust”?
Yes, exactly. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory, I don’t think that needs clarification at all. I think if you read deeper into the lyrics, most of the times whenever I’m just like straight “hail Satan!”, it’s in the third person. This guy is like a protagonist from a Greek tragedy, where you have a protagonist and he has a fatal flaw and everybody in the novel can see it except for the protagonist. That’s what going to be his ultimate demise.
On the new album, in my opinion, there’s an old school vibe that meets some modern technology. Your voice is a trademark for Possessed. Then the drum sounds; there’s some kind of magic in the drum sound, which makes the album so dynamic. When you started writing the songs, did you have a certain platform on your mind for how the songs are supposed to sound?
When we recorded the album before we recorded the album, we did all 10 songs. Daniel Gonzalez, he went to college for producing and engineering. I’m not dumb myself. Me and Dan we co-produced the album. I was the executive producer, but the executive producer is something different. That’s when, by definition, you work with three or more other producers. That’s more like business and finance and structure and getting everything organized. As a co-producer with Dan, we recorded all 10 songs as foundational tracks, or I guess they called them scratch tracks back in the day. We recorded the album on Pro-Tools in our basements as a band and we used that as foundations for the actual album. We didn’t have to all be in it at the same time. They all came in first and he had that demo and played drums over the click track in the demo songs. Piece by piece we replaced that basement tapes with a studio-quality version and actually used that to trigger vocal effects or guitar effects. Now we could sync the demos with the new stuff. It’s better than starting and paying $5,000 an hour from scratch. It’s better to do that prep work ahead of the time. We knew very much what we wanted our sound to be. In fact, it was represented on the actual demo or scratch tracks. What we wanted to do is kind of enhance that with somebody of Peter’s caliber.
As for Peter Tagtgren, how did he end up working with you?
He came out of retirement for this. He’s been a Possessed fan for a long time and because I had been out of the scene so long, essentially I just Googled “who are the best death metal producers in the world?” The same names kept popping up over and over and over, from Andy Sneap to everybody, even Bob Rock. A whole bunch of names kept coming up over and over and over. Peter was always right there at the top of the list. Looking at the lexicon of Peter’s work, which is extensive…I don’t know if you know his story, but he owns a town. He owns the town he lives in. He’s got a multi-million dollar studio at his house. He’s really a death metal success story. He has a way of becoming that guest band member, like one of us. He was just as essential as the rest of us. He has a way of kind of morphing into that extra band member. Plus, we loved what he did with Celtic Frost.
And Destruction of course, yes. He was very organic. We said a lot of these guys, and I’m not naming any names, a lot of these guys have a way of pushing the values onto the band whereas Peter became organically one of us. He knows what Possessed sounds like. In fact, Peter initially wanted to just do it old school, so it sounds like the ’80s or more so, not that cut and dry. We mixed it like 17 times. At one point we were all just so passionate about it, Peter almost quit. I almost fired him. Of course, we were just posturing, trying to get our way. You could tell we were like losing our shit because it meant so much. We argued over the tone quality of one cymbal! We wanted to make it sound like a badass production. Also at the same time, we didn’t want to lose…this was a very tight rope with no net, because we had to do what I would call a foundational album, the next step of something bigger and better. We didn’t want to lose our old school fan base yet we wanted to invite new people to listen to Possessed. I couldn’t just come out there with something totally like experimental or crazy. Honestly, by my nature, I’m kind of a one-trick pony. I write the way I write. I’m always going to sound like me. I’m like that cook that uses too much salt. I’m just like I’ll start up to write something which I call subjectively commercial but then I ended going, “No. It’s got to be faster. It’s got to be heavier. It’s going to be darker”. Then it ends up just being another fucking heavy ass song. I think that I pushed the boundaries of what I normally do in a lot of ways. I try to be as varied and open…I wrote like probably half the music and all the lyrics. I have a lot of investment in this album. If it fails, that’s a career-ender for me, because then I’m going to say “nobody likes me”.
Does it mean that Peter Tagtgren is going to work with you in the future?
I hope so, he’s certainly invited to. I’m not the easiest person to work with, so hopefully yes.
That’s all that matters.
I believe you’re 100% pleased with the final result after all?
I’m never 100%. I think all musicians are always going to be super hyper-critical of their own stuff. Still, I’m hearing stuff like “the vocals are so loud, it’s just trying to show off Jeff, which is understandable, but it drowns everything else out”. Or, “the guitars are too loud” or “the drums are too loud” or “it’s too fast”, “too relentless”, “too satanic”. We get in the same shit. What I thought I did was really push the limits of what we can and can’t do. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t think would fly. I love “The Word”. I actually wrote “The Word” between 1979-1980. I had that in my pocket for a long time. Some people say its thrash, some people say its representative slightly of black metal in there. I’m like, “Shit! That’s something I had when I was a kid, kid, before even Possessed.” I think that people can see what influence I really have on Possessed. Not to sound big-headed but I just kind of wanted to show people that I’m the real deal and this is my band.
Actually you did “Shadowcult” at Brutal Assault and people went berserk. Then you released the demo version of “Abandoned”. Were you trying to see how the metal crowd would react to these new songs, or was it a teaser of the forthcoming album?
Originally what we were doing was…the guys were very tentative. My master plan was to create a new album, of course. The guys were very tentative and were like, “Possessed is a cult band. People want to hear the SEVEN CHURCHES and old shit. People are not going to react kindly to us like stepping on our legacy”. I’m like, “Fuck that!” As an artist, I’m going to fucking create. I’m not going to stop playing, because I made an album when I was 16, that’s ridiculous. I want to play, I want to write. It’s my band, I can do whatever the fuck I want. We didn’t know we were going to get signed. I said, “Let’s just write some songs and we use that as a cherry on top of our regular set, our old school set and we’ll see how they fly.” That’s when we did “Crimson Spike”, which later it didn’t go over as well. Plus the guitarist Kelly, it’s his song and then he quit, so we didn’t want to use an ex-member’s song. We cannibalized the lyrics and I put it into “Graven”. We were kind of tweaking with what we can, but then we were also playing it to try it out, to see if the new sound worked on the audiences. Then when we got signed they wanted to do some teaser releases of the demo. Since that was already out, we started kind of flying that around and playing it. We were very careful not to play too many, but we did advance a few, just tried to spark interest.
Is it going to be a nightmare for you to make a set-list for tours, because you have to play old classic songs, then you have to play the new material?
I don’t think we’re playing enough new material but in the end, we just decided to play like four songs from each album.
What about the Nuclear Blast? I guess they signed you immediately when you started doing new songs and stuff like that. I guess there was no option with other labels, that Nuclear Blast was a priority anyway for you.
No, I got several label offers. I got like six and I met with several of them during my European tour and around America. I met with them personally. To be honest the Nuclear Blast they had the best offer by far. They treated us like human beings, not like they’re doing us a favor.
We worked on our own. We always work on our own. What I do is, at least the songs I write on…just give you an example, like “The Word”. I wrote every riff in the word but since Dan puts them together and makes it all nice and puts it on the demo, he gets 25% of that and I get 75% and then I get 100% of the lyrics. That would mean 75% of the song overall would be mine. Of course, that’s not how we think. We think like whoever writes the best, it gets onto the wax regardless of who the fuck you are. What I do is I make a packet of maybe seven to 12 riffs and I email them to Dan, and Dan will pick and choose. He’s really respectful about the order and how I acknowledge it to him. He puts that onto a general demo format with the drum machine. He plays the rhythms and the solos, then he emails it to Bobby. Bobby puts the bass tracks on with his software and emails it to Claudeous. Claudeous will do his solos with his software, then Dan will fly down to L.A and mic up real drums and replace those shitty computer drums. Lastly, he will go home and mix it and then when I’m ready, he will fly to my house. We’ll set up a little studio and a windscreen and a vocal mic in my basement and I’ll record my vocals over that. That will be how the song is created and what we practice before we tour. Before we tour I’ll come out at least three days early and we’ll run over the songs, just to make sure that we’re all playing it like the recording, and work out the kinks and then we’ll go on tour.
You mentioned a little bit earlier about how you have a riff and ideas and stuff ready for the next album. How much do you have ready for the next album?
Contractually we’re supposed to put out one a year, but Nuclear Blast isn’t like that. They’ll give us as much time as we need to make it right. In fact, the way it is with Nuclear Blast is you got to kind of stand in the line because they’ll be doing like a Slayer release or whatever; everybody is slotted. It’s not like you just go, “Okay, I’m done, let’s do it!” and everybody drops what they’re doing. You got to wait and be scheduled in. It’s good because I don’t like to be pressured. Combat was very much like, “When December is here the album needs to be out, or you are in violation of the contract and you’ll be fined”, or whatever.” Nuclear Blast is like, “Don’t worry about it. If you need extra time, take it. We’re going to be here.” At the same time, I’m eager to get my music out, because one thing I’ve learned is we’re not guaranteed tomorrow. If we don’t get it out, who knows what’s going to happen.
All my guys, we’re brothers. We’re a family man. We’d literally die for each other. It’s everything I ever, ever wanted out of Possessed. I’m glad I’m picky. There were so many times I wanted to give up because there was always one guy that was unhappy or there was some rift in the bus. From the beginning, I have been plagued and cursed with like ornery people. That’s how musicians are, it’s like being married to four ugly women. People can get an attitude or ego and there is no place for that. We’re entertainers. We’re not puppets, but yet our ultimate objective is to entertain people. As corny as it sounds, make ’em happy and rock out. There is really no room for like huge egos or selfish people. It’s just nice to have these guys, because it’s perfect and it’s super comfortable. I’m not saying we don’t have our rifts, but everybody is reasonable and nobody is power tripping. The way it works is everybody is paid more than fairly. Keep your band happy, rather than trying to power trip. To set that standard, where there is like a strong competition to get riffs on the album.
Actually, when I look into the other bands that your members are playing in, Daniel is playing in Gruesome. Emilio is busy with sometimes playing Asesino. Is Possessed now the priority for everyone in the band?
Asesino and Gruesome, those are side projects. Just like I just recorded on YouTube with Cadaver. They’ll go and do a short tour with them or whatever, but Possessed is their band.
Can I ask something about your club, your death metal militia club?
What is it about? It’s a lot of people there in the New York Death Militia Club.
We’re the largest extreme metal club in the world. We’re all over the globe. I am the president of the West Coast, which is Utah, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California. I started out with California. I actually started out with San Francisco Bay Area as we grew; now California is the largest chapter in the world actually. I have essentially like an army around me. We’re just promoting the local and underground scenes. We book shows, we have the equipment, we have trucks. We’re essentially like an unofficial music union for extreme metal.
I guess some bands are involved as well. Like, the guys from Mortician are in the club as well.
Will Rahmer from Mortician and Randell Salmon Decomposed are the founders of NYDM. NYDM is our mother chapter and we’re all under the NDYM banner, but yet you were represented as CADM, which is California Death Militia. Every state has their sub-banner under the NYDM mothership.
You have really cool looking vest and you have all kinds of marks there. You’re not a biker, but it looks like a motorbike West.
We’re friends with a lot of those guys but we’re a music club. It’s not about violence or anything bad. It’s not a gang. It’s a bunch of us wearing jackets, to show the world that we’re friends and brothers and sisters.
Actually, speaking of death metal a little bit more, when Possessed split up in ’87, ’88 and especially in the early ’90s, death metal became really huge. It was on MTV and big magazine stuff like Morbid Angel. All the bands coming from Florida, plus Entombed, Dismember coming from Sweden and stuff like that.
Huge compared to what? The largest death metal band that sells…I think Morbid Angel sold 150,000 units. That is nothing in the grand spectrum of things. I’m not putting down Morbid Angel, because they’re fucking badass for doing that. They’re the apex of death metal success. Look at the Sex Pistols who have sold millions. It’s just funny how whenever we get a little modicum of success, the politics of it start and people get threatened by death metal because they don’t want to compete with that. It seems like death metal has always been held down. Somebody’s always got their foot on our necks and they don’t want the genre to succeed. It feels like we almost make it, but yet we don’t get that final respect because people don’t want a new genre to compete with.
What kind of metal do you listen to?
I listen to everything. I was recently turned onto Cattle Decapitation. It’s like wow, they’re a really technical genius on their guitars, and they have that drop tuning and the multi-screen base. That’s really kind of fun to listen to. That’s not what Possessed is about, but that’s kind of fun to listen to. If I had to be honest, I would say I gravitate to bands like Krisiun, which I think has really got the old school vibe. Pestilence, they’re super. Of course, I love Morbid Angel and Obituary and Incantation and Suffocation. All the “ation” bands (laughs). They’re fucking good. I’m forgetting a bunch of stuff. I like that band Necrot. Have you ever heard of them?
Yeah. I think they’re going to tour with like Morbid Angel.
Yeah, yeah. I know that band.
They are three-piece from Oakland.
They toured with Immolation, Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse recently.
That’s crazy. They’re like really blowing up and they’re a three-piece. What I like about them is they probably don’t even know who Possessed is. Actually, they do because they opened for us the other night. It’s weird to see like these younger guys that are so far removed, but yet still are so true to the roots.
One question before we have to quit. I asked this question on your Facebook because you have a song called “Death Metal”. It came out in ’85 on SEVEN CHURCHES
In ’83 on the demo, but it was labeled ’84. Off in ’85 and there is a lot of politics there. SEVEN CHURCHES was written in ’82 before we heard Slayer. Fuck all the lies (laughs).
At that time the British Band Onslaught had the same song “Death Metal” and the Brazilian band Vulcano had a song called “Death Metal” as well pretty much the same time ’85, ’86.
It’s often mislabeled and people often skew their dates and their titles. Whether or not that term “death metal”, which I think was not used. Even if somebody called Celtic Frost “death metal” in ’82. These were not death metal bands, they did not sell themselves as a death metal band. Our song “Death Metal” was written in 82. Further, they did not intentionally create a style of music called death metal. It’s a moot point. People can try to fucking lie, but that is just poseurs. Why would anybody want to try to plagiarize me?
Everyone takes the credits nowadays, but I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, as long as the music is great.
I’ll tell you unequivocally, it’s the truth. I did that shit on purpose. I am not a poser, you know I’m not a poser. I would never lie about that. I’m not a dumb guy, I did the research. The reason that we picked “death metal” is because nobody was using it. Back then nobody even wanted to call themselves death metal, because death metal was a fucking joke back then, nobody really took it seriously. They still don’t want to give it to me, because people are fucking hateful. They’re uncomfortable with somebody creating something out of thin air, but yet they listen to music and what is more beautiful than that? The music and artistry is essentially pulling something beautiful out of nothing and that’s what we do. It’s not that surprising that an artist would create something new.
But isn’t it beautiful to see the new ground and new kids in your audience, who were not even born when you made your last album in the ’80s?
That’s fucking certainly cool. When you said that it makes me well up with not like pride, but like almost humility, like humble. Just like extreme happiness that I can get nowhere else in life. Something is seriously broken in every musician or entertainer where you crave that adoration and you want to make people happy with your art. You want to turn people on to something new. You want people to see that you were the first in something. It is not a pride thing at all. It’s just when you have the power to make somebody feel good, without being a drug dealer or something. That’s very powerful. There is something very spiritual about that and to see people up in the front row, getting into my music. I would rather have that than a billion, billion dollars. You know what I mean?
Yes. All right Jeff. I thank you for your time and for doing this interview. It was a great honor for me to finally do this interview.
We’re old school friends; we go so far back All right thank you.