Possessed is an American death metal band, originally formed in 1983. Noted for their fast style of playing and Jeff Becerra’s guttural vocals, they are routinely called the first band in the death metal genre. After breaking up in 1987, and briefly reforming from 1990 to 1993, the band reformed under original bassist/vocalist Jeff Becerra in 2007, and has a new album in the works.
The band originated in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1983, when San Pablo and El Sobrante residents Mike Torrao (guitar) and Mike Sus (drums) started a garage band with vocalist Barry Fisk and bassist Jeff Andrews under the name Possessed. While the quartet had written some music together, the line-up would be cut short when Fisk committed suicide by gunshot in front of his girlfriend’s house in Tara Hills, San Pablo, CA, and Andrews subsequently opted not to participate in the group any longer.
At about the same time, a band called Blizzard had formed in the neighboring city of Pinole. This band had Jeff Becerra on vocals, Larry LaLonde and Danny Boland on guitars and Michael Miner on drums, all of whom were high school students in the same graduating class. Blizzard was influenced by the early work of Metallica and Exodus, both of whom were gaining a stronghold in the local heavy metal scene and amassing a following abroad. Becerra would leave Blizzard and replace Possessed’s Andrews (who had played on Exodus’ 1982 Demo) on bass, and also took over vocal duties; Brian Montana was recruited on guitar, and the second incarnation of Possessed was created.
The 1983-1984 year was spent practicing and working on their sound by performing at local venues and eventually releasing the 3-song demo, “Death Metal”. After live shows with Metallica and Exodus, the latter group brought the band’s 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 6. 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 with Torrao and was replaced by Blizzard guitarist 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 1985, with Roadrunner Records handling European distribution.
In November of the same year, the band flew to Montreal, Canada, for the WWIII Weekend Festival in support of the Seven Churches release, playing alongside Celtic Frost, Destruction, Voivod and Nasty Savage; the concert was Possessed’s first and largest arena appearance, with nearly 7,000 in attendance.
Possessed followed the release with a supporting tour which included a performance with Slayer and Venom at San Francisco’s Kabuki in 1986. On Halloween, 1986, Possessed released their second album, Beyond the Gates. The following May, the band issued a five-song EP titled The Eyes of Horror which marked a change in direction for the band. The Satanic themes they had become noted for were almost completely absent, and the songs had more of a thrash metal style than their earlier death metal. The EP was produced by guitarist Joe Satriani, and Storm in My Mind was written by Lalonde, the rest by Torrao who had written most of the band’s earlier material too with Becerra writing most of the lyrics only.
Disbandings, Reformations and New Line-Ups
Shortly after the release of the Eyes of Horror EP, the band disbanded. In 1990, Jeff Becerra was paralyzed from the waist down following a shooting in a robbery. Mike Torrao reformed Possessed in 1990 with new line-ups consisting of former members of Machine Head and Pro-Pain. They recorded two demos before dissolving in 1993. Mike Torrao has said he felt it was not Possessed, but merely playing under the Possessed name.
In 2007, it was announced Jeff Becerra would be performing under the “Possessed” name at the Wacken Open Air festival and would be backed by all members of Sadistic Intent, one of the bands featured on the Possessed tribute, and would also headline the Gathering of the Bestial Legions III festival in Los Angeles. This same lineup also performed at Maryland Deathfest VIII in May 2010. After a U.S. tour with Danzig and Marduk, Rick and Bay Cortez along with Ernesto Bueno left the band.
Possessed is currently writing new material for their first full-length studio album since 1986’s Beyond the Gates.
At least three Possessed members who had written and recorded with the band at some point (vocalist/bassist Becerra, guitarist Torrao and guitarist Montana) cite early Exodus and Venom as their main influences, in addition to NWOBHM acts like Motörhead, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest. Although Allmusic attributed Slayer as being a musical influence for 1985’s Seven Churches, the first Slayer album Show No Mercy had not been released until December 1983, shortly after members of Possessed were already writing material for their demo and debut album. Lyrically, most of Possessed’s songs focused on Satanism and death.
Possessed are often cited as the first death metal band, largely because of the early use of grunted vocals, ultra-fast drumming and guitar tremolo picking as previously noted. In the 2004 book, “Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore”, Jeff Becerra staked claim to creating the “death metal” nomenclature in 1983. The band’s efforts on Seven Churches have been called an influence by groups like Death, Pestilence, Sepultura, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Sinister, Vader, God Dethroned and Amon Amarth, the latter five bands having appeared on a 2004 Possessed tribute album. Possessed’s “The Exorcist” had been covered earlier by Cannibal Corpse on the 1993 Hammer Smashed Face EP.
Even while the band had played only a handful of gigs in the Bay Area, they earned a huge capital of popularity in Europe’s metal scene. Members of Napalm Death were influenced by Possessed and credit the band for their musical shift from grindcore to a more death metal direction after Scum. In addition to their impression on overseas death metal, the group would also inspire black metal acts like Germany’s Falkenbach, Greece’s Rotting Christ, Switzerland’s Samael and Norway’s Dimmu Borgir.
Original Line-Up Today
Vocalist/bassist Jeff Becerra continues to play a role in the death, black and thrash metal scenes of Northern California. He received a degree in labor studies and plans to pursue a law degree. He revamped the band in 2007.
In 1993, drummer Mike Sus retired from music to pursue other careers, going on to get a degree in psychology and is helping injured people to live a normal everyday life. He is also a drug addiction counselor.
Guitarist Larry LaLonde joined the Bay Area thrash metal band Blind Illusion which released The Sane Asylum in 1988, after which Lalonde with Blind Illusion bassist Les Claypool went on to form the influential funk metal band Primus in 1989.
In 1995, guitarist Mike Torrao joined a new death metal band, Infanticide, but never released any songs to the public. Infanticide broke up in 1997. He has since worked as a landscaper and plays music only in his spare time. As of 2008, Mike Torrao is working with the band INaCAGE in the San Francisco Bay Area.