Revolver has teamed with Possessed for an exclusive "Combat Camo" vinyl edition of their classic EP, The Eyes of Horror, limited to 200 copies worldwide. Order yours before they're gone!
The Bay Area has long been exalted as the premier breeding ground of thrash, producing the likes of Exodus and Death Angel while hosting wild gigs at Ruthie's Inn in Berkeley and The Stone in San Francisco even before Metallica moved up from L.A. But the unsung heroes of the scene were undoubtedly Possessed.
Fronted by vocalist-bassist Jeff Becerra and featuring the maniacal guitar team of Mike Torrao and Larry LaLonde, Possessed coined the term "death metal" on their 1985 debut, Seven Churches, while the music within laid the foundation for that very genre. "Coming up in the San Francisco Bay area underground was the best training grounds in the world," Becerra tells Revolver. "We did a lot at a very young age, and it was really fun. It was the right mix of the right characters at the right time."
With a hyper-satanic thrash attack that rivaled early Slayer, Possessed played high-profile gigs with Venom and Megadeth, even appearing in Montreal in late '85 with Celtic Frost and Voivod as part of the legendary WWIII Weekend Festival. When the band hit Berkeley's Fantasy Studios in early '87 to record The Eyes of Horror EP with guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani producing, they wanted to expand their sonic palette. "We wanted all the records to be different so we could widen our horizons as a band," Becerra says. "The Eyes of Horror was us branching out into maybe being a little more commercially viable, for lack of a better word — but still heavy."
The next generation of metal titans certainly took note. Of the five songs on The Eyes of Horror, two have been covered by Cannibal Corpse ("Confessions," on their 2003 EP, Worm Infested) and Amon Amarth (the title track, on their 2001 album The Crusher). Sadly, it proved to be Possessed's last blast for over 30 years.
LaLonde quit to join Blind Illusion, where he met bassist Les Claypool and eventually joined Primus. In 1989, Becerra was the victim of a shooting during a robbery and was left paralyzed from the chest down. The frontman eventually went on to reform Possessed with new members before unveiling their excellent comeback album, Revelations of Oblivion, in 2019. "The Eyes of Horror was the end of everything in a lot of ways — certainly that era of Possessed," Becerra says. "At least we got some good music out of it."
THE EYES OF HORROR WAS PRODUCED BY JOE SATRIANI. HOW DID YOU HOOK UP WITH HIM?
JEFF BECERRA Larry was taking guitar lessons with Joe, who we knew from our local music shop. Larry was a very good guitarist from when I first met him around '78 or '79, but after taking lessons with Joe he made a huge jump in talent within a year — just like Kirk Hammett, who also took lessons from Joe. Joe had a way of fine-tuning people's natural talents and making them that much better. So Larry became very important very fast for Possessed, and then we got Joe to come in and do the record with us.
YOU RECORDED THE EP AT FANTASY STUDIOS, WHICH WAS A MAJOR BAY AREA STUDIO FOR DECADES. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
Yeah, it was this multimillion-dollar studio and we spent a shitload of money on that recording. We were in there between Night Ranger and the David Lee Roth band. I remember we borrowed some mics from Night Ranger and then put them back exactly how they were. It was a really fun experience, even though me and Torrao weren't really talking by then.
WHY WAS THAT?
Torrao and [Possessed drummer Mike] Sus just wanted to go back to their normal lives. I mean, we blew up very fast. Larry was 15 when he joined Possessed. I was 16, but we'd already been in bands — we were already semi-pro by then. Mike and Mike had never really played a show before Possessed. They wanted to do the rock star thing, but when it came hot and heavy with all the touring you're either on the train holding on tight or you wanna jump off. And I can understand that. I respect that not everyone wants to wake up and be 52 years old in a satanic death metal band, but for me it's the end all and be all.
HOW WAS WORKING WITH SATRIANI?
I remember telling him, "Whatever you do, don't pick up a guitar or a bass, because I'll feel like a three-year old with a broken hand." [Laughs] But he understood what we were doing. He was really good at getting into our headspace. He was very sober and technical — it was all business.
THE COVER ART THAT KENT MATHIEU DID FOR THE EYES OF HORROR IS KILLER. IS THERE A STORY BEHIND IT?
I knew I wanted a skull with demons coming out of the eyes, and he just made it. But usually we just let Combat do what they wanted with that stuff — because we'd make our own covers but they would always be declined. For Seven Churches, we had this nun hanging from a giant oak tree in a cemetery with a Satanic church in the background and these big stained-glass windows, but it was shot down in favor of that all-black cover with the Possessed logo. And thank god, because that's what sold the album. But I revisited the church idea for our new album Revelations of Oblivion.
YOU GUYS DID A COUPLE OF SHOWS WITH MEGADETH RIGHT AROUND THE TIME THE EP WAS RELEASED. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT?
Yeah, we did several shows with Megadeth at that time. I remember we did one with them and Slayer, and me and the Daves were partying, doing lines and smoking and drinking in my hotel room. We ran out of papers, so Dave [Mustaine] used a page out of the Bible to roll a joint. I think it was from Revelations. Around this time, I also saw him roll a big bomber with a tampon wrapper, so we had this joint that literally said Tampax on the side. I just thought that was the coolest thing.
At some point, Dave Junior [Ellefson] was in the parking lot throwing up. We went out there to check on him and I started thinking, Fuck, I gotta play with Megadeth and Slayer tomorrow. I'm gonna be hungover if I don't get some sleep. So I ran back to the hotel room, locked the door and then I hear … knocking on the door like, "Jeff, it's me! It's Dave Mustaine from Megadeth!" I was giggling under the covers, pretending to be asleep.
WHAT ABOUT THE SHOWS THEMSELVES?
I remember a show we did with Megadeth and Suicidal [Tendencies], where me and [Suicidal guitarist] Rocky [George] decided to get Dave [Mustaine] drunk so we could at least have a chance [to look good] that night. I had a pint of brandy and Rocky had a pint of vodka, so we shared it with Dave and all got fucked up. But then Dave goes out there and just plays a flawless show, singing and soloing and everything. I just remember thinking, "This dude is amazing." Both of the Daves are badass musicians, just phenomenal players.
POSSESSED SPLIT UP NOT LONG AFTER THE EYES OF HORROR CAME OUT. WHAT HAPPENED?
We were like neck and neck with Slayer at this time — we were so close to Slayer that they were giving us the Hollywood compliment, like, "Yeah, Possessed are really good, but they're just copying us." Which wasn't true because we recorded Seven Churches before we ever heard Slayer. But we toured together on Seven Churches and Beyond the Gates, so Slayer was responsible for a lot of our early success in the United States. So we were doing really well, and it was looking like a career. We were touring and making money and everything was great.
But then I came to practice one day and everyone was looking at their feet. I was like, "What's up?" And Torrao said, "Larry's leaving to go to Blind Illusion." I thought, OK, that sucks — but let's get another guitarist and move on. But Larry had become so important in Torrao's mind that he just didn't think we could restructure without Larry. But we'd restructured with me before we'd even got Larry, so it didn't make sense to me. But they didn't wanna do it anymore, and that was that. And before I could reform the band, I got shot.
AMON AMARTH AND CANNIBAL CORPSE HAVE BOTH COVERED SONGS FROM THE EYES OF HORROR. HAVE YOU HEARD THEIR VERSIONS?
Yeah, that was way cool. It's so flattering. I was just texting with George [Fisher from Cannibal Corpse] the other day. He's super cool. I've never met the Amon Amarth guys, but I'd like to. They're really good.
DO YOU THINK OF THE EYES OF HORROR DIFFERENTLY TODAY THAN YOU DID WHEN IT CAME OUT?
I like it even better now. We still play songs off of The Eyes of Horror, and they sound crushing with my new band. But Torrao and Larry had a real iconic genius to them. It was like magic when the three of us came together. We worked really well together, and we got a lot of shit done really fast because we were really driven. I don't even talk to those guys anymore — after we broke up, that was it — but at the time it was all about the music.