Unearthing the Roots of Death Metal: The Story of Possessed

Formed in 1983, Possessed is often cited as the first death metal band, influencing the genre with their debut album​.


The Birth of a Legend: Possessed

In the depths of the San Francisco Bay Area’s burgeoning underground music scene in 1983, a beast was stirring. This beast was not the product of some mythical lore, but rather the result of a deep-rooted passion for music that pushed boundaries and shattered norms. The name of this beast? Possessed, the band that was destined to become the first-ever death metal band in the world.

Taking their inspiration from the dark corners of the human psyche, Possessed was known for their blistering speed, relentless intensity, and the unforgettable growled vocals of Jeff Becerra. With their unique style and unapologetic approach to music, they carved out a new path for metal, pushing it beyond the confines of the burgeoning thrash movement.

The Making of Possessed

The story of Possessed begins in a garage, where Mike Torrao (guitar) and Mike Sus (drums) decided to form a band with vocalist Barry Fisk and former Exodus bassist Jeff Andrews. But the journey was far from smooth. After a heartbreaking tragedy resulted in Fisk’s suicide, and Andrews decided to depart, the band was left in a precarious position.

Enter Jeff Becerra, a talented musician who had just parted ways with his previous band, Blizzard. When approached by Torrao and Sus, Becerra didn’t just fill in the vacant positions – he transformed them, infusing them with an energy and passion that would come to define Possessed.

Jeff Becerra: The Man Behind the Growl

More than just the frontman of Possessed, Jeff Becerra is a man of many firsts. At the tender age of 11 in 1979, Becerra wrote “Burning in Hell,” which would eventually become the first song of Possessed. But it wasn’t just his songwriting prowess that set him apart. Becerra’s unique growled vocals, coupled with his desire to push metal into uncharted territories, was instrumental in shaping the sound of Possessed, and indeed, the entire genre of death metal.

“Seven Churches”: The Birth of Death Metal

In October 1985, Possessed released their debut album, “Seven Churches”. The album was an instant classic, with its intense sound and Satanic imagery sending shockwaves through the metal underground. Its impact was so profound that it would inspire other pioneering artists, such as the late Chuck Schuldiner of Death. To this day, “Seven Churches” is often credited as the starting point of death metal, a testament to the enduring legacy of Possessed.

The Fall and Rise of Possessed

Despite the monumental success of “Seven Churches,” the band’s journey was not without its challenges. After the release of two more well-received records, “Beyond the Gates” (1986) and “The Eyes of Horror” EP (1987), Possessed disbanded in 1987. The pressures of fame and the demanding lifestyle that came with it had become too much.

For Jeff Becerra, life would take a drastic turn in 1989 when he was shot during a mugging, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. The focus of his life shifted from death metal to survival, and he found himself grappling with the repercussions of the attack, including a period of substance abuse. But Becerra was not one to be easily defeated. After years of struggle, he quit substances, reinvigorated his commitment to education, and spent a decade working in a hospital and labor union. But even as his life took on a new trajectory, the ghost of Possessed never really left him.

The Resurrection of Possessed

Feeding off the lingering desire to bring Possessed back to life, Becerra managed to reform the band in 2007. The band’s triumphant return to the music scene was cemented with the release of a new studio album, “Revelations of Oblivion”, in 2019.

Despite all the hurdles and tribulations, Possessed’s story is one of perseverance, resilience, and an undying love for death metal. Their journey, from their formation in a garage in San Francisco to becoming pioneers of an entire genre, is a testament to their groundbreaking influence and enduring legacy in the world of metal.