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Godfathers of Bay Area Death Metal

Considered by many to be the very first band in the death metal genre, Possessed formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1983. While the band were also a part of the broader Bay Area thrash movement, the band is commonly viewed as one of the originators of death metal; together with Death, a band that began in Orlando, Florida, but would eventually heed the call and relocate to the Bay Area themselves. Possessed has gone through numerous personnel changes over the years, but is widely viewed as a substantial part of the Bay Area thrash movement, and its members have remained friends with Bay Area legends Metallica, Slayer, Exodus and others.

1985 Flyer for Possessed / Exodus Show

The original lineup of Possessed consisted of guitarist Mike Torrao, bassist Geoff Andrews, drummer Mike Sus and frontman Barry Fisk. While this lineup did write a handful of songs while they were together, the first version of the band would not be around long as Fisk committed suicide before the band could record; and Andrews, who had also been a part of a 1982 demo from the band Exodus, decided to leave, as well. Torrao and Sus recruited guitarist Brian Montana, and lured bassist/singer Jeff Becerra from another Bay Area garage band called Blizzard, and the second version of Possessed was born. Becerra's guttural vocal style helped to define not only the band's sound, but also the death metal genre itself.

Possessed spent much of the rest of 1983 honing their sound, as well as playing small clubs in the Bay Area with Exodus and Metallica. They release a three song EP entitled Death Metal in early 1984, and gave a copy to Exodus who brought it to the attention of Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel. Slagel liked the band enough that he included one of the songs, "Swing of the Axe," on the 6th edition of the label's compilation series Metal Massacre. Shortly after the release, Mike Torrao dismissed Brian Montana over creative differences, and Becerra's Blizzard bandmate Larry LaLonde, was brought in to replace him. Despite the inclusion of "Swing of the Axe" on Metal Massacre 6, Metal Blade did not offer the band a recording contract. The single caught the attention of Combat Records, however, who signed them and released their first full-length album, Seven Churches, in 1985.

Seven Churches Cover Art

Seven Churches is thought of by many music industry insiders as the original death metal album. There has been a lot of back-and-forth over the years about whether Possessed or Death is more important to the evolution of death metal, even though Seven Churches was released almost two years ahead of Death's debut effort, Scream Bloody Gore. While touring in support of Seven Churches, Possessed performed for the first time in an arena, supporting Celtic Frost and VoiVod at the WWIII Weekend Festival in Montreal, Canada. The tour also saw the band open for thrash heavyweights Slayer and Venom in San Francisco in 1986. The band's second album, Beyond the Gates, hit stores on Halloween that year.

Shortly after the release of their second full-length, Possessed went back into the studio to begin working on an EP with guitarist Joe Satriani. Known as a top-notch instructor in the Bay Area back then, Satriani's pupils included LaLonde, Exodus / Metallica shredder Kirk Hammett, Testament's Alex Skolnick and Steve Vai. Satriani also taught Danger Danger guitarist Andy Timmons and Third Eye Blind's Kevin Cadogan, among others. While Satriani's participation in the record did draw in some new fans for the band, many of their core audience dismissed the record as just another thrash record, lacking the Satanic-themed lyrics and driving sound present on their earlier releases. The Eyes of Horror EP was released in May of 1987, and the group disbanded shortly after over a lack of income. Becerra went on to form a concrete business and was paralyzed from the chest down in 1990 when he was shot during a robbery.

Beyond the Gates - 1986                                                                      Eyes of Horror - 1987    

Following the break-up, Mike Torrao spent a few years building his construction business with his father. Music was still important to the guitarist, however, and he revived the band in 1990 with all new members. The band recorded a pair of demos over the next two years, but dissolved again in 1993. Possessed would remain dormant as a band for 14 years after that, until Becerra agreed to perform under the name with members of Sadistic Intent, a band that had taken part on a Possessed tribute album. The new incarnation performed for the first time at the 2007 Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, despite Becerra being confined to a wheelchair. Becerra has continued to perform under the Possessed name since then, and, according to the band's Facebook page, is currently at work writing what will be the first new Possessed full-length album since 1986.

Old school Possessed band photo - 1984

After leaving Possessed in 1987, Larry LaLonde reunited with former Blizzard bandmate Mike Miner in Blind Illusion, where he met bassist Les Claypool. The legendary bassist was on a break from Primus at the time to pursue other projects, and had rejoined Blind Illusion, of which he had been a member before forming Primus in 1984 under the name Primate. Blind Illusion's debut record, featuring both Claypool and LaLonde, was released in 1988. Claypool left the band before the supporting tour wrapped up, bringing LaLonde into the fold. LaLonde released a couple of albums with a band called No Forcefield during another break for Primus, but has been a member of the popular funk fusion band ever since.

Jeff Wielding the Upside Down Cross

Jeff Becerra at Wacken festival, 2007

Mike Torrao Promo Shot, 1985

Possessed - Live at Fender's Ballroom, April 1987