After 33 years of letting their fans spin their two iconic albums ‘Seven Churches’ and ‘Beyond the Gates’, the godfathers of Death metal Possessed are coming out with their brand new record ‘Revelations of Oblivion’, released through Nuclear Blast Records. The 80s with their bangers ‘Seven Churches’ and ‘Beyond the Gates’ are long gone – and so far the band, whose only remaining original member is singer and former bassist Jeff Becerra, has focused on delighting old fans by reforming under a new line-up in 2007, most notably touring Europe‘s notorious festivals but also performing smaller club shows: Daniel Gonzales and Claudeous Creamer (guitars), Robert Cardenas (bass) and Emilio Marquez (drums) breathe in new life into both old and newer tunes, the latter of which have been trickling in slowly over time, with May 10th marking the end of a long period of anticipation. Coming across as both comfortingly familiar to bred-in-the-bone Possessed fans as well as showcasing development in both songwriting and recording, ‘Revelations of Oblivion’ is an untiring powerhouse of old-school instrumental onslaught. I had the pleasure to chat with Jeff Becerra for a whopping 35 minutes. He is munching a hamburger while I listen to his candid anecdotes. Jeff is aware that the new album has been “a long time coming” and calls this period a “rewarding and quite fulfilling journey” so I ask him to reveal a bit more about how the new record came about.
At first, there’s a bit of meandering through the history of Possessed in store for us, though: “Originally, I just wanted to write because we’ve been touring for almost 13 years, almost three times as long as the first time Possessed was together. So we already knew the old stuff; we were wearing a ‘Possessed skin’: so that was by doing it better in a way. So I was like, this gets fucking old! I knew the guys were really paranoid and really shy to follow my lead at first because they were like, ‘I don’t know how people will react to the new stuff’. And I’m like – ‘Dude, until we write stuff we we’re kicking a dead horse basically. They’ll always think of you as a cover band or something.’ I was being mean to them – but it worked!”, he recalls. And then we head right into more in-depth thoughts of what the daily grind of being a professional musician is like: “You know, you gotta know how to be a boss but do it in a way that is both cruel and kind. You gotta be able to dig deep and hit low; whatever that needs to be done to get the desired effect, and they know what i’m doing of course. It’s difficult to be a band leader cause it’s like being married to four ugly women. When you lose one it literally feels like a divorce. Like, when I got divorced it was the same f*****g feeling as when I lost a guitarist or when Larry (LaLonde) quit to join Blind Illusion. You feel that sense of like betrayal.”
Possessed lay on ice for around two decades after: “It took me 17 and a half years to get my sh*t together. I know I’m rambling but its like if you’re hungry you’re not gonna read a book, right? And if you’re fucked in the head and torn up in mind, body and spirit you’re not gonna make good art. So I had to wait until that time.” With this, he refers to getting shot during an armed robbery and living through a long recovery. On a more positive note, Jeff studied law and started a family in the meantime before finding the zest to get back into making music again: “When that time hit it was just like a thunderbolt. I just struggled real fast to get all the right members and then we made the decision we were not gonna write for a record company or anything – but just write for our band’s supporters. Because Dan’s an engineer and producer we made a really good demo, almost album quality. I was just like ‘f*ck, we should chuck this around see if anybody bites!’ We got several bites right off the bat and from a lot of real good record companies. A lot of sh*t got scrapped on the floor; we took of all the parts we had got and we just picked it what we believed was the ten best-crafted songs. That was the album.”
Being the boss and manager of the band (Jeff complains to me about his 800 unread e-mails and considers finding someone else for this chore), Jeff is very aware of the mixture of consistency and invention that was needed to bridge a gap of three decades with the new release. He sees it as a group effort and is appreciative of his band mates: “These are by far ten times better than any members I’ve ever worked with before. It’s all working out really intuitively. I suppose we talked about the concept of the album as a good mix of not all just super fast, we talked about not doing blast beats, we talked about what makes Possessed Possessed: timing, tempo, melody off-time, and even putting in some mistakes purposely, you know.” Without bragging, Jeff knows what it’s like to be both founders of and now contributors to an ever-evolving genre: “Since Possessed was the first Death Metal band, it gives us a lot more freedom to do whatever we want. The whole concept is that I want to broaden the horizons of what Death Metal is … because it’s slowly but surely becoming a set of cookie-cutter rules. That’s not what it’s meant to be. It’s not meant to be just one thing or a bunch of sub-genres. It’s meant to be like freedom. So we just kinda did what we wanted, with respect to the Possessed sound, and kinda pushed the barriers to bring ourselves into 2019.”
Jeff is not afraid to tell me that his kids sometimes even serve as musical consultants: “My son plays bass guitar and he listens to everything from Metallica, Motörhead, Led Zep, Panzerfaust… There’s also a lot of like fuzz rap, he’s really eclectic. And then with my daughter, she listens to super poppy stuff like Billie Eilish but, you know what, she’s pretty good – it’s catchy, I mean, that’s why it’s pop.””When I’m writing riffs and stuff I’ll run it by them and they’ll sit here in the room. They’re really good if i’m not sure about something! They help me decide whether to use it or not. So they know Possessed!”
So what about the long wait for the album? After all the new release has been announced for a few years, with final rumours speaking of it coming out in 2018. Jeff says: “You kind of have to wait in your spot in line because Nuclear Blast does other bands too. So we had to wait our turn.” I can’t help but ask Jeff about any potential influences of such a big label as Nuclear Blast – after all, there have been rumours about streamlined sound and missing variety by Metal fans all over the international scene in recent years. Jeff explains: “I think it’s a common misconception because in so far as creative control of the band or how a band sounds is concerned, it’s completely up to the band, at least with us. What Nuclear Blast essentially does is find you the money and you’re on your own.They’re loaning you basically, it’s your advance. You can ask for help and they’re gonna help find you a producer but we did everything by ourselves. That’s a standard contract. So it’s a misconception to say that Nuclear Blast makes bands sound any specific way. I think bands may copy each other because they see success in another band. You’re certainly in creative control. That’s the reality of it: They give you money and you make your album.”
‘Revelations of Oblivion’ was recorded at NRG studios and Titan studios. “NRG was the more expensive studio”, Jeff says. “We wanted a natural drum sound. Then we went to Titan. It was a converted little house. It was really cool to look at all the platinum records on the wall, by Michael Jackson and Madonna.”
Being the frontman of a band that is often hailed as the godfathers of Death Metal, I wonder whether Jeff would have ever expected Death Metal to take off the way it has, even evolving into eclectic genre fusions and sub-genres such as Tech Death or even Folk Death Metal. Jeff goes far afield by at first telling me about his feelings of creating something previously unheard in the first place, and it is endearing to learn that he truly lives for the part of the genre that he represents with his own music, without dabbling too much in the countless sub-genres.
“Honestly, it was such a struggle”, he sighs. “It was exactly what I wanted to play but like I could just see that the world wasn’t quite ready for it back then. 50% of the people that heard us f’*****g hated us and thought it was trash, just cookie monster noise. They’d turn their backs on us and walk out, they’d boo and hiss – but there was a slowly growing group that started getting bigger and bigger starting out with friends that went to my high school, my sister’s friends. The bands would of course support each other. We always checked out each other’s shows. It felt really revolutionary back then in the 80s, and I knew I was part of something bigger. Drunk and wired up as we were, it felt like something major was happening. But it was such a struggle to get people and the magazines to stop commenting it was Thrash. We kept saying Death Metal, Death Metal over and over and over, Death Metal, and then even when i was people just insisted that we were Slayer clones. We were completely different than any of those other bands. I guess now, from a modern perspective of what Death Metal has turned into, we could be considered Thrash Metally or Black Metally but I do very much consider Possessed to be O.G. Death Metal, Californian Death Metal.”
Humorously commenting on his chattiness, Jeff concludes: “So the short answer is: No I didn’t think it was gonna catch on until I met up with Chuck (Schuldiner). So then even after I got shot there was another Death Metal band out there. And of course there was Necrophagia, and the third and fourth and the fifth generations just kept going. Then I kind of blacked out for many years, and when I came back I was like, f*****g lit you know!” He then pauses, and asks in astonishment: “Amazing. There’s Folk Death Metal?”
I then ask Jeff about his feelings about the contemporary Death Metal underground that for sure has changed from the underground of the early Death Metal days. “I think it’s great!”, he says simply and enthusiastically. “I think in America people need to f*****g get off their asses and go to shows. I’m in a Metal club and we completely support the underground but you see shows with 25 or 50 people, that’s pretty common. I’m not begging for an audience; I just wish more people were coming out to support a band. There’s so many bands that should be famous but cream is always gonna rise to the top, though. Just be yourself, man, you’re completely an individual. Have you ever heard of Necrot? They’re a three-piece, they’re f*****g awesome, man. They opened for us in Oakland the other night and I was like, holy sh*t this band is great for a three-piece! I mean the last three-piece that blew me away like this was Venom.”
And what about current favourites? “Well when I’m writing I don’t listen to much music”, Jeff says. “I still listen the old-school sh*t. You know, it’s weird because I was out of it for so long that i just i didn’t keep as current as I should. I love bands like Morbid Angel and Obituary.”
Possessed are going to promote their new record with a number of European shows, both in clubs and on bigger festivals are scheduled. Jeff comments: “I like the clubs, the clubs keep it real, you know! You’re not just like on your way to get a beer from watching like some Power Metal band or whatever. With a club, I can’t fake it, either. You can’t fake it anywhere really but it’s more intense when you hit a sour note in a smaller room with fewer people. I didn’t play my first festival until 2007, our first time at Wacken. My band was bad but my vocals were terrible, horrible. But the show was killer because it was so emotionally charged, like, grown men crying up front.”
Is there a bit of attention in store for Australian fans, too? “I don’t know if I should say this yet”, he ponders, “but more than likely Possessed will be in Australia in 2020! My tour management company recently expanded out to Australia and a bunch of other places so yes, there are plans to come to Australia in 2020.”
Until then, fans from all over the world truly have something to look forward to once ‘Revelations of Oblivion’ hits the shelves. Delivering an album that keeps true to their genre-building aesthetic, we are all up for a musical time travel that puts the pedal to the metal.
To preorder the album head HERE!