JEFF BECERRA: “POSSESSED was the very first death metal band”
In a new interview with Jerry Kurunen of Finland’s Rauta, POSSESSED frontman Jeff Becerra was asked if his band is rightfully credited with initially creating the term “death metal” in 1983. He said: “One hundred percent. I had the copyright in 1983. POSSESSED was the very first death metal band. That doesn’t mean we created death metal; it just means we were the first to call ourselves death metal. ‘Cause every band after that does their own shit. So, yeah, we were just the first, man. And I’m surprised somebody didn’t think of it before, to be honest. It’s so obvious.
“Back then, you’ve gotta realize, with very few exceptions — maybe SLAYER, KREATOR, SODOM, DESTRUCTION, EXODUS — most thrash metal bands were — and with all due respect — were kind of bouncy kind of hair bands,” he explained. “They would say, ‘Oh, we’re so heavy,’ but they were never really heavy. ‘We’re so evil.’ And there was nothing wrong with that, but that just isn’t what blew our skirts up.
“I happened to meet former POSSESSED guitarist Mike Torrao at a very pivotal moment in our life, and we were just, like, ‘Fuck the world. Fuck everything. And let’s just make the heaviest, most Satanic music in the world.’ And trash metal was taken, black metal was taken, speed metal was taken, fucking power metal was taken. Why not death metal? Like, ‘Okay.’ So then I wrote a song called ‘Death Metal’, and that was it. But it was more about the music and then the title, but the title seemed to outweigh the music. I don’t know.
“These days POSSESSED get a lot more recognition, but we’re not one of those famous bands; we’re still underground. You’re really lucky to be recognized within your lifetime.”
Although DEATH is considered to be one of the most important and influential death metal acts of all time, the Florida-based band did not release its debut album, “Scream Bloody Gore”, until 1987 — two years after the arrival of “Seven Churches” by California’s POSSESSED.
Back in June 2022, Becerra, who was shot in a robbery in 1989, leaving him partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, weighed in on the never-ending debate on who can lay claim to being the first “true” death metal band: DEATH or POSSESSED. He told the “The Haunting Chapel” podcast: “We (POSSESSED) were selling ourselves as a death metal band, and that was what we went with. And to this day, it’s both a blessing and a curse because it’s highly debated and contested. And we literally, after I got shot, certain revisionists tried to block me out of history. The POSSESSED Wiki is the most vandalized page of Wikipedia. There was a certain person — he recently passed away — that was just relentlessly retitling our YouTube, moving our dates forward, messing with the timeline. It was like a battle. When I left, we were the death metal guys. When I came back, it was no more. So I had to fight for my own history back, which was weird. ‘Cause there’s no cool way to do that, because it sounds like you’re tooting your own horn.
“I’m not saying I created death metal; I’m saying POSSESSED was the first death metal band,” Jeff explained. “And it’s a bone of contention with many DEATH fans. And because of the way that their management spun it and the way that the magazines spun it… Remember, me and Chuck (Schuldiner, DEATH guitarist/vocalist) were friends. He literally was like my protégé. He moved out to Antioch California from Orlando; he lived at the house of the then-POSSESSED fan club president Krystal Mahoney. He was pen paling for a while and tape trading. And he very much modeled himself after me. I was so honored because, remember, I’m just a young teenager. But he was the first person to really get what we were doing, what I was doing, and he was the first person that really understood what it was about. And he was so smart that way because it was undefined and so hard to explain what it is, without putting rules on it, because the last thing you wanna do is put rules on anything and stifle it. But he would just grasp it; he loved it. He said, ‘Listen, Jeff. I sound just like you.’ And he was proud of that. And I was proud of him. And there was a bromance going there. It was a respect.
“I’ve never been jealous of another band,” Becerra clarified. “I’ve never claimed anything that wasn’t mine. And it’s just so obscure to see people trying to claim what they know they wouldn’t do in front of me. They know what they didn’t do; I was fucking there. And I’m not hating on anybody, but it’s a very coveted position.
“What makes me mad is when the magazines spin this ‘DEATH or POSSESSED, DEATH versus POSSESSED.’ And it even tainted the relationship between DEATH and POSSESSED, and that pisses me off, because we were friends.
“I realize that metal is supposed to be fun,” Jeff added. “But there’s also something very valid about true history and not revising stuff — not just with POSSESSED but any band. And the way it’s spun is, like, bands will exaggerate what they did and the writers will be eager to impress who they’re writing about, because the last thing a writer wants is for the band to go, ‘This is fucking fucked up.’
“In the old days, it was very truthful. People did their research. They didn’t have clickbait. There was no ‘POSSESSED versus DEATH.’ I hate that shit. Because if Chuck was alive today, I’d like us to collaborate. And I don’t like it fucking with my remembrance of what it really was. I like the history. Maybe I’m being weird about it, but I think that the truth is so much better than the tale.”
Becerra told Antihero in 2017 that Schuldiner cited POSSESSED as a “primary influence” in “countless” magazine interviews. But even though DEATH was inspired by POSSESSED, “they ran with it and went in their own direction and created their own vibe,” Jeff said. “To go a step further: Chuck used ’80s death/thrash producer Randy Burns, who did ‘Seven Churches’ to do ‘Scream Bloody Gore’, his first album. He also did a cover of POSSESSED‘s ‘The Exorcist’.”
Schuldiner died in December 2001 after a battle with pontine glioma, a rare type of brain tumor.
POSSESSED originally split in 1987, leaving behind a short but highly influential legacy, most notably “Seven Churches”. Internal tensions after the release of 1987’s “The Eyes Of Horror” EP led to the band’s dissolution, with guitarist Larry Lalonde joining Bay Area tech-thrashers BLIND ILLUSION, then PRIMUS, while Becerra, Torrao and drummer Mike Sus each going separate directions.
Two years after POSSESSED‘s split, Becerra was the victim of the aforementioned failed armed robbery attempt, sending him into a spiral of drug and alcohol abuse. POSSESSED was reactivated by Torrao in 1990 with a completely different lineup, but only released two demos before dissolving in 1993. Becerra then reformed POSSESSED in 2007 with his own lineup, which released its first studio album in 33 years, “Revelations Of Oblivion”, in 2019.