POSSESSED's JEFF BECERRA: CHUCK SCHULDINER very much modeled himself after me
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, whose bassist/vocalist, Jeff Becerra, is credited by some with initially creating the term “death metal” in 1983.
In a new interview with the “The Haunting Chapel” podcast, 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 said in part: “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, guitarist Mike 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. A year and a half ago, due to intensive therapy, he was able to walk short distances for the first time in over 30 years.
In a 2019 interview with The Underground Metal Gamer, Becerra was asked about the recovery process after being shot by two masked gunmen. “I’ve been in a wheelchair longer than I’ve been walking,” he said. “It’s my normal. It wasn’t so much of an accident — I got shot by two different guns in a robbery. I was doing concrete construction. I worked something like 13 hours that day. I stopped to get a pack of Camels cigarettes and I guess I flashed a hundred dollar bill and on the way out, two guys in hoods, little ninja guys came running up with guns: ‘Give me all of your fucking money.’ I kind of resisted; I should have just given them the money, but I was fucked, I was cornered. It’s not the first time I had a gun pointed at me and I knew they meant business. We scuffled, there was no way out of it and I ended up getting shot a couple of times. The first guy pushed a 9-millimeter to my chest points to bullet hole. It broke through the ribs and shattered the lungs and stuck on in the spine, so I still have a 9-millimeter slug stuck on the vertebrate T3. I think the second guy was covering me from about 15 feet away, so there was nowhere to run. It was more like a knee-jerk reaction because the first shot was ‘pow!’ and right after, ‘pow!'”
He continued: “I kind of foresaw that. I put my hand up in a defensive mode. It didn’t matter. The 22-caliber would have hit me in the forehead, but instead it clipped my finger off backward. You can see how it’s still bent. It was like that (shows finger), but we did a bunch of rehab in the spring, so that clicked off and that was squirting out blood like some Monty Python thing. I pinched my armpit and tourniqueted it and played dead. The shooter came up to my forehead and his gun jammed and he was slapping the side of his gun and trying to pull the trigger to finish the job. I guess they just panicked and as they ran off, his gun un-jammed and they were just firing over their shoulders: ‘Pow! Pow! Pow!’ all these bullets were hitting around me and I was like ‘Oh, fuck!’ Then I scooted and hid under this Volvo, just playing dead for about 45 minutes. This little girl came by and she obviously was a drug addict, kind of a crackhead girl and I was, like, ‘Hey, you got to call 911.’ She said ‘I can’t. I live here. These guys will fuck me up.’ I said ‘I’ll give you ten bucks.’ She said ‘Ten bucks?’ I reached in with my good hand, gave her a bloody ten-dollar bill and about 45 minutes later, one solo cop came up and he was like, he couldn’t have been more than 21, 23 years old. He was, like, ‘This is my first solo! I’m freaking out. I can’t believe this is happening.’ I said, ‘Call an ambulance.’ He was, like, ‘Oh, yeah…’ That was the first time I was glad to see the police. He just kind of covered me until the ambulance came and that was it.”
Becerra calls the ensuing period the “five dark years” in reference to a spiral of drug and alcohol abuse. “I really didn’t handle it well,” he said. “I essentially tried to kill myself with drugs and alcohol. I lived alone for five years and basically just wrote and listened to a lot of demo tapes that were sent and got thousands of fan mail asking me to come back. It was always the plan, but I wanted to do the things in life that I felt that I needed to do as a man. I’m not saying this is everybody, just for me, I didn’t want to wake up and be 50 and all I ever had done is play satanic death metal. I’ve always been kind of afraid of college. I went to college and made straight As, alpha gamma sigma and webmaster and was one of 20 gold robes. I did that. I got my four-year degree in three and a half years. I got married and had a couple of beautiful kids. Then I got divorced and that was time to bring POSSESSED back. I was already playing and touring by then and when you’re gone all the time, it’s hard to maintain a solid relationship. You got to give a lot to be in a death metal band. You just got a do it. I’m still really tight with her. Me and my ex-wife are still best friends. It was amicable. It’s a win-win. I got two beautiful kids and a band and everything.”
“Revelations Of Oblivion” was released in May 2019 via Nuclear Blast. The album was recorded at NRG studios and Titan Studios with Becerra as executive producer and Daniel Gonzalez as co-producer for the album. Mixing and mastering was handled by Peter Tägtgren (HYPOCRISY, PAIN, BLOODBATH) at Abyss Studios in Sweden. For the artwork, the band enlisted Polish artist Zbigniew Bielak (PARADISE LOST, DIMMU BORGIR, DEICIDE, GHOST, GORGUTS) to create a piece that brought back the notion of true fear that was once associated with the idea of evil.