Joined: 30 Jan 2003
|Posted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 12:40 pm Post subject: POSSESSED - BEYOND THE GATES
|POSSESSED - BEYOND THE GATES
(Combat Records, 1986)
'The prophecies that I will tell/will make you give your soul to sell ...'
A lot has been written about Possessed's debut album, Seven Churches (deservedly so) and I'll get around to reviewing that particular monster eventually, too. However, I wanted to first write about their criminally underrated second album, Beyond the Gates, a record that is sadly overlooked due to the influential importance of ... Churches.
'Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide/the power of darkness is waiting inside ...'
Recorded in March, 1986, at Prairie Sun Recording Studios, CA, a soft yet ominous intro sets the tone for this colossal album. Dark and foreboding (written by producer Carl Canedy and somewhat more memorable than your standard 1980's acoustic fare) before it unleashed hell with The Heretic, the crunchcrunchcrunch of Larry LaLonde's and Mike Torrao's guitars upfront and in-your-face. The furious drumming of Mike Sus has improved since their debut, but Sus is no Lombardo (that said, check out the breath-taking drum-fills during opener The Heretic). Yet perhaps it's the demonic vocals of Jeff Becerra that immediately catches the ear; in 2010 when one can barely distinguish one death metal growler from another his voice was and is still unique, and alongside Evil Chuck perhaps the most monstrous ever to emerge from the extreme metal scene, thrash or whatever. (And why isn't Becerra recording anymore ..?)
'What could it be except for Hell?/burning souls is what I smell ...'
The Satanic subject matter is very much apparent, even though by now the band had dropped the inverted cross from their logo. Satanic yes, but silly Satanic - they would go on to discard Lucifer and his minions on their final release, EP The Eyes of Horror ("It was more of a morbid fascination ...") But here, from Tribulation, Seance and the title track the Horned One rules supreme. In a Mega Metal Kerrang! interview from late 1986 with Paul Miller Beccera was asked about the devilish subject matter - "We figger we can either sing about Satan or flowers. So we sing about Satan."
In the same interview the supposed comparisons to Slayer are rammed home by the rude and seemingly uninterested interviewer, much to the annoyance of the band: 'One thing I have noticed that you share with Slayer is the musicianship,' Miller continues. 'Listening to BTG, it's technicaly up there with the best most other thrash outfits are offering, particularly in their guitar work.'
"That's what we mean," replied Mike Torrao. "The stuff we're writing is not like Slayer. Slayer don't do harmony parts like for instance in 'Tribulation'. They don't slow things down like we do. Even the style's diferent ... 'No Will Too (sic) Live'; they don't have a style like that."
Hindsight is wonderful, for though Slayer were popular and perhaps the best well-known 'evil' band in 1986 it seemed as if every thrash band were being compared to them, or Metallica. To today's ears Possessed sound nothing like Slayer; if anything, they owe more of a debt to the NWOBHM than their Satanic contemporaries. That said, the lead work of LaLonde and Torrao, twin guitarists - perhaps this is where the comparison arose - is simply astonishing, and bear no resemblance whatsoever to Hanneman and King.
'Welcome to your funeral/your life has just begun ...'
For its time, Beyond the Gates boasted a 1970's prog album cover, in which the album sleeve, a set of gates opened up to reveal the inside of a fantastic landscape (hell?) painted by Edward J. Repka. It was truly peerless, and sadly, apart from the odd gatefold sleeve and indented cover for Sodom's Better Off Dead album not many bands were doing anything remotely like this at the time.
Released in November '86, surprisingly, the main UK mags didn't look favourably upon BTG on its release. Kerrang! gave the album 3 K's out of 5, Paul Miller stating that despite Possessed being the 'current darlings of the Underground', where ''Seven Churches was a flawed debut album, so BTG is its flawed successor.' His main gripe seems to be with vocalist Becerra and his 'very one-dimensional voice. Growling anti-vocals that carry no melody are fine in their proper place (say, on a Bathory album), but spread over both sides (as they are here) they soon become tiresome.' Miller goes on to recommend Onslaught's Sy Keeler (!) and in doing so missed the point completely of what Possessed was about in the first place.
Miller: 'Have you received much criticism of your vocals?'
Becerra: "Nah ... fuck you! I wanna sing horrid and play fast!"
Metal Hammer was just as clueless, Oliver Klemm berating the production of Carl Canedy and then ending with 'Even though it looked like the boys have really tried, ol' Jeff Becerra still cannot sing and drmmer Mike Sus is a long way off being Mr. Rhythm King. Only worth a five ...' (out of 10).
Negative reviews aside, though hailed at the time as a more technical slab of metal than Seven Churches, nonetheless many today *still* decry Beyond ... bemoaning its 'muddy' production, calling it an also-ran, a weak follow-up to the more visceral debut. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Beyond the Gates is truly an album of worth, bolstered by superb songs (see Phantasm) that today stands the test of time. The whole point of this review section is to look beyond what modern ears negatively perceive as ''80's production' and grasp these albums for what they are. Let me stamp this home - BTG is *awesome*.
In a year that gave us Reign in Blood, Pleasure to Kill, Darkness Descends and Eternal Devastation Possessed's Beyond the Gates is a milestone in thrash/death metal, and thoroughly recommended.