Who was The First Death Metal Band: The Unholy Birth of Death Metal

by Patria

In the ever-evolving landscape of heavy metal, few subgenres have left as indelible a mark as death metal. Emerging from the thrash metal scene of the mid-1980s, this extreme offshoot of metal introduced a level of sonic brutality and lyrical darkness that was unprecedented at the time. And at the forefront of this seismic shift stood a band whose name would become synonymous with the genre itself: Possessed.

Formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1983, Possessed unleashed a sonic onslaught that would forever alter the course of extreme metal. Their 1985 debut album, “Seven Churches,” is widely regarded as the first true death metal record, a groundbreaking work that laid the foundation for the genre’s signature sound and set the stage for a musical revolution.

The Unholy Conception

To understand the significance of Possessed and their seminal album, it’s important to examine the musical landscape from which they emerged. In the early 1980s, thrash metal bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Exodus were pushing the boundaries of heavy music with their aggressive riffs, breakneck tempos, and socially conscious lyrics.

But Possessed took these elements to an entirely new level, infusing their music with a level of sonic extremity and lyrical nihilism that was unprecedented at the time. Drawing inspiration from the occult and their fascination with the darker aspects of human nature, the band crafted a sound that was as uncompromising as it was influential.

“Seven Churches”: The Unholy Bible of Death Metal

Released in 1985 through Combat Records, “Seven Churches” was a sonic assault that left an indelible mark on the metal scene. From the opening notes of “The Exorcist,” the album’s blistering first track, it was clear that Possessed had no interest in adhering to the conventions of traditional heavy metal.

The production values were raw and unpolished, lending the album a visceral, uncompromising quality that perfectly complemented the band’s aggressive sound. Jeff Becerra’s guttural, demonic vocals sounded like the embodiment of pure evil, while the riffs and drumming were an exercise in unbridled fury.

Lyrically, “Seven Churches” delved into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, exploring themes of Satanism, occultism, and the macabre with an unflinching directness that was unheard of at the time. Songs like “Death Metal,” “Evil Blessing,” and the title track, “Seven Churches,” were visceral explorations of the unholy, delivered with a level of conviction that left no room for doubt about the band’s sincerity.

The Unholy Trinity: Riffs, Vocals, and Drums

At the heart of “Seven Churches'” groundbreaking sound were three key elements that would become hallmarks of the death metal genre: the riffs, the vocals, and the drums.

The guitar work on the album was a masterclass in dissonance and aggression, with riffs that seemed to defy the constraints of traditional tonality. The jarring, atonal melodies and chromatic chord progressions created a sense of unease and discomfort that perfectly complemented the album’s dark themes.

But it was Becerra’s vocal delivery that truly set “Seven Churches” apart from its contemporaries. Abandoning the high-pitched wails and operatic flourishes favored by many traditional metal bands, Becerra adopted a guttural, rasping style that sounded like the embodiment of pure hatred and malice. His vocals were raw, unpolished, and utterly captivating in their intensity, lending an air of authenticity to the album’s nihilistic themes.

The drumming on “Seven Churches” was equally groundbreaking, with Mike Torrao unleashing a barrage of blast beats and furious double-bass drumming that would become a hallmark of the death metal sound. His performance was a tour de force of endurance and technical prowess, laying the foundation for the genre’s signature breakneck tempos and relentless intensity.

The Legacy of “Seven Churches”

While Possessed’s tenure was relatively short-lived, with the band disbanding in the late 1980s, their impact on the metal scene was monumental. “Seven Churches” would go on to influence countless bands in the nascent death metal scene, inspiring a generation of musicians to push the boundaries of extreme music even further.

In the years following the album’s release, bands like Death, Morbid Angel, and Cannibal Corpse would take the blueprint laid down by Possessed and expand upon it, refining the sound and aesthetic of death metal into a fully-fledged subgenre. These bands would explore even darker and more extreme themes, incorporating elements of gore, violence, and the occult into their music and imagery.

Today, “Seven Churches” is regarded as a seminal work in the history of extreme metal, a testament to the power of artistic vision and the unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of what music can express. Its influence can be heard in the sounds of countless death metal bands, from the technical precision of Nile and Necrophagist to the savage brutality of Deicide and Hate Eternal.

Controversy and Condemnation

Of course, as with any genre that challenges societal norms and embraces taboo subject matter, death metal has not been without its fair share of controversy and condemnation. The genre’s association with themes of violence, gore, and Satanism have made it a frequent target of moral outrage and censorship efforts.

“Seven Churches” itself was no stranger to controversy. Upon its release, the album drew the ire of religious groups and conservative watchdogs, who decried its graphic imagery and lyrical themes as blasphemous and offensive. Some retailers even refused to carry the album, citing concerns over its potentially corrupting influence on young listeners.

Despite these challenges, “Seven Churches” and the death metal genre as a whole have endured, their very existence a defiant middle finger to the forces of conformity and censorship. For fans and artists alike, death metal represents a form of artistic expression that refuses to be bound by the constraints of societal norms, a sonic exploration of the darkest corners of the human experience.


In the end, “Seven Churches'” significance transcends its status as a mere musical artifact. It stands as a testament to the power of art to challenge boundaries, push creative boundaries, and give voice to the darkest and most primal aspects of the human condition.

While its raw, uncompromising sound and controversial themes may not be for everyone, there is no denying the album’s profound impact on the evolution of extreme metal. It paved the way for countless bands to explore the outer limits of sonic expression, inspiring generations of musicians to embrace their darkest impulses and channel them into works of uncompromising artistry.

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