Thrash Producers: The Sound And The Fury
Guitar World talks to the producers who crafted the sound on groundbreaking albums by Megadeth, Anthrax, Possessed, Death and other bands from extreme metal’s formative years.
Possessed were one of the first American death metal bands, and they set the template for innumerable bands to follow. Jeff Becerra, Possessed’s lead vocalist and bassist, was also the inventor of the term “death metal;” he reportedly came up with in his high school English class, and the phrase became the title for the group’s 1984 demo. (So young were Possessed’s members that lead guitarist Larry LaLonde, later in Primus, was still in high school at the time Seven Churches was recorded.)
The album was recorded at Prairie Sun Studios in Northern California, which also had a chicken ranch on the grounds. In the book Choosing Death, a history of death metal and grindcore written by Albert Mudrian and published in 2004, Beccera recalled every time the band blasted out their music, the chickens fled in terror. “We got some complaints about disturbing the farm animals!” Burns recalls with a laugh. Seven Churches, was recorded in a week for $10,000, a typical budget at that time for a Combat band.
Possessed's debut, Seven Churches
Although a lot of heavy bands came from San Francisco, the Bay Area thrashers didn’t know what to make of Possessed at first. The group became very popular overseas from tape trading and was even dubbed “the San Francisco Slayer” by some fans, but back at home it took a while for Possessed to catch on. A lot of Burns’ production peers also couldn’t understand why he worked with the bands he did, but Burn was one of the few who clearly understood where his groups were coming from. “I think it really helps if you’re a fan,” he says. “You have to appreciate something about what they’re doing. It’s a lot more fun if you like ’em, I’ll put it that way.”
Burns always took a “documentary” approach with the bands he worked with: “I used to tell them that the record will sound exactly like them, only better than they’ve ever imagined. I didn’t go in and say, ‘You guys need to rewrite this song.’ I think the reason why bands liked me is I assumed they knew where they were going with this stuff, my job was to figure it out. What are they trying to do? What is the band trying to say? And how do we get that? So I don’t think I was responsible for the success of Possessed. That was them; that’s what they did. What I did was facilitate getting it to tape.”
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