I have quite the history with this record; if it wasn't for Seven Churches
and Death's first two or so records, I wouldn't have ever gotten into Death Metal
as a genre... or if I did, I would've taken an entirely different route. It's a flawed record, for sure, but it means a lot to me even so.
This is pretty much the next step extreme metal would take after what Slayer
dished out on those legendary first two releases (i'm really referring to Show No Mercy
and Haunting the Chapel
here). This band claimed they weren't influenced by Slayer
, but the truth of the matter is, the influence from that band - particularly the debut - is all over the record, as well as that of Exodus
. At its heart, Seven Churches
may be a thrash metal record, but at the same time, it is a disservice to the band to merely write it off as that, and the seeds for American Death Metal
were essentially sewn here. For all intents and purposes, this is the first Death Metal
record; perhaps it isn't a fully fledged DM release in the same way that Altars
of Madness is, but hey, neither is Scream Bloody Gore
The songwriting on this record is absolutely phenominal, despite the fact that at times it is more than a bit uneven. Each song boasts abosolutely timeless, vicious riffs with an intensly sharp, hellish feel to them. The riffwork even to this day comes off as pretty adventurous, and for 1985 it must've been revolutionary to hear them. (Morbid Angel
took more than a few pages from this record's playbook) The riffs are sharp, incisive, and brilliantly written through; every one is memorable and does a fantastic job in pushing the song forward, from that chilling tremolo riff in "The Exorcist
", the savage, pounding thrash break in "Burning
", or even the seemingly anachronistic "Death Metal
" (a billion times better than the Onslaught
song from the same year), this record excels throughly on that front. The lead guitar work has always stood out to me on this; they're intensly melodic, arguably a little sloppy at times, but it provides a counterpoint to the riffage in the same way that the solos did on Slayer
's debut - they're the most archtypically heavy metal part of the record, and yet they fit in perfectly on here. The vocals on this record are also absolutely excellent; Jeff Becerra's raspy growls, while not as harsh as other DM vocalists in later years, is an absolutely perfect fit for this band, with a spirited delivery that few other vocalists have ever really done.
In a lot of ways, while this record was clearly an incredibly ambitious release in its time, Seven Churches
is marred by a few issues. For one, the instrumentation, while MUCH better than a group of seventeen year olds had any right to be, is at times a bit clumsy and uneven. It's primarily the drums; Mike Sus isn't a bad drummer, but the drumming feels weirdly tentative a lot of the time, and he does fall out of time during a few moments on here. At times, the songs can feel weirdly rigid and more awkward for that reason than they actually are. Some of the songs are a little unformed at times; some of the riffing doesn't flow as well between each other as others on the songs (especially in "Holy Hell
"). It's not really as bad as i'm making it out to be, and even then it carries a certain charm to it - you ARE hearing the birth of a new genre, after all.
The production job on this is sonically really raw, yet absolutely fantastic. It's very dark and reverb-filled, and the mixed is a little cluttered, but it communicates a hellish intensity that perfectly fits the band on this record. The guitar tone is one of the greatest ever record, with an sharp yet detailed tone, Becerra's vocals are up-front without being too loud, and the drums sound pretty solid, though the snare is a little loud in the mix. The rest of the band performs admirably on these tracks throughout.
It's flawed, but at the same time I can't deny the quality this record has, nor of its importance to me. Sure, it's flawed, but the quality of the record, even more than 25 years later still resonates to this day. Possessed
's later records saw them go back towards thrash metal fully (though those releases are still good in their own right), but this record is absolutely mandatory for those who fancy themselves fans of extreme metal.