POSSESSED - Beyond the Gates (COMBAT - LP 1986)
You know what? When I listen to “Beyond the Gates” of Possessed I keep telling myself that I like the album, but I always find one main problem with it – it just isn’t as good as “Seven Churches”. Whatever Possessed have done after their debut album, whatever they recorded, my reaction is always the same; none of their future recordings managed to surpass the excellence of the debut LP. Pity, but that’s how I feel about it. It actually is something I call “debut LP syndrome” and it’s something I think many bands from the 80’s or 90’s have suffered for – especially thrash metal bands, as quite many of them – after relentless and merciless debut – went into more commercial and friendly stuff. I guess you the story – band X debuted with a savage, raw and aggressive album then they just went into softer and more easy listenable stuff, with nicer vocals, (too) clean production, etc. I’m not even going to mention any names, as there’s no point, besides in this review I meant to write about Possessed.
So, OK, “Beyond the Gates” is not a bad album, I do enjoy listening to it and surely I won’t say it is not aggressive enough or it is too commercial, as definitely they didn’t start to play like Metallica for instance. But when I compare “Beyond the Gates” to their legendary debut “Seven Churches” I miss two things: the (satanic) atmosphere and that brutality of “Seven Churches”, which putted the fundaments for the death metal genre. When comparing both albums one can clearly say that “Beyond the Gates” is just a pure thrash metal album, which basically is deprived of any death metal influences. At that time (1986) there was no “Scream Bloody Gore” yet (only Mantas demos, etc), but thrash metal was really enjoying its most successful time, so I can see why Possessed went into that direction more, instead of trying to brutalize their music and make it even darker and more vicious than “Seven Churches”.
Already that annoying intro from “Beyond the Gates” will tell you that it is not exactly the same band anymore. Just listen to the creepy, satanic and sinister intro for “Exorcist” and then this happy and joyful, completely out of place intro for “Beyond the Gates”… That can already say a lot and you know straight away that this won’t exactly be the same kind of album like the previous LP and atmosphere wise you can expect something just more… hmm, easy listenable? That feeling may not go really hand in hand with the actual lyrics, which are still pretty satanic and full of dark themes of horror… just read the “Tribulation” text, with such sentence as “Tribulation, in love with Satan. Desecration, come to Salem…” or in “Beyond the Gates”: “Lucifer, hear me, I pray to the altar… I hear the sounds of insanity, Master, I drink the unholy water…”. But musically that atmosphere is not there anymore.
One can still say that “Beyond the Gates” is a good, classic thrash metal record. Sure, I agree, but for me it – even if it is solid and good LP – it still lacks a bit of truly killer songwriting and fantastic, memorable songs, as unfortunately this album hasn’t got its own “Black Magic”, “Evil Has No Boundaries“, “Flag of Hate” or “Merciless Death”… Of course there are some really good songs, but just not as memorable as those tracks which I mentioned or not as historical as “Death Metal”. There are some absolutely great riffs, like in “March to Die”, but that guitar tone, which the band achieved on the album sometimes makes them slightly less aggressive and besides I just have a feeling like the music is not enough straight forward, there are too many useless guitar solos and other show offs of the guitarists, instead of just a plain, simple thrash metal. They did manage maybe to get everything right in songs like “Seance”, but in some other I feel kinda bored, to be honest.
The vocal of Jeff Becerra is another thing, which makes me think how the band has putted some of their aggression away. The vocals on the debut were truly demonic, great, raspy and vicious voice, which came right from hell. On “Beyond the Gates” Becerra kept his weird, a bit annoying tone, but somehow it really irritates me, when he sounds like a suffering crow, instead of just screaming his guts out with passion and energy. And in “The Beasts of the Apocalypse” he sometimes I think tried to sound like Lemmy from Motorhead, which is just unexpected. The problem starts, when I hear quite mediocre, almost boring music and it is accompanied with some annoying vocal parts (take “Phantasm” as an example).
So, I did moan a lot on “Beyond the Gates”, but at the same time I wrote a couple of times that I do like this album. How is this possible? Well, first of all, it is Possessed. But to be honest, even if it isn’t as classy thrash metal album as “Darkness Descends”, “Hell Awaits” or “Kill’em All” and even if it isn’t just as good as “Seven Churches”, at the same time it is just good enough to give it few spins few times over the period of decade. It’s one of those LPs, which may not be blowing your mind out to the moon, but once you start to play it fuckin loud then you just enjoy it a lot anyway! This is the only real and effective way to listen to “Beyond the Gates”. Then it appears that even such more mediocre material can shred and such tracks as “Tribulation”, “The Beasts of the Apocalypse”, “March to Die”, “Seance” will make you bang your head until you feel a terrible neck ache. It’s a pity that it isn’t darker and more lethal material and more so, I hate that it contains that shitty intro and this completely useless closing song “Dog Fight”. I have no idea what was the purpose in adding them to the tracklist?? Anyway, if you’re interested I must recommend you getting the vinyl version of this album (what else, ha?!), in the first pressing, as it just looks absolutely killer. This foldout cover is very, very effective.
Standout tracks: “Tribulation”, “The Beasts of the Apocalypse”, “March to Die”, “Seance”
Final rate: 70/100