Fight Fire with Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
Today we’re looking back at albums that were released about a year and a half apart but are still spiritual and sonic brethren, as they are both foundations of early death metal: Possessed’s Seven Churches from 1985 and Death’s Scream Bloody Gore from 1987.
With Seven Churches, Possessed took the most frantic of thrash metal and brought it to new levels of extremity, creating a game-changer album filled with wild energy and a consistently high level of boundary-pushing speed and mayhem. Then, Death took that sound and refined it with Scream Bloody Gore, making things heavier while also more mature and really paving the way for the death metal of today.
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that we really, really like both these albums. But we also really, really wanted to sit down with both and figure out which one is straight-up the better album. Get ready for the ultimate proto-DM showdown in today’s Fight Fire with Fire.
Possessed – Seven Churches
The early seeds of death metal were planted with Possessed’s 1985 debut Seven Churches, and what glorious seeds they are, this album absolutely a document of total chaos. It was the next step beyond thrash, and looking back on it now it’s hard to believe this came out in 1985; the heaviest of Slayer or Venom only hinted at what was on Seven Churches. Here, vocalist/bassist Jeff Becerra and his crew laid down next-level extremity.
“The Exorcist” starts this one off perfectly, those riffs haunting and just downright weird, while “Pentagram” continues with more great guitar work and frantic energy. “Burning In Hell” takes Slayer circa Hell Awaits and ramps up everything; “Evil Warriors” brings evilpunk to proto DM places but mainly is just early Teutonic thrash madness done to perfection.
The title track is Venom chaos with razor-wire thrash, while “Satan’s Curse” starts off the second half of the album with a great thrash/death tempo and atmosphere. “Twisted Minds” bops along and is almost… happy sounding for the first bit, that is until the awesome heads-down blackthrash riffing comes to save the day in what turns out to be a very accomplished piece of songwriting, one that hints at more than just all the speed all the time.
“Death Metal” ends it all off with what is basically the genre’s anthem, even if we kinda always remember the song title more than the actual song itself. But, of course, the song is awesome, another blinders-on race to the finish, the album, sure, lacking in many shades or hues, but totally killing it with absolute determination.
The production on this record is great—the songs have the rawness they deserve, and they can breathe just enough, even if it’s all one big blur. None of the playing stands out in particular, but together the members make a magnificent din, and there’s tons of great riffs here.
There’s a lot of youthful chaos on this album, which can go far, but a year and a half later, Death came along to prove that death metal was about to grow up.
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Few bands are held in as high regard in our circles as Death. And for good reason, tons of good reasons, and they all start here, Scream Bloody Gore, the band’s quote-mark-happy 1987 debut, where Chuck Schuldiner begins the Death legacy. Seven Churches could be called the first death metal album, but Scream Bloody Gore could be called the first album that actually sounds like death metal.
“Infernal Death” opens things up expertly, the band immediately turning heads and dropping jaws with this sound, a bass-heavy mid-to-fast tempo attack that was heftier than Possessed in terms of pure heaviness but scaled back the sprint to the finish. “Zombie Ritual” mauls with this single-minded, blinders-on approach that will serve death metal well over the years, while “Denial of Life” has some groove and a brisk, almost fun feel to its gallop.
“Sacrificial” has fun double bass-led riffs and a double-time early DM stomp, while “Regurgitated Guts” shows the band’s skills at both mid-paced and frantic death. “Baptized in Blood” ups the mania with a bit of hysteria, showing the album has no interest in slowing down at this point, instead rather going faster and faster.
Scream Bloody Gore starts strong, stays strong and, yup, ends strong, with “Torn to Pieces” raging forth, “Evil Dead” being a complete classic, as well as the album’s best experimentation with a bit of melody, and the title track closing things off with one of the record’s most well-rounded songs, offering a slight glimpse into the songwriting mastery that would come on future albums.
All the playing—done almost entirely by Schuldiner, with fellow legend Chris Reifert on drums—is fantastic here, but I’ve always felt that things were a bit too stiff, and that could come down to production, the sound of which I never warmed up to (but bear in mind I’m the guy who, much to my editor’s chagrin, not that long ago criticized’s Heartwork‘s production as being too stiff, and I’m standing by that; buy me a beer and we can argue about it further).
This album has more of a focus on songs than Seven Churches does; it’s more accomplished and shows greater strides toward the advancement of death metal as a whole and as a genre to be taken seriously. But is that enough to take down Seven Churches‘ malevolent maelstrom?
Whenever I begin one of these, my mind immediately gets ahead of me and declares a winner. It’s interesting, because after living with the albums more than usual for a few weeks I often end up choosing the other album as the better of the two. Not sure what that all says about me, but I can tell you that this time around I immediately thought Death would take home the win but today our horns all point to Possessed and Seven Churches masterpiece as the champ.
With an energy to it that just can not be contained and a level of restraint that… well, no, there’s no restraint, there’s just total sonic destruction that still sounds amazing all these years later. And it still sounds fresh, and it still sounds dangerous. Seven Churches standing tall as the ultimate early-DM cornerstone, one that shall never be forgotten, its youthful chaos never getting old, its groundbreaking forward-thinking nothing but sincere, its ability to get heads banging never once wavering all these brutal years later.