Although DEATH is considered to be one of the most important and influential death metal acts of all time, the Florida-based band did not release its debut album, "Scream Bloody Gore", until 1987 — two years after the arrival of "Seven Churches" by California's POSSESSED, whose bassist/vocalist, Jeff Becerra, is credited by some with initially creating the term "death metal" in 1983.
In a new interview with the "That Metal Interview" podcast, Kam Lee, who was a member of an early version of DEATH as well as the pre-DEATH band MANTAS alongside guitarist/vocalist Chuck Schuldiner and guitarist Rick Rozz, weighed in on the never-ending debate on who can lay claim to being the first "true" death metal band: DEATH or POSSESSED. He said in part (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "I'll admit this, and I'll say this straight out, 'cause I know there's an argument all the time, who was first — was it DEATH or was it POSSESSED? Well, I will tell you POSSESSED was first, and I will tell you why. Because Chuck heard what Jeff was doing and Chuck wanted to emulate Jeff. I was there — I was there in the beginning.
"There was times when we were living here in Florida before Chuck moved to California, and Chuck and I both started off as tapetraders back in the day," Kam continued. "And I remember, if you go back to before we were DEATH, we were called MANTAS. If you look at some of the hand-drawn logos of MANTAS, the MANTAS logo, there's the logo with the devil's tail on it, on the 'M'. That's completely stolen from the original POSSESSED logo, the devil's tail.
"I'll say this now, 'cause [former DEATH manager] Eric Greif has passed, he's deceased, but this is stuff that he didn't want me to tell people," Lee added. "That's why I was denied ever being interviewed for the DEATH movie, the DEATH documentary ['Death By Metal']. They denied me, because they didn't want me to say these certain things, because how are you gonna sell a documentary about DEATH if I come on and tell everybody, 'Nah, that's not really how it was'? So they didn't want me on there — they absolutely refused to talk to me on there. They didn't want me to come up and say, 'Oh, yeah, I was the one that drew the DEATH logo, not Chuck.' They didn't want me to tell everybody I'm the one that created that. And they didn't want me to tell everybody, 'Oh, well, Chuck ripped off POSSESSED.' They wanted to sell it like Chuck created it, because they were selling a product. And if you've got somebody come and say, 'Well, that's not exactly how that product works.' Kind of like the [fast food chicken restaurant chain] KFC. I'm sorry, but it wasn't [KFC founder] Colonel Sanders that came up with a special recipe; some other guy came up with it. So that's really what it was."
Becerra told Antihero in 2017 that Schuldiner cited POSSESSED as a "primary influence" in "countless" magazine interviews. But even though DEATH was inspired by POSSESSED, "they ran with it and went in their own direction and created their own vibe," Jeff said. "To go a step further: Chuck used ['80s death/thrash producer] Randy Burns, who did 'Seven Churches' to do 'Scream Bloody Gore', his first album. He also did a cover of [POSSESSED's] 'The Exorcist'."
Back in 2008, Lee was toying around with the idea of re-recording some of the earliest classics from DEATH and MANTAS with various guest musicians. At the time, he wrote in a social media post: "Like it or not... I'm as much a part of that history as Chuck was, and I wouldn't think to do anything to down play his involvement in these songs. The simple truth is that most of the songs on MANTAS/DEATH's 'Death by Metal' demo '83/'84, DEATH's 'Reign of Terror' demo '84 and DEATH's 'Infernal Death' demo '85 — and many rehersal tapes released during this time — we're both lyrically written be me, and sung by me. Yes, both Chuck and Rick wrote the guitar riffs, but I wrote the drum patterns to these songs and the lyrics to most of these tracks. That's the simple truth to it!"