Official biography April 2000 by Laurent Ramadier
Florida in the mid-eighties was international hot-spot of quality Heavy Metal bands. And like in every genre of music, there are leaders and there are followers, Sarasota, Florida's ATHEIST comes from the first category.
The first incarnation of the band came under the name of OBLIVION in 1984. OBLIVION was formed by guitarist Kelly Shaefer and a drummer who shared Kelly's musical tastes. They started writing originals while they were learning to play their instruments. By early '85 the drummer was replaced by Steve Flynn, the band recruited a singer named Scrappy, and changed their moniker to R.A.V.A.G.E. (Raging Atheists Vowing A Gory End).
At a local show they jammed with Roger Patterson (from Bradenton based thrash band AGGRESSOR). Roger joined, they canned Scrappy and Kelly took over on vocals. They started writing again as a three piece act working on originals (such as "Undefiled Wisdom" and "On They Slay") and playing local shows with NASTY SAVAGE and many more.
In August 1985 they entered Progressive Studios in Tampa to record one song "Kill Or Be Killed" which was added to four other songs that were recorded live on a mixing desk. These songs became the "Rotting In Hell" demo. Despite the rough sound, the tape did quite a bit to establish the band's name in the underground via the tape trading and fanzine network.
In November 1986 they added second guitarist, Mark Schwartsberg and a month later recorded their first real studio effort;the "On They Slay" demo. "On They Slay" was a much superior effort to its predecessor. This tape was very well received by the underground, receiving excellent reviews from magazines and fanzines such as Total Thrash, Kerrang, Nightmare and from Violent Noize whose editor was Borivoj Krgin. Borivoj was so impressed by "On They Slay" that he offered them to appear on a compilation called "Raging Death" (alongside future metal heroes XECUTIONER (pre- OBITUARY) and SADUS) issued by the newly formed Godly Records and also became their manager.
"Raging Death" was issued mid '7 and included the tracks "Brain Damage" and "On They Slay. It was a total success for the band despite the limited availability of the record. It was also the first and last time they appeared on a record under the R.A.V.A.G.E. moniker as they decided to change it toATHEIST.
Armed with a brand new name, the band recorded a third effort entitled "Hell Halth No Mercy", another three song affair which featured a new version of "On They Slay" which was much faster and heavier. But the band wasn't happy with the recording and it was scrapped almost instantly.
In early 1988 they recruited Florida-transplant Rand Burkey as second guitar player. In April, with a bunch of new songs written, ATHEIST entered Morrisound Studios to record their fourth demo tape entitled "Beyond". Without any doubt, this five song affair was their most successful effort since it received rave reviews throughout Europe and the USA in mags like BLACKTHORN and METAL FORCES where it was voted by the readers as best demo and best band in 1990! "Beyond"was a hit in the tape trading circles.
ATHEIST had moved up to a supporting band locally and were playing throughout Florida opening several shows for TESTAMENT, VIOLENCE, DEATH, and DEATH ANGEL amongst others. Concurrently, after several months of negotiations, ATHEIST finalized a deal with Mean Machine Records.
The band entered Morrisound Studios in November '88 with Scott Burns as producer (previously known for his work with SEPULTURA, DEATH, WHIPLASH, XECUTIONER, etc) to record their first album "Piece of Time". Almost directly upon completion of recording Mean Machine went bankrupt, forcing the band to look for a new deal.
ATHEIST signed a deal with the U.K. based label Active Records with the hope that "Piece Of Time" would be issued. Unfortunately the album was only released in Europe in early 1990 and almost one year later in The States after being licensed by Metal Blade Records. The band had almost all the material ready for their second album, and ahd even started recording pre-production recordings at Morrsound) before their first album was released domestically!
1990 was a busy year as the band had the opportunity to play big regional shows with NAPALM DEATH, MORBID ANGEL, OBITUARY, FORBIDDEN, DEATH ANGEL, EXODUS and even headline the Tampa Bay Metal Awards. The band closed out the fall with a headlining gig at the Day Of Death festival in Waukesha, Wisconsin (only the second time they had left the state of Florida!) where they played above CYNIC, IMMOLATION, and more and a European tour supporting CANDLEMASS. It was easy to see that ATHEIST were developing at a fast pace into something totally unique on new songs such "Unquestionable Presence", "Enthralled In Essence" or "The Formative Years" that the band had included in their set.
By mid January 1991, the band started their first U.S. tour supporting CANDLEMASS. Unfortunately as the band had finished the tour in California and were driving home, the worst of the worst happened on February 12 in Louisiana when they were involved in a road accident with their van that took the life of bassist Roger Patterson .
ATHEIST carried on and enlisted Tony Choy from CYNIC as a session bassist. The band entered Morrisound Studios with Scott Burns again in June 1991 to record their second effort "Unquestionable Presence". The result is simply amazing and unheard of before so many people didn't understand what the band had tried to achieve with this effort. This album will always remains as one of the most complicated and best effort ever in the Metal archives along with the RUSH, WATCHTOWER, and CYNIC albums.
With that Unquestionable Presence line up, the band played a couple of local shows including a second appearance at the Tampa Bay Metal Awards on September 1st 1991 The show marked also the last performance of Tony Choy in ATHEIST as he choose to join PESTILENCE. Choy was replaced a few weeks later by local bass player Darren McFarland.
Early '92 saw ATHEIST embarking on their second North American tour supporting label mates CANNIBAL CORPSE. The the bill fit ATHEIST better on paper, the band hard a hard time winning over the CANIBAL CORPSE fans and the tour proved to be difficult for them.
By July 1992 the tension from the CANNIBAL CORPSE Tour and instabiolity at the bass position post-Roger's death ahd finished the band, many thought, for good. Kelly began concentrating his new band NEUROTICA, Steve went back to school, and Darren had joined CYNIC for a short time.
While in the studio with NEUROTICA, he had contractual obligations to fulfill with ATHEIST so he had to deliver a last album for Active Records in a short period of time as he had to deliver an album in a 40 days period! He hooked up with Frank Emmi, a GIT guitar player who was playing in local band called GENTLEMEN DEATH, and started to write and rehearse with him, his drummer Mickey and his bass player, unfortunately it didn't work with the Mickey and the bass player. That's when Tony Choy came back into the picture as he wasn't involved with CYNIC anymore. Also while Kelly had worked earlier on some NEUROTICA stuff in Gainesville, he met with Josh Greenbaum the drummer from ALEKA'S ATTIC fronted by the actor River Phoenix and he asked him to join the line up. Two weeks later Rand Burkey was also back in the band, and ATHEIST had a new line up with three guitar players! Mid 1993, the band went on studio but this time at the Pro-media Studios with Mark Pinske as producer (who had worked previously with artists such as Steve Vai, Frank Zappa...). "Elements" was issued this time on Metal Blade in the States, this time fully signed by the label and on Music For Nations in Europe during the first week of September while the band were doing their first real European tour as support for BENEDICTION and with CEMETERY as openers. For this tour they recruited Marcell Dissantos as drummer since Josh had recording obligations with River Phoenix. The tour went throughout Europe and was a real success for them despite the fact that they were once again on a Death Metal bill. On October 24th 1993, the band who had just came back from Europe a couple days before played their last show ever for the release party of "Elements" at the Club Detroit in St Petersburg, Florida. A few days after, an internal dispute over financial matters led to the split of Tony and Marcell, while Randy who was arrested following a felony charge at around the same time prevented him from leaving the country in the future at a time they had a new European tour planned for November 1993 with WARGASM and AGRESSOR. That was the end for them. From that point Kelly concentrated on NEUROTICA.