Back in the mid eighties Florida started to be one of the most productive area in the whole world as far as quality Heavy/ Thrash/ Death Metal bands are concerned, even if that state of things have somewhat changed during the last six years or so since the scene mainly died as it got overcrowded. And like in every genre of music, there are leaders and there are followers, ATHEIST comes from the first category.
The first incarnation of the band came out under the name of OBLIVION in 1984 and was formed in Sarasota by Kelly Shaefer as guitarist and a drummer named Mark who was soon replaced by Steve Flynn who shared Kelly's musical tastes. They started writing originals such as "State Of Oblivion" at a time that they were starting to learn playing their instruments. By early 1985 they had changed their moniker for R.A.V.A.G.E. (Raging Atheists Vowing A Gory End) and recruited a singer named Scrappy. With that line up they were playing more originals such as "Undefiled Wisdom" or "On They Slay" but also covers from ANTHRAX, EXODUS, TROUBLE, SLAYER... A while later at a local show they jammed with Roger Patterson, a prodigy who was playing bass in the Bradenton based band Thrash act AGGRESSOR and it didn't take long to him to join R.A.V.A.G.E.! At the same time they dropped Scrappy who was too melodic and Kelly took over on vocals. They started it all over again as a three piece act working on more originals and playing local shows with local acts such as B.P., NASTY SAVAGE, HAVOC.....
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 due to a lack of money and that 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 a second guitarist, Mark Sczawtsberg. One month later they recorded their first real studio effort, the "On They Slay" demo, this three song affair 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 the mighty Violent Noize whose editor was the long time underground Metal specialist, Borivoj Krgin. This guy was so impressed by this new effort that he offered them to appear on a compilation called "Raging Death" issued by a newly formed label, Godly Records and also became their manager.
Before the compilation was issued, Mark left the band because the other guys were not so happy with his lead work and was replaced for like two days by a guy named Gary, just enough time for the guy to appear on the shot of the "Raging Death" compilation which featured also future heroes such as XECUTIONER (pre- OBITUARY) and SADUS. "Raging Death" was issued mid 1987 and included the tracks "Brain Damage" and "On They Slay" from R.A.V.A.GE., needless to say that 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 for ATHEIST because they didn't want to be confused with another Illinois based band with almost the same name and they also thought ATHEIST fitted much better their vision.
Armed with a brand new name, the still three piece act recorded a third effort entitled "Hell Halth No Mercy", another three song affair which featured a new version of "On They Slay", much faster and heavier. But the band wasn't happy at all by the sound of that new effort so they never made it available to the public (even if it still made to tape trading lists!). At the same time the band did some local shows as a three piece playing with acts such as XECUTIONER, NASTY SAVAGE...
Early 1988 they finally recruited Rand Burkey as second guitar player who was running sound for them previously. In April 1988 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, NO GLAM FAGS, T. THRASH and METAL FORCES where it was voted by the readers as best demo and best band in 1990! Needless to add that the tape was a hit in the tape trading circles. The band didn't stop here as they opened several shows for TESTAMENT, VIOLENCE, DEATH and DEATH ANGEL (replacing RIGOR MORTIS at the last minute).
Then after several months of negotiations, ATHEIST finalized a deal with Mean Machine Records (a subsidiary label of Three Cherries Records) since Borivoj worked for that new label. The band entered in November 1988 Morrisound Studios with the help of Scott Burns as producer (previously known for his work with SEPULTURA, DEATH, WHIPLASH, XECUTIONER..) to record their first album "Piece Of Time". Unfortunately it appeared a brief while after that it would go nowhere as the label was going bankrupt so the band had no other way than looking for a new deal. So during 1989 both Roadracer and Active Records showed interest in the band, and ATHEIST signed a deal with the U.K. based label, Active Records (fronted by Metal Forces scribes) with the hope that "Piece Of Time" would be issued worldwide in a short period of time at a moment when more and more Florida Death/ Thrash Metal acts were putting their mark on the scene. Unfortunately the album was only released in Europe in early 1990 and more than six months later in The States after being licensed by Metal Blade Records.
It went as far as the band had almost all the material ready for their second album (and they even performed some of it on a regular basis) while their first album wasn't yet issued! During 1990 the band had the opportunity to play relatively big local shows with acts such as NAPALM DEATH (who played their first show ever in the States!), MORBID ANGEL, OBITUARY, FORBIDDEN, DEATH ANGEL, EXODUS and even headlined for the first time the Tampa Bay Metal Awards on September 1st 1990 followed three weeks later by another headlining gig, this time at the Day Of Death festival in Waukesha, Wisconsin where about 25 other bands appeared such as HELLWITCH, OBLIVEON, CYNIC, IMMOLATION, REVENANT... a real success for the band (which was only the second time they left the state of Florida to play a gig, the first was in Louisiana) despite the poor turnout for such a festival.
For those who followed the band for a long time, it was easy to see that ATHEIST were developing at a fast pace into something totally unique as it could be heard on songs such as "I Deny", "Piece Of Time" and newer stuff such as "Unquestionable Presence", "Enthralled In Essence" or "The Formative Years" that the band had included in their set. It would be criminal to not mention that the band entered the Morrisound Studios again in August 1990 to record a pre production tape for their second album featuring six brand new tunes where Roger can be heard at its best in my opinion. A pre production tape which was supposed to be included as a bonus thing when the second album was issued in 1991 but that never happened unfortunately for unknown reasons.
Mid December 1990 saw the band going in Europe for the first time, in Scandinavia to be exact, as they played three shows there supporting CANDLEMASS (who were also on the Active rooster), one in Norway and two in Sweden including one in Fagersta where the band played at a festival along with ENTOMBED, KAZJUROL, MORGOTH and CANDLEMASS. Those gigs showed that the European crowds weren't afraid to accept the kind of Metal ATHEIST played but only three dates were allowed to the band. By mid January 1991, the band started their first U.S. tour supporting CANDLEMASS for about 28 dates including one in London, Ontario, Canada and despite the poor turnout for CANDLEMASS on most of the dates, it gave live experience to the band.
Unfortunately as the band had finished the tour in California and were driving home, the worst of the worst happened in Louisiana when they were involved in a road accident with their van and the Metal scene lost one of the most brilliant musician's ever and also one of the most down to earth person in Roger Patterson on February 12th 1991. Roger Lee Patterson was just 22 when he died.... But the band carried on and tried to enlist ex-WATCHTOWER/ RETARDED ELF bass player, Doug Keyser to record the second album ( the band were supposed to enter the studio to record it just after they were back from their first U.S. tour at first) but he refused, saying that it wasn't his style of music...bollocks if you ask me but anyway, the band finally decided to enlist as session player, Tony Choy from the Miami based act, CYNIC- a band who had shared the stage with ATHEIST a couple of times in 1990, and the band entered Morrisound Studios with Scott Burns again as producer 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 albums and the CYNIC one. With that new line up, the band played a couple of local shows, including a second appearance at the Tampa Bay Metal Awards on September 1st 1991 where Roger was voted as best bassist as a posthumous thing, that show marked also the last performance of Tony Choy in the band at that time as he choose to join as a session thing the Dutch band, PESTILENCE for their upcoming U.S. tour with DEATH. Unfortunately ATHEIST weren't expecting that as they were on the verge to go on tour.
Choy was replaced a few weeks later by a local bass player previously seen in BLACKOUT, Darren McFarland, another amazing bass player. With him they played more local shows including the release party show for their album and one week later another one with CORONER. Early January 1992 saw ATHEIST embarking on their second U.S./ Canadian tour, this time supporting labelmates CANNIBAL CORPSE and having GORGUTS opening for them. But like it was easy to imagine, it was the wrong bill for ATHEIST as the guys were yelled at during some shows mostly in Toronto, San Antonio and Chicago by people who didn't expected that kind of technical thinking Metal mixed with the ultra brutal straight forward animalized sounds of C. CORPSE or GORGUTS. Spring 1992 saw the band headlining local shows with acts such as DECEASED. There was talks about seeing the band doing a European tour in April/ May 1992 with SUFFOCATION and GOREFEST as support (it went as far as having the dates published in the mags in Europe) but the two other bands did the tour without ATHEIST, the reasons are still mostly unknown to this day why they didn't come in Europe...
By July 1992 the band was no more. Kelly concentrated on a band he had joined named NEUROTICA, a Rock orientated band, Steve was back to the college, Rand was doing nothing and Darren had joined CYNIC for the recording of their album but it didn't work with him. But before Kelly could really concentrate on 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.