ATHEIST – Outer World Tech Rising
You rarely get a second chance to make a first impression in the music world. Born in an era of thrash metal dominance and sustaining a career during the changing of the guard to death metal, Florida’s Atheist put forth three technical death metal album offerings that may have soared over many brains initially but resonate with the current flashy metal bands burning down the pike.
After reuniting for a series of shows in North America and foreign lands, the legions demand a new studio record from vocalist Kelly Shaefer, drummer Steve Flynn and their compatriots. Enter "Jupiter", an 8 song tour de force that makes the long hiatus between albums seem like a minute blip on the radar screen. We feel it’s only natural to probe Kelly with questions to give the readers a fuller sense of what Atheist intend to accomplish in this second go around for world dominance.
When composing material, how much of the process becomes creative versus the editing and refinement side due to the complexity and obvious attention to detail everyone puts towards Atheist?
It’s a bit of both actually.. "Fictitious Glide" for instance came together in one sitting, whereas "Live and Live Again" musically was carved out a bit more over time, but it’s an equal split, and it terms of drums Steve always lays out a skeletal version of the song underneath what we are writing, and then fills in the blanks right up until the moment he hits the studio.
When did the guys actually decide to give it another shot and what encouraged them to continue the Atheist legacy, when, after all, they were some 15-16 years older? Kelly said that it began with rehearsals back in 2008, but still it took some times to get thing going properly again.
We live some 500 miles apart from one another so we had to find a way to get in a groove, so we tried with me and Tony flying up to Atlanta and working things out and we started "Second To Sun" that way. As time rolled on I started writing guitar riff at home in Florida, and compiling them on my computer and arranging some early composites, I would then take those composites to the guys in Atlanta and we would hash them out and include their riffs where needed etc.
Then after we had it stitched together, I would fly home and the band would continue rehearsing that arrangement. and it would progress from there. But as you know we had reunited for shows 3 years before we decided to do another record. Age is not a factor with this band…, it just made out our steak juicier because we marinated that shit for 20 years 🙂
Kelly must be pleased with the positive work within Jeff Wagner’s new progressive metal book Mean Deviation the band received! Nah, not so, since he haven’t seen it yet (laughs).
Someone actually told me that he wrote the book, but did not include Atheist in the book, which I thought was odd. We are grateful when we do look back at what has happened with our music, and what role it has played in today’s technical metal scene. We are humbled by the whole thing. You can never imagine as a young musician that you will ever write a song that any one person cares about, much less a generation, so we are enjoying some great times as a band.
There are many bands that tag their music ‘progressive death meal’, while when Atheist did those first two masterpieces, there were death metal and thrash metal and black metal… How does it feel looking back on how Atheist were not really understood at the time, while now everybody with a slightest ear to technical metal get water in their eyes when they speak of Atheist and especially the first two monsters?
Well, it’s far easier to deal with now of course cause we are finally appreciated, but during those years it was brutal. We were always frustrated with people’s confusion with our music, because to us we really were just playing music that we thought we heard in our heads as quality. But for the years we were together we came away feeling proud of the music, yet discontent about the way others saw it. It would have been presumptuous for us to think at the time it was simply because we were ahead of our time a bit on this progressive metal we were creating. So we simply thought people just did not understand it, and therefore hated it with the exception of an eclectic few.
I appreciate the fact that the band concentrates on top notch songwriting and do not overload the listener with long winded compositions – is this something Atheist are conscious of so that the followers can engage in the songs numerous times to gain a firm grasp of what you are accomplishing? Kelly admits that they don’t aim for long songs.
Well, to some degree we do not wish to have 6 min songs, but we don’t really concern ourselves about the time either, it’s over when we feel like it has made its point, and there is nothing worse than a long winded musical conversation, I hate that. But we focused on the number 8 as far as how many tunes we would have and the duration of the album just happened to be 34 min, and to me that’s perfect, it does not allow you time to become complacent as a listener. It is 100% kill, no bullshitting around.
And with the style of our technicality being layered and orchestrated, it does take many listens to understand everything that is going on around your eardrum as you listen, if it were 6 minutes long, people would be nauseated haha. So while I would not say it’s intentional, it is very natural.
I saw Atheist doing a fine performance back in 2006, at that year’s Hole In The Sky, Bergen, Norway. How do you manage to execute the tracks in a justified way, being slightly older and all? I mean, playing music where you can’t sit still for too many seconds was probably hard back then, and perhaps even harder now…
How fucking old do u think we are brother? (Roy: well, I am 39 myself and feel that Atheist were there since my childhood, haha, so I kinda thought you were like 66,6 or something) We just hit our 40’s and everyone is in great shape, Jonathan is only 25 years old so…, age is really a non factor, if we were 60 then perhaps you would have a point, but for instance Iron Maiden…, those guys some are almost 60, and I don’t care how cool, or young your band is, you will get your ass kicked trying to follow one of their performances, their music is very challenging, and they kept in good shape and they kill it every time I see them, so you young guys out there that want to set us out to pasture with the old cows, better think again and eat your fucking wheaties when playing with these "old" guys, lol.
We come to fight, and that’s the way we perform like we are fighting 40.000 people. Me not having to play guitar on stage has allowed us to become a way more interesting live band, especially for this type of music, we bring a very fun element to our performance that very much involves the crowd, and that does not typically happen with complex music. A lot of bands take themselves very seriously, and spend most of the time staring at their feet, or the necks of their guitars, and there are rarely front men in this form of metal…, so thank you for enjoying the Bergen performance, I remember that show very well, Gojira played that day also…, love that band!
What will the touring situation look like in support of "Jupiter"?
We are going to tour as much as we can, we certainly cannot play 250 shows a year, but the shows we do will all be meaningful and spirited because we do not burn out on tour… And that’s basically what happens to many bands, is they are on these gruelling 8 week rides that cause friction and tension within the ranks… When you are 20 it’s not so bad, it’s much like college, but when you are in your late 30’s and early 40’s it’s tough to live on a bus with 7 people…, even if you love them. So our shows will always see the band in great spirits delivering a performance of a lifetime… …every time.
We look forward to killing it with some new life in the set. We were having great shows with old material, to be able to bring in 4 or 5 new ones is gonna be amazing. The new stuff is so explosive, it will work very well in a live environment I think.
It doesn’t feel like to me that 17 years have elapsed between releases – have Atheist garnered a wider generation of fans who now understand and fully appreciate what the band actually are producing?
It’s the very reason we are talking right now, without this new generation of fans, there would be no new Atheist album, they were so persistent in their demand for new material, we finally caved, so I am deeply grateful to those who stayed in our ears about making new music, we had so much more fun than we imagined.
Today’s tech metal loving fan is widely versed in good music, and they appreciate us in a way we could have only dreamed. Strange how it happened, and very unique. it really does not feel like it has been that long to us either, but even more so when we were writing, it was just as if we had just finished "U. P." and now it was back to the warehouse to create some more metal. It remains to be seen how the general public will take "Jupiter", but thus far a majority of the press on both sides of the pond have spoken, and at bare minimum, it is safe to say that we did not make a stinker lol.
So, come November 9th the people will have their say.
Since there are no lyrics available yet, and these downloading promos include the songs, the cover and some labelwritten textsheet, I’d like you to just go a little bit deeper into "Faux King Christ"! Not only because of the strange title, but also because it’s a tremendous song amongst many terrific compositions..
That is a song that musically I wrote a wealth of the guitars in, though not all of it, but what makes it unique is the strange drum patterns happening underneath it all. It’s this very grooving 6/8 sort of shuffle, and it makes that riff come alive underneath it…
The lyrics are clearly anti-organization, religion, but not in a typical fashion, it’s just my reflection when I think about the madness that religion has caused and the privilege it receives. It’s disgusting and always has been, so in the last 20 years, certainly there has been very many things to cause a need for another look at the hypocrisy that is religion. It is a "Faux" king, people should hold themselves in higher regard rather than dumping all responsibilities on a well told and very inconsistent story built around Jesus Christ. I feel that this is an epidemic of spiritual mental illness in my opinion. I lose a lot of respect for people who stand in church every Sunday waving their hands in the air hoping to get some ‘Jesus’ on them, lol. The promptly roll on into the week and cheat on their wives, tell lies, act exactly in the way they chastise others for, but because they do their time in church they feel like they have some special pass on being a piece of shit due to there religion. WE DISAGREE!…..STILL!
We must ask you if there are more of the same sort to come, more intricate song structures and musicianship par excellence, or is "Jupiter" an album that’ll take you to Mars and let you stay there for years and years to come, being completely satisfied?
Oh no, we have a lot more to say musically. I was chatting with someone the other day in an interview and it dawned on me that this is much like a second life, and in this second life I see 2 more records for sure, and if that’s the case then "Jupiter" will be like the "Piece of Time" of this new era, so I am deeply excited to hear phase 2’s "Unquestionable Presence" hahaha.
We certainly could stop and be proud of what we have returned to say musically on "Jupiter". But with so many new ideas available within our musical gas tanks, we feel like continuing on as long as we are welcome and relevant. Thanks so much to everyone for making this all possible for Atheist. See you all on tour in 2011 and pick "Jupiter" up on Season of Mist Nov 9th! Cheers