Shelter -- alongside Snapcase, Strife, Earth Crisis, and Sick of It All -- were one of the biggest hardcore bands of the mid-'90s. Led by singer Ray Cappo through a variety of lineups and stylistic shifts, the group preached Hare Krishna religious concepts and played high-energy rock music to audiences worldwide; looking likely, for a time, to achieve huge crossover success in the mainstream, which never quite materialized. Still, they raised questions never before pondered by punk rock; offering up a variety of answers culled from Vedic tradition and scriptures, which were embraced for a handful of years by many fans and challenged by many of Cappo's punk peers. Ray Cappo came to underground prominence fronting the late-'80s straight-edge group Youth of Today, a band that would eventually spawn Judge, Project X, and major-label rockers Civ,Quicksand, and Rival Schools. He was the vocalist, lyricist, and spokesperson for the group, who led the pack of '80s positive-thinking, drug-free living, vegetarian hardcore punk "youth crew" outfits. He co-founded New York's Revelation Records, which later relocated to Southern California. But, by the end of Youth of Today's run, he felt dissatisfied, feeling a spiritual yearning. He began to study the teachings of the Hare Krishna movement, and after a trip to India, returned a full-fledged Krishna Consciousness devotee. He decided to make one last album to preach these ideas.
So, together with friends from the band 76% Uncertain, he crafted an album's worth of spiritually challenging, thought-provoking songs, while moving away from Youth of Today's screaming vocal style into more melodic singing. The project was issued by Revelation under the band name Shelter; coined to invoke the idea of a devotee seeking "shelter" from his guru, and ultimately, from Krishna, or God. The album, Perfection of Desire, ignited a new attraction to the Krishna ideas within a hardcore scene previously, if less intently, exposed to them by New York's Cro-Mags. Cappo decided to continue preaching to youth with Shelter as his vehicle. He enlisted some of his old Youth of Today mates to help him go on tour. Shelter toured with Inside Out, and Cappo convinced Inside Out guitarist Vic Dicara to leave his band and join him in the crusade. Together, as devotees, the two preached the religion through hardcore music, and cut the single No Compromise for Cappo's new Equal Visionimprint, with some other musicians helping out. Dicara soon exited the group, forming his own Krishna Conscious outfit, 108. Cappo next enlisted his old Youth of Today partner, guitarist Porcell, who had become a devotee himself. Porcell would stay with Shelter for many years through a revolving cast of members, with he and Cappo acting as consistent leaders, songwriters, and spokespersons. Equal Vision collected the band's first single, along with another called In Defense of Reality, and released them as an album called Quest for Certainty in 1992 (it would be reissued by Revelation a few years later). Cappo gave the label over to his friend and fellow devotee, Steve Reddy. Shelter toured the U.S. and Europe extensively, amassing a large Krishna-minded straight-edge following, and invoking the anger and ire of the more atheist-minded punk rock set. They slept in temples, and chanted outside of gigs, selling the books of sect founder AC Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada at their merchandise tables alongside their records and T-shirts. Cappo also released a book of his own.
Their next album for Equal Vision, 1993's Attaining the Supreme, was their mellowest and most melodic hardcore offering yet. They toured behind it with Norman Arenas playing second guitar; a New York native who would later form Texas Is the Reason, briefly re-join Shelter, and end up in a group called New End Original. In 1995, Shelter signed a deal with Roadrunner Records that allowed Cappo to also release albums under his own Super Soul Records imprint. The first result of that partnership was Shelter's Mantra album, one-half a return to the hardcore anthem style of YOT and one-half melodic punk, recorded with bassist Adam Blake and session drummer Dave DiCenso. They toured with Earth Crisis and several other bands. In 1997, in an effort to bolster their commercial appeal, the band issued the poorly received Beyond Planet Earth, a collection of mismatched songs that ran the gamut from hardcore to pop-punk, industrial music, and even ska. White Zombie guitarist J. Yeunger played on one song as a guest, and the group -- now including former-108 bassist Franklin Rhi -- toured with bands like Goldfinger and No Doubt. They were involved in a very serious van accident while touring for the album, when their driver feel asleep and veered off of a Colorado cliff. Everyone survived, but some had serious injuries which took months to recover from.
Shelter soon parted ways with Roadrunner due to slumping record sales and soaring album budgets. In 2000, they started shopping a raw, self-financed album to prospective labels, eventually releasing When 20 Summers Pass through Victory in the U.S. and Century Media abroad. Though they remained big in South America and parts of Europe, the group's popularity had waned in the U.S. The Krishna fad had all but died in the hardcore scene, and even the group themselves had, a couple of years prior, begun to distance themselves from full-on preaching. Cappo, who had taken on the "initiated" name "Raganutha Das," began referring to himself as "Ray" again, and also sang on a couple of albums for straight-edge project band Better Than a Thousand. They said that the Victory album would be their last, but it wasn't. Despite the departure of longtime collaborator Porcell, partially due to Cappo's public break from the straight-edge lifestyle, Cappo crafted another Shelter album in 2001, The Purpose, The Passion, and released it on his own record label. ~ Ryan J. Downey