In 2020, Tyrant finally released their fourth studio album: Hereafter. It was their first full-length after 24 years – and their first record with Robert Lowe. As you probably know, I already had the opportunity to interview the ex-Solitude Aeturnus and ex-Candlemass vocalist for our blog. We talked a while about Tyrant but also a lot about other projects like Grief Collector. That’s why I’m really glad to present to you today an article which is based on a nice chat with Greg May, founding member and bassist of the US American heavy metal legends who entered many best of lists with their aforementioned comeback release Hereafter, including mine, for sure. Enjoy reading!
9 a.m. in Los Angeles
First of all Greg May tells me that he’s feeling fine – even if the pandemic leaves its mark in everybody’s life, of course: «It’s so long now. You have to wear these stupid masks and stay away from everybody.» But it’s obvious that Tyrant‘s bassist is an optimistic guy because he doesn’t really complain about the current situation during our interview. On the contrary, he’s apparently really glad to have the opportunity to constantly communicate with fans and media since releasing Hereafter: «It’s just been great!» Good conditions for a nice chat!
Keep it True 2009
When talking about Tyrant‘s aforementioned latest record, you can’t leave out one of the most famous underground metal festivals on this planet: Keep it True, located in Lauda-Königshofen, Germany. Tyrant‘s appearance in the venerable Tauberfrankenhalle on 24 April 2009 was nothing less than a game changer. But as a first step, I’d like to go farther back in time in order to point out the enormous impact of this event: Greg reminds me of the 90s when heavy metal «was basically completely dead» in the US. He’s still happy with their third longplayer King of Kings, released in 1996, which, in my opinion, definitely would have deserved much more attention due to its high quality. Unfortunately, it was really «a bad time» for traditional metal bands like Tyrant, not only in the US. Greg: «After releasing King of Kings, things were dying down. But Tyrant has always been there. We’ve done a few tribute records for Dwell. We were staying busy!».
I’m quite sure that many of our readers don’t know Tyrant‘s cover stuff yet. They performed the following songs:
- Children of the Grave (Black Sabbath)
- Over the Mountain (Ozzy Osbourne)
- Killed by Death (Motörhead)
- Tyrant (Judas Priest)
- 747 (Strangers in the Night) (Saxon)
- China White (Scorpions)
In 2007 or 2008, Greg can’t remember exactly when it was, the band received a fax from Germany (He laughs: «We didn’t have a computer. It was pretty barbaric!»). Oliver Weinsheimer, who organizes Keep it True since 2003, asked Tyrant to play a set at his festival – and the US Americans finally accepted his offer. Greg is still stoked about this event: «Oliver is a great guy, really cool. He treated us very well!» Apparently, the stay in Southern Germany was like a class reunion: «We all stayed at the same hotel over there: us, Armored Saint, Lizzy Borden, Abattoir. In my early twenties, we played with these guys almost every weekend! The atmosphere was great, we were all alive, apart from Dave Prichard, of course…» It is not exaggerated to say that Tyrant‘s appearence at Keep it True 2009 was a historic event: «We returned with all four original members. Rob Roy, who only played on our debut Legions of the Dead, did a great job on drums. He had to learn songs from Too Late to Pray and King of Kings as well.» Fortunately, the fans in Lauda-Königshofen were enthusiastic about Tyrant‘s return. Greg: «I thought we just killed it!»
- Warriors of Metal (from Legions of the Dead)
- Beyond the Grave (from Too Late to Pray)
- Listen to the Preacher (from Legions of the Dead)
- The Battle of Armageddon (from Legions of the Dead)
- Legions of the Dead (from Legions of the Dead)
- The Nazarene (from Too Late to Pray)
- Beginning of the End (from Too Late to Pray)
- King of Kings (from King of Kings)
- Too Late to Pray (from Too Late to Pray)
- War (from King of Kings)
Greg remembers: «It was an unbelievably great experience. It was sold out. People still loved our music. And they asked us, if it was just a one-off or if we were back for good and if we would write new songs in the future. Are you gonna do a new album?» It wasn’t that easy… Greg: «Rocky said that he had some riffs in his head. But Rob didn’t have time, he was very involved in his company, his work. That was really disappointing because we were the original four horsemen.» Anyway, Tyrant‘s guitarist Rocky Rockwell and Greg started working on new material afterwards. Their gig at Keep it True was definitely a great incentive for the band. «We did a bunch of festivals, we started doing festivals all the time after that, we’ve been doing festivals pretty much every year since 2009. But we got tired of doing the same set that we put together over and over again. We were looking to do a new album and we started working on the music you can hear on Hereafter, the title track and «Dancing on Graves», «Fire Burns» Rocky did one half of the songs, I did the other half of the songs musically.» But Tyrant‘s loyal fans had to be patient for a very long time…
On 5 October 2017 Tyrant played at Frost and Fire Festival in Ventura, California, organized by Night Demon‘s vocalist and bass player Jarvis Leatherby, who also manages bands like Visigoth, Cirith Ungol and Satan. In retrospective, this performance deserves the label «historic» as well, just like their aforementioned performance at Keep it True 2009.
It was their first show with Robert Lowe who replaced Greg’s brother who sang on every Tyrant record before. Not an easy decision, for sure! Unfortunately, Glen’s job hadn’t allowed him to work on the material for Hereafter in the past – that’s why the band eventually hired the ex-Soliude Aeturnus and ex-Candlemass frontman who already talked about this issue in our interview for Epic Metal Blog in December. Greg points out Robert’s appearance in 2017. He laughs: «He looked like Rob Halford when I picked him up at the airport: Leather jacket, bald headed, glasses!»
However, there is yet another reason why Tyrant‘s gig at Frost and Fire Festival was a very special one: The band came out with a new set of ten totally new songs which weren’t officially released at that time. Greg: «We were really proud of our new music! We’ve been working very hard on writing these songs – that’s why we were excited to play new stuff. And the crowd liked our new material, too. The new era had begun!»
But how did the fans react on the final versions of new material, three years after their performance at the Majestic Ventura Theater in California? Greg: «I must have read a hundred reviews, and there was only one bad review. This guy was just an idiot. He asked: Why did Tyrant come back? They didn’t need to. There are so many great new bands around and such stuff, you know. You don’t need those guys! But most of the reviews, nine out of ten, said: Thank God Tyrant came back! And the fans liked Hereafter, too: In November, people started releasing their best of lists and we were on many of them – sometimes we were on number one or three, often in the top ten. By the way, I noticed that many people who like Cirith Ungol‘s Forever Black put us on their lists, too. It’s been great! This kind of feedback is everything to us. I can’t ask for any more! Remember, we came back after 24 years. My bass was covered in dust, and only now I picked it up!» Nevertheless, Greg isn’t completely satisfied because Tyrant weren’t able to tour after releasing their acclaimed comeback album. In the event of a near future without pandemic-related restrictions, he’d like to bring Hereafter live on stage, of course, definitely in Europe as well: «If somebody wants to fly us in, we’ll be there. We’re ready to go, man!» Well, I’d be there…
There can be only one Tyrant
As you surely know, there is a bunch of bands called Tyrant – it’s obviously a very popular name for a heavy metal outfit. When talking about this delicate issue, Greg is rather self-confident. «I chose the name at the age of 16, in 1976! I thought of a pretty cool name which described my attitude about heavy metal. There was no internet and I didn’t know about other bands called Tyrant in the US, I was the Tyrant. In 1983, we were already playing a couple of shows that were sold out. Things were happening really fast: Metal Blade Records, with Brian Slagel, signed us up and it went on on an international level. Then we heard about other bands called Tyrant, but we laughed and said: We kick their ass!» Greg adds: »We were some bruisers, some barroom rollers at that time, you know.» But after releasing their debut album in 1985, it became an issue because sometimes Legions of the Dead was wrongly sorted in the record stores. «We didn’t want to have records from other Tyrants in our bin. Luckily, Metal Blade had the better distribution, I think, and the guys at the record stores finally put the albums in the right bin. We didn’t worry about the other bands anymore.»
Greg is convinced that there can be only one Tyrant: «In the 80s other bands must have noticed us. As I said, we had a contract with Metal Blade. We were everywhere! How did you not know that we where here? Our debut was even in the top ten import charts of Kerrang! magazine, two issues running. And in 2009, we played at Keep it True, not that German band called Tyrant – they booked us, we came all the way from LA! Where were they? We played in their backyard!» Greg laughs: «To me, it seems so crazy, I’m the Tyrant, there are so many names for bands… Now, we’re back with a great new record and singer – where are the other Tyrants? We’re on top of the hill. I don’t see you from up here! Where are you?»
Favourite albums of all time
At the end of our interview, we talked about Greg’s favourite albums of all time. It’s obvious that he prefers classic stuff:
- Judas Priest – Sin after Sin
- Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny
- Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
- UFO – Force it (Greg: «I love Michael Schenkers’ sound on this record, it’s so heavy.»)
- UFO – Obsession
Greg: «I also like the first two Iron Maiden albums. Paul Di’Anno had an original sound. Dickinson sounds like Dio to me. But, don’t get me wrong: I love Dio, Rainbow – Rising, Long Live Rock’n’Roll. But my number one is Black Sabbath, all records. Savatage is great, too.» Greg is rather critical regarding young bands. At the moment, he doesn’t see an upcoming headliner for the great festivals or a band who is destined to be the new face of heavy metal: «To me, they often sound like Tony Iommi, Rob Halford or Ronnie James Dio, there are also a lot of bands that remind me of Led Zeppelin, for example. (At this point we talked about Greta Van Fleet, BB) But they can’t give these guys any kind of competition, you know. I’m not hearing anything new. They don’t sound original. There’s no new metal anymore. Bands like Korn, Limp Bizit and Linkin Park had a new sound, they used rap. For guys like my son, he’s in his mid-20s, metal is dead. We need new bands!» Anyway, Greg appreciates Night Demon: «We’ve played with them numerous times. They sound good, nothing negative about it – and Jarvis is a great guy. He’s keeping metal moving in the right direction.»
Apparently, there’s still hope, even in his view. And I’m quite sure that Greg could discover some gems on our blog in the future. Otherwise, he could simply work on new Tyrant stuff with Rocky, Robert and Ronnie – I wouldn’t complain about it, especially when studio album number five would be as epic as Hereafter.