Friday 5 June 2020

Tyrant - Hereafter (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Doom/Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 May 2020
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Here's another return from out of the blue, this time from the left side of the pond. This particular Tyrant, for there are many, hail from Pasadena in California and they play old school chugging heavy metal with an emphasis on heavy, the standard Judas Priest influence being heavied up even further by new fish Robert Lowe who used to sing lead for doom metal legends Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass.

It all makes for a sound like the Priest at the turn of the seventies into eighties might have found if Rob Halford sang low instead of high. I'd call the sound heavy metal rather than doom, but they're often so close to the latter that they'll often be confused for it, even by fans like me.

The core of the band is founder member Greg May on bass and guitarist Rocky Rockwell, who showed up in 1980, early enough to feature on everything the band has recorded. I remember their eighties albums, Legions of the Dead and Too Late to Pray, but only vaguely. I may have picked them up used back in the day and given them a few spins, but not enough to really take root in my skull. They apparently stuck around long enough to release a third album in 1996, King of Kings, but this is their first in the twenty-four years since. Welcome back, folks.

Hereafter is a daunting album, because it has no pretensions and gets right down to business in ways we're not really used to any more. What constitutes "heavy" has changed a lot over the years and this is heavy in the seventies sense, long before it had to take on other attributes to stay heavy, such as "fast" and "extreme". It's more Priest than Sabbath, but you simply can't be seventies heavy with the Sabbs not showing up as an influence and the middle of Pieces of Mine, to name just one part, is quintessential Sabbath.

This isn't just not fast, in fact it's often almost painfully slow, but it's even heavier than the new Cirith Ungol and that's saying something. Like the Cirith Ungol, this feels like proto-extreme, as if we'll suddenly realise it was actually released way back in 1978, when it was wildly out of sync with everything around it, and so became a pivotal influence on Venom and Celtic Frost and so helped to pave the way for everything we know as extreme metal today.

Until the Day, for instance, really contains no elements that weren't around in 1978, but nobody, not even Black Sabbath, was putting them together quite like this. It arguably took until Candlemass defined a genre and Saint Vitus and Pentagram and others realised what they were playing for this to acquire a name. This often sounds like another band at that point finding their true calling but refusing to ditch their core Judas Priest influence.

That refusal meant that it took me a while to get used to this. If we think of it as a heavy metal album, it's too doomladen; but if we think of it as a doom metal album, it's never really pure enough. With crushingly heavy non-extreme albums like this from Cirith Ungol and Tyrant in quick succession, I wonder if a new genre will rise with a foundation in doom but with guitars that come right out of old school Priest. As I get used to it, I really dig it.

A first listen is like a bludgeoning assault by a band refusing to sound how we expect them to, but we do get used to it and we focus in on the intricacy of the music on a second listen. It still stuns me that Rocky Rockwell is on his own here, as his work often sounds like the twin guitars that we expect from a Priest-influenced band. How many of these riffs are actually the work of Greg May's bass?

This also meant that I tend to think of this as a generous fifty-plus minute slab of heavy metal rather than a set of eleven songs but, the more I listen to it, the more certain of them leap out. Until the Day is one, but the best of them may be Bucolic. It has plenty of intricate guitarwork and it finds a neat groove that speaks to me; Lowe's voice is doomy, grungy and eastern all at once and I love it. In fact, the album wraps up really well, with Beacon the Light and From the Tower both highlights too.

But, after three listens, I'm pretty sure that Hereafter is still growing on me and my list of favourites is likely to change over time. For now, let me just say that it's yet another welcome return for a band we haven't heard in far too long.

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