TYRANTS ARE a music writer's worst nightmare: They're impossible to pigeonhole. In the course of 30 seconds, the group schizophrenically oscillates between knuckle-dragging minimalism and brazen technicality. Their live show is like a DIY version of Cirque du Soleil—drummer Chris Lytsell annihilates a drum set consisting of only a snare and hi-hat, while bassist Ted Spas bounces around in an irrepressible bout of mania, as if he's channeling the ire and anxiety of an entire generation of misunderstood punks.
There's no shortage of weird, heavy bands in Portland, but Tyrants' weirdness, at its essence, owes more to OG freaks like Devo and Captain Beefheart than the rigid, angular eccentricity of '90s post-hardcore, the signpost-of-the-week for modern punk bands. Tyrants make fucked-up music without even trying.
The group's latest cassette, Dark Match, reflects their live performance in a way no previous release has, for the obvious reason that it's their first official physical album with guitarist Nate Gilds. "We were going to do an LP, but those things are prohibitively expensive, and the vinyl industry is clogged with plants putting out the Frozen soundtrack," says Spas. In lieu of vinyl is a zine that accompanies the physical version of Dark Match, which the band considers a satisfactory substitute. "What really is the point of [an LP]?" asks Spas. "Is it to create some illusion of realness? Like, we actually made this thing and it's on this format that connotes, 'We are a real, pro band'? Well, we're not."
In a musical climate where "rock" is a dirty word (and "punk" isn't far behind), Tyrants make a point to reclaim the term, to restore an iota of legitimacy and specificity to what has become an overly broad descriptor that can be applied to everyone from Chickenfoot to Kings of Leon. But while Spas is a rock 'n' roll purist who encourages the use of the term and embraces its ideological tenets, Dark Match is a record intent on shedding clichés—the group has a strict “no fluff” policy and guitarist Josh Fulgham claims he was originally attracted to the band because there were “no riffs.”
"Tyrants came out of my early mid-life crisis, where I was like, 'I really want to keep playing rock music, but a lot of the posturing and imagery is just really tired and inappropriate for a man of a certain age to be doing,'" says Spas. "[Being in a rock band] is not a dangerous thing to do, or even a super cool thing to do—you're just a person, doing what people in this town do."