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Surprising though it may seem, 2019 is the fortieth anniversary of the founding of Grim Reaper by guitarist Nick Bowcott and, although Steve Grimmett wasn’t a member right at the start, he was there by the time the band wrote, recorded and released their debut album ‘See You In Hell’. Almost exactly thirty-six years after ‘See You In Hell’ comes ‘At The Gates’, the fifth album to bear the Grim Reaper name amongst the dozen or more albums Steve has been a part of over the years.

Steve has fond memories of the band’s debut LP, released on Ebony Records in November 1983. “It was just such a great time. Although we were all working at the time I would be constantly on the phone to Ebony to find out exactly how the album was doing, how many copies it had sold, and of course he [Darryl Johnson, Ebony’s owner] was quite excited as well because it was his best-selling album. And then to find out it was going to America, and once it got there we were being asked to go out there and tour… It was like, ‘what? You’ve got to be kidding me!’ It was a great time, but it was very strange!” And of course there’s no way Steve thought he’d still be talking about Grim Reaper in 2019. “No, not at all… I thought it was all over in ’87 or ’88. To be fair, we were having legal problems and all that, we’d been stopped from working and it was just like, ‘right, OK, so this is it.’ So it’s been good to go back out there and give the public what they want once more.”

‘At The Gates’ is the first album to feature the rhythm section of bassist Julian Hill and drummer Mark Pullin, slotting in alongside Steve and his long-term collaborator and guitarist Ian Nash. Despite being very pleased with it, the vocalist admits that at the time of the interview he still hadn’t actually heard the completed item in full. “It’s been such a crazy time getting it finished, and getting it to the label, that I just haven’t had time. But it is there now. We’ve already had an email from Steve Beatty, the label leader, to say that he’s really digging the new album, so that’s a blessing to start off with. Hopefully the fans will like it too,” he laughs again. “I’m really keen to see how it does, because when we did ‘Walking In The Shadows’ we didn’t have a bad review – not one – so I’m hoping for a bit more of the same!

“It’s a slight departure from what we normally do,” he continues, “but it’s us with a modern edge. This time around we didn’t use all the clashing chords which is typical of Grim Reaper. It’s now perhaps straight-ahead, but does sound phenomenal, actually. When we write, we always think about playing the songs live and how the audience will react and sing along, so that’s very important to us. I think we’ve done ourselves justice with that in mind. We’ve been a bit more free-thinking, and thought about things a little more. We didn’t just want to stay where we were. We didn’t want to be stuck in a rut, as it were, and I think we’ve achieved that this time around.”

The album’s eye-catching artwork was something Steve visualised, and was then brought to life by an unlikely source. “It’s the first time I’ve visualised a cover since the first album, with The Reaper on horseback. This one was The Reaper at the gate, and it was my interpretation of what it would have been like, literally, as I was dying in hospital. This was what I would expect it to be. There’s even an homage to my leg on there as well! All the artwork was created by Steve Morrison, one of the guitarists in Tysondog. That’s his passion, he loves doing artwork and I just got in touch and said ‘how do you fancy this? This is what I think it should look like’ and he worked on it and away we came with an album sleeve. Actually all the stuff on sleeve he designed – the back, the jewel case, the CD middle – he did it all and got it smack on. And he’s available, if anyone else is interested!”

A number of the song titles – ‘What Lies Beneath’, ‘Knock At The Door’, ‘Only When I Sleep’, ‘Shadow In The Dark’ – sound like they could be from a compendium of gothic horror stories, although from Steve’s lengthy hospitalisation came a lot of inspiration. “Most of it stems from me losing my leg,” he admits. “We haven’t written an album since that happened so, y’know, laying in bed, the feeling you have when you’re being wheeled down to have yet another operation, that’s basically what a lot of it’s based on. I think that the title track is probably the most personal song for me. With ’Reaper it’s always been quite personal, writing lyrics, but like you said, it’s like the ‘Hammer House Of Horrors’ really: pen-movies boiled down to four or four-and-a-half minutes. But that song in particular allowed me to be a bit more personal about things.”

The band had to adjust to a different way of working for this album. “We – Ian and I – normally get together to write songs which we then flesh out and give to the band, blah-blah-blah, but this time we didn’t do that. This time Ian just wrote it and then I got the songs and started to work on the lyrics…” He pauses. “I don’t know if people are aware but I have had mental health issues since my brother died and basically I dried up. Ian and Mark have stepped in this time around to help me write the lyrics and the melodies, and so in that respect things have been different this time around.”

The recent years have certainly been difficult for Steve, with him losing his leg to an aggressive infection and then his brother’s death, “but I’m getting there,” he affirms. “Sometimes certain things can set me off – something can bring you up, but then the slightest thing will pull me back down again – but it’s basically turned into anxiety. I do feel… Well, we’ve got this tour coming up in the States and I’m hugely excited to do it but, at the same time, until I’m on that plane I’m just like, well, ‘I don’t know if I want to do it, I want to cancel it,’ etc etc. It’s like fighting with yourself all the time. It’s bloody awful, it really is. I’m going to release a statement about mental health fairly shortly on social media, just so that people know and understand what it’s like to go through it. And it can happen to people that they know, and they have to be careful with them because they’re not going to tell you how they feel, because they don’t know themselves; really, they don’t. But once they do tell you that’s when you realise it’s such an awful thing to have to go through. And I’ve been to bereavement courses, things like that, to try and get a handle on the whole thing. I’ve done all that. I was coping OK with my own situation until I lost my brother and then it was a downhill spiral from there. And when you hit rock bottom, that’s not very pleasant. My wife was there when it happened, and it was not very pleasant for her or for me. And then suicidal thoughts came flooding in – ‘everybody would be better off without me’ – but fortunately for me that didn’t last long: I just couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that to my family and, to be fair, I couldn’t do that to my fans either.”

It’s fair to say that one of the things that keeps Steve going is metal. “I love it,” he laughs. “It is that simple. Whilst I was laying in bed in hospital after I’d had my leg removed, I spent a lot of time just thinking ‘how the hell am I going to get back onstage and do what I do, do what I love doing?’ That sums it up for me. I do it for the fans. I do it because I love what I do, playing for an audience and enjoying their reaction. That’s it in a nutshell. I just love it.”

Going back to 1983, when Steve had his band Medusa, I wondered how life would have panned out had he not joined Nick Bowcott in Grim Reaper. “Oh, it would have gone in a totally different direction, I’m sure.  Because Medusa, well, we did OK, but once some of the key members started leaving [Lance Perkins and Eddie Smith joined Wrathchild as Lance Rocket and Eddie Starr respectively] I wasn’t sure what to do. It was funny really because I had a conversation with my father at the time and I said ‘you know what? The only other band I would join is Grim Reaper because I really like them’ – we were rival bands, same kind of area – and lo and behold, about three or four weeks later, Nick phones me up, very drunk, I have to say (which at the time was pretty typical of Nick!) and after the conversation had finished I was thinking, ‘he was trying to ask me something there, I’m sure’ but he didn’t actually get round to doing it. The following day I get a sober phone call with his apologies, and he said ‘what I was phoning about was that I’ve got Grim Reaper and it’s still a working unit, but I just don’t think it’s going anywhere. So what I’d like to do, I’ve got a drummer and a bass player in mind, would you want to join?’ And I immediately said yes because what they were playing was right up my street. So we got together with the rest of the guys and started writing – and having a really fab time, to be quite honest – and the rest is history, as they say.”

The best bit being? “Playing at the Texxas Jam in 1985. It was the biggest crowd I’d ever seen: 83,000 people. There was Victory, us, Bon Jovi, Ted Nugent, Night Ranger, Scorpions and Deep Purple, and it was a stunning day. It was absolutely brilliant. Even down to getting there. We were picked up in a limo and the driver said ‘look, I’m not going to take the normal route in, it’s getting really busy, so we’re going to take the back roads.’ And then Nick and I realised that we’d been past some places several times already and it was like ‘are you lost?’ ‘Yeah, I am…’ OK, that’s brilliant… Time was getting short and we’d got to get there and get changed and all that. We ended up taking a different turn and there was a Sheriff’s office (and obviously his house too) so we told the driver to stop there and get some directions. The Sheriff came out with albums in his hands and said ‘my guys’ sons really love you, will you sign these, and I’ll give you an escort into the stadium.’ Well, yes, cool, and then we had a woo-woo escort all the way into the stadium, just in time to get dressed and go straight up onstage. I swear to god that’s exactly what happened. And in a way I’m glad it did, because had we had time to see the crowd beforehand we would have been, well, I don’t know how to explain politely how I would have felt, but a toilet and a lot of toilet paper would have definitely been involved! But we just got changed and were literally rushed up onstage to start, and it was just like ‘Oh my God, look at that!’ It was at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium and there was just a sea of people. It was fantastic. Daylight, obviously, 135 degrees at the front of the stage, they were pulling people out that were collapsing, then the fire crews got the hoses on the crowd and sprayed the audience with cold water. I’ll never forget it.”

‘At The Gates’ is scheduled for release on 11 October 2019 and is available to pre-order now: