Power Trip: The philosophy of brutality
The rise of a Texas thrash-metal force of nature
Last year, in an interview with the British music website The Quietus, Riley Gale, singer and frontman for the Dallas, Texas punk/metal five-piece Power Trip, was asked about his interest in philosophy. His answer: About 450 words on Foucault, Derrida, existentialism, social conditioning, and how he relates to the "general attitude of obliterating traditional perspectives," just like many of the French post-modern thinkers. "That intrigues the hell out of me, and makes for some killer song topics," Gale told The Quietus.
Since that piece appeared, Gale hasn't seen a noticeable increase in the number of people at Power Trip's shows wanting to engage him in philosophical discussions. "At shows and stuff, it's not a classroom," he says. "It's supposed to be an outlet. It's supposed to be something fun. I'm not trying to get everybody to sit down and think about their worldview or the things that I may write about in songs," he adds. "But that's not why I think people come. We're not out there changing the world. I have a chance to say something poignant, so I'm going to, but I'm not trying to hammer it into anybody's brain or shove it down their throats, especially not at the expense of a good time, which is what I'm trying to have, too."
Over the past six years, Power Trip has fueled more than its share of good times with its burly blend of muscular hardcore and throaty thrash metal — a mix that has drawn the band comparisons to crossover icons such as Cro-Mags and Nuclear Assault. For most of its existence, Power Trip's reputation has been that of a must-see live act, with Gale emerging as a massive shard of glass flying around in a violent windstorm.
In June of 2013 the band released its first full-length, the relentlessly brutal but melodic Manifest Decimation (Southern Lord Records). The album received nearly universal praise from critics and fans alike, and has sold far better than Gale anticipated. It also made Power Trip one of the most talked-about heavy bands of the year, a status the group only recently started to grasp during its headlining U.S. tour, begun earlier this year. It went so well that Gale thinks it might've "charged up" his band mates to commit more of their time and energies to keeping the band on the road.
That would go a long way toward capitalizing on Power Trip's recent success, which is something that Gale wants. "I think we're in kind of an upward trajectory, so I've tried to keep that momentum going," he says. But Gale, who moved to Chicago earlier this year, has yet to put all his eggs in Power Trip's basket, "and throw that basket off the cliff," he says.
Gale has other interests — writing, for one — and is content to pursue them if music doesn't work out. Still, he knows this is Power Trip's time. "I always want to push the band harder. I think you've got to strike while the iron is hot, all that clichéd shit. But if it doesn't happen then I just have to, I dunno — live," he says. "I'm satisfied with what we've done, but I could always do more, and if we slow down and people stop caring, then maybe it's a sign that we weren't as lasting as we may have thought."
If that were the case, at least Gale and his mates will have left behind Manifest Decimation, an album that's devastatingly fast and heavy, but also instantly pleasing thanks to its catchy guitar riffs and leads. The album's eight songs project a depth not often found in thrash, largely the result of an in-studio decision to crank up the reverb.
The reverb was a reaction to the production of a lot of thrash records, which Gale says sound too clean. But there was a more sinister thematic motive, too.
"The vibe that we wanted to create was that we were trying to break through some portal of hell," Gale says. "I kinda wanted the album to be an exhausting experience, because it was an exhausting experience for us. And the world — if you're not a completely selfish person and you carry the weight of other people's problems with you — is a heavy place. We wanted to put out a heavy record that kind of showcases the sort of vision of the world that I'm seeing."
Across Manifest Decimation, that gloomy vision is communicated: "Under the boot of great oppression we slither and crawl," Gale screams on the title track. And in the savage pace of "Conditioned to Death," the solitary furor of "The Hammer of Doubt" and the chug of "Murderer's Row," Power Trip does a brutally beautiful job of capturing his point of view.