When Power Trip toured with Anthrax and Lamb of God last year, it was, by any measure, a break for the Dallas-based thrash band. But for a group that came up in the generally progressive-minded world of hardcore and punk, it also presented a change of political scenery.
“Lamb of God kind of fills the hole that Pantera left,” explains Power Trip vocalist Riley Gale in a recent phone interview. Which means, while Gale stresses that the members of Lamb of God themselves are standup dudes, “there are some totally questionable people who come to see [them].” At one show, for example, Gale remembers watching a guy with SS bolts tattooed on his neck and wearing a Third Reich T-shirt buy $100 worth of merch from the Anthrax table. “We were like, ‘Is this guy serious? Does he even realize that half of Anthrax is Jewish?”
To be fair, those sorts of incidents obviously don’t represent the standard; metal fans fall all over the political spectrum. But similarly concerning things happened frequently enough to make Gale think seriously about what kind of message he was sending from the stage. As Power Trip — which has toured extensively since forming in 2008 — gains more notoriety in the metal world, “there’s this responsibility that we’re taking on,” he says. “Do we want these kinds of fans to start [infiltrating] our shows, do we want to give them a safe space for their ignorance? And it’s like, no, I don’t want to do that. So I feel more obligated to [speak out]. And if it makes some redneck cringe, I don’t really care.”
The political has always come into play in Gale’s writing, but the tone of the band’s latest, Nightmare Logic, which was released by Southern Lord on Feb. 24, plainly reflects an era where reality feels unreal. “I came up with this idea of [existing] in a living nightmare,” Gale says. Societal devaluation of human life is a theme throughout the record, which takes aim at everything from the pharmaceutical industry and religious conservatism to the global shift toward right-wing agendas. Some might sense a prescience in the record, which was written before President Trump was considered a viable candidate; looking back, Gale says, “I don’t want to say I’m vindicated by it, but it’s like, ‘Oh shit, things really are as bad as I thought they were.’”
Musically, Nightmare Logic is a stronger record than the band’s first full-length, 2013’s Manifest Decimation: The riffs are catchier and cooler, the nuances are sharper, and there are some eerie instrumental moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Carpenter movie. But it doesn’t lose the grimy edge that made Power Trip popular in the first place.
“We spent a lot of time getting the sound of the guitars and the vocals: [What you hear is] what was tracked in the studio. That’s what came out of the amps, we didn’t really alter anything in Pro Tools.” The result is classic, galloping thrash in the vein of South of Heaven-era Slayer or Beneath the Remains-era Sepultura: in both sound and subject matter, it’s a record that could have come out during the Reagan years.
Gale gives lots of credit to producer Arthur Rizk, who has a résumé the length of my arm, but is perhaps best known for his work with blackened-thrash band Inquisition. “He’s not afraid to tell you when something sucks … but at the same time he keeps it very positive and knows how to exhaust an idea.”
Power Trip’s current tour — which comes to Pittsburgh this Friday — might not be as high-profile as its last, but will likely attract some of the fans the band gained in the past year. That growing audience is something Gale remains mindful of. It can be hard to forget, actually. Recently, someone called the band “baby killers” on Facebook because the members donated show money to Planned Parenthood; someone else lamented on Twitter, “Please don’t tell me POWER TRIP are liberals?!!” Imperfect as the punk world might be, it’s harder to imagine such sentiments from anyone familiar with Power Trip’s roots.
“We did break through, sort of, in the metal world … and it’s awesome,” Gail says. “But it doesn’t mean I’m going to skirt my personal responsibility to make the world a better place.” For him, that responsibility manifests in many different ways, from touring with bands that aren’t just comprised of white, cisgendered men, to making sure the point of his lyrics make it across to audiences. “If I’m going to be in this band that has some recognition and some popularity,” he adds, “I might as well try to do some good with it.”