Back in 2018, I was writing a bi-monthly column for VICE’s music site Noisey, and my column for that week was focused on thrash metal’s new wave of legitimacy following its pizza-fueled revival in the late 2000s. Obviously, Power Trip were at the forefront of this conversation, and I got the chance to talk to Riley Gale about his band. Gale made his political opinions clear, calling out Donald Trump and reality TV and laughing about how the Proud Boys talked shit at Power Trip and then never had the conviction to follow through. But what struck me the most was his response when I talked about bands like Municipal Waste being ‘revival’ thrash as opposed to the serious music of Power Trip.
“When I think of a band like Municipal Waste, I really don’t think of them as a rehash,” he said. “They took that party vibe to an extreme, talking about zombies in space and pizza-eating sharks. I consider that an original take on some classic bands. We just drift into a darker side of things.”
I’d given Riley a chance to put his band above other — and he didn’t take it. In his mind, to put one band down for writing about parties so that another who wrote about apocalyptic politics could seem more legitimate wasn’t something worth doing. This theme runs throughout Power Trip’s music, and basically sums up why his death earlier this week struck the metal community so hard. He was one of us, but that meant he wasn’t here to judge unless you were a bigoted piece of shit. And for the current generation of politically-charged metalheads, that was a voice they could relate to.
Most people heard about Power Trip through their live performances. Rumors spread of this thrash band from Texas with hardcore leanings whose shows would get so cramped and rowdy that the ceiling pipes would sweat fuckin’ blood. But things changed drastically with 2013’s Manifest Decimation, a reverb-heavy hardcore-informed piece of thrash metal mastery that made the entire metal scene take notice en masse. Deadly serious even with its ’80s throwback moments and Anthrax-ish stomp-along breakdowns, Manifest reminded fans that there was more to love about the genre than high-top sneakers and patch jackets, that thrash had always been political and dire while at the same time tasty as hell.
But no one could prepare for 2017’s Nightmare Logic. The album took Manifest‘s concrete sledge and took it to brash, exciting new places. Everything was kicked up a notch — the riffs were catchier, the rhythms were more daring, and the lyrics found awesome, thoughtful new ways of getting the band’s dark, topical subject matter across. Whether it was on the radness defined of throwback rager “Executioner’s Task (Swing of the Axe)” or the vital call to arms of “If Not Us Then Who,” Power Trip’s sound had found a footing that cemented them as a vital voice of metal.
And at the center of all this was Riley Gale, a dude in a Slayer cap. But what Riley proved every night on stage, talking to every magazine and website, was that this didn’t mean he was just a throwaway metal bro. Riley spit venom at racism, called for the abolition of the prison system, and referred to audiences as “ladies, gentlemen, all our friends beyond the binary.” He could’ve so easily been a force for self-focus, or even neutrality — how many bands have metalheads seen retreat to the safe zone of, “We’re just here to have a good time?” — but instead, he was outspoken in his convictions, which were centered in the belief of crushing intolerance and giving everyone the best life they can have.
Heavy metal often takes the stand of not taking a stand — or taking a blanket stand that everything just sucks — because it’s easy. We live in an insular world that’s often drenched in dragon metaphors and guitar sponsorships, one we embraced in part because we felt that society at large wasn’t really right for us. But if the past four years have taught us anything, it’s that there’s no escape from society’s ills, and we can either put up our hands and drown out the noise with music, or we can face it head-on. Riley Gale proved that you don’t need to be a New Yorker with a degree in political science to do that — you can be a dude from Texas in a Slayer cap.
When we lost Riley Gale this week, we lost one of us. But the lesson there, that Gale taught the metal community, is that we can be the outspoke force for positivity in the world. Riley’s memory can be honored with raised Lone Stars and deafening blasting sessions, but it’d be better memorialized by fighting ignorance, lifting other metal bands up instead of putting them down, and screaming in the face of the assholes who would ruin the world. Because as he put it, if not now, then when? If not us, then who?
Words by Chris Krovatin