Riley Gale was just a guy. He never walked into a venue where he was instantly recognised. He could be the guy setting up merch. Or running the door. Or untangling cables on a packed venue stage. Just a guy.
The frontman of Dallas thrash metal band Power Trip, who has died at the age of 34, was part Otto, The Simpsons’ everyman bus driver. He was part lowly comic bookstore employee, the one who tries to get you to reconsider your purchase and buy something cooler by Grant Morrison instead. The guy was plain. He wore holey Obituary t-shirts and the sort of peeked cap you get free after buying a six-pack of beer at a gas station. You know: ordinary.
And then he opened his voice.
Riley was no Montserrat Caballé, but the authenticity of what he said, and how he said it – onstage and off – was as pure as virgin snow. Onstage he sang like a dog barking at a dustbin van. Offstage he was calm, even serene, the cool best mate you’d love to have. The world of DIY music preaches that there’s no difference between the people on stage and the people out front. The message is that ‘we’re in this together’. Few bands remember this when you’re backstage eating their sandwiches. Riley wouldn’t mind. He’d give you his last butty.
“[Music] made me feel included,” Gale remembered of his years out on the floor. “As much as I would love to be able to flip into the crowd and hang out with everyone like that, I just usually injure myself. But when I see people do that, it gives me that same feeling that I had back then. That’s why we do it.”
Riley had earned the right to be listened to. With Power Trip, he was the fulcrum of an outfit that found themselves at the forefront of a thrilling new wave of heavy music – a scene that includes the likes of Code Orange, Turnstile, Knocked Loose, Higher Power and Enforced. Humbly, Riley called it “a generation of bands that are worth their salt”. The scene combined a lot of aggression, an infusion of metal’s girth and power and a peppering of hardcore punk to keep the pomposity at bay. Power Trip, like their peers, were a band non-plussed about rock stardom. This didn’t mean they were coming quietly.
“If you don’t like our stances, don’t support our band,” Gale told Revolver magazine in 2018. “We try to make it pretty clear that we might all be white males, but this is not a band for white males to enjoy and be dumb rednecks.”
He’d earned the right to be heard, and his music demanded it. 2013 debut album ‘Manifest Decimation’ saw Riley’s words dealing with themes of government and religious suppression. It featured samples plucked from Robocop 2 and early Coen Brothers joint Blood Simple. His vocals, drenched in echo, sounded a little bit like Lemmy shouting for help from the bottom of a well. ‘Heretics Fork’ sounded like a thunderstorm run through a Marshall stack. The mid-temple ‘Crossbreaker’ proved the Texas band were more than mere revivalists. Off to a flyer, then.
They were just getting started. Album two, 2017’s ‘Nightmare Logic’, is a modern metal masterpiece. Lyrically it homes in on the greedy CEOs, the corrupt bosses, the one per cent who skim the cream off society’s hard labour. Musically it takes the blueprints that helped construct ‘Manifest Decimation’, then whacked whopping great big awnings onto the side. It was bigger, bolder, better: when Riley screamed, “You’re waiting around to die / how can you live with it / Just waiting around to die / AND I CAN’T FUCKING STAND IT!” on, um, ‘Waiting Around To Die’, he articulated the feelings of a generation gasping to feel hope, who had been born into a broken world.
It’s a tough listen today, knowing that it’s one of the last times we’ll hear Riley roar.
Riley spoke softly, but his words carried weight. When Conservative wet wipe Greg Gutfeld played their music on FOX News, the band vocally issued a cease-and-desist. Riley used his platform in the music press to rail against gun ownership and inequality (and, crucially, for professional wrestling). Increasingly he spoke eloquently about the ever-widening gulf between political alignments, and how we must inch towards each other if anything is going to change.
Prophetically, he often talked about death.
“Death doesn’t hit me very hard,” he once told Metal Hammer magazine. “I internalise it a lot. I sort of think it’s a relief. I think that when you die, you die. That’s really negative-sounding, but it’s not negative; it’s actually very freeing to think about! You got this life – go for whatever you wanna go for. Go for your biggest dreams. And if you fail, become a fucking drunk!”
Riley Gale was just a guy – but what a guy he was.