When thrash metal roared into life in the early 80s, it was a shot of punk-infused adrenaline into the arm of a musical landscape that had become somewhat bloated. Harder, faster, and a whole lot more pissed off than the waves of hard rock and glam metal that preceded, it signalled a change in what it meant to be heavy. But, as the decades have past, the sound has grown somewhat blunted with age. Thrash, in its traditional form, simply hasn’t been able sound anywhere near as cutting edge or dangerous as it once did when help up against the likes of Converge, Deafheaven, or Code Orange. Texan group Power Trip, however, seem to have taken that as a challenge, as they defiantly set out to breathe new life into something that many have left behind.
Last year, the Texas outfit made waves with second album ‘Nightmare Logic’, seeing outlets as far apart as Metal Hammer and Pitchfork finding a rare agreement on one thing: this band are the shit. And given that the main chamber of Camden’s Underworld is a heaving, sweaty mess half an hour before the band go on stage, it’s an opinion clearly shared by heavy music’s public.
That public looks different tonight, too, with a particularly unique sight at the bar moments before the lights drop, as three people demonstrate Power Trip’s cross-appeal: An old dude in a retro Metallica shirt, a teenager sporting the latest from hardcore party-starters Turnstile, and a twenty-something bearing the emblem of US emo stalwart label Topshelf Records all anxiously glancing over towards the stage to make sure they don’t miss a second while they wait for their drinks. While such an observation might seem inconsequential, that visual goes completely against the long-held idea that metal struggles to entice listeners outside of its own walls.
The moment Power Trip emerge, that appeal is validated. As they tear into ‘Divine Apprehension’ – with its breakneck pace, flourishing guitar-work and a less-than-subtle homage to Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ in the breakdown – the floor becomes a whirlwind of bodies, the perimeter a union of raised pints. Frontman Riley Gale prowls the stage as he barks, both his presence and delivery owing more to punk icon Henry Rollins than thrash lord James Hetfield, and his band take no time finding their groove, powering along with the reckless abandon of a runaway locomotive.
So furious is their momentum, in fact, that when the time comes for ‘Nightmare Logic‘ opener ‘Soul Sacrifice’ and its intro’s lurching riffing, it’s almost disorientating. Fear not, however, as guitarist Blake Ibanez rips into a frankly ridiculous solo before anyone has the chance to catch their breath fully. Following that is ‘Executioner’s Tax’, the take-no-prisoners single that has brought the band to the fringe of mainstream consciousness (and onto the soundtrack of one of WWE’s NXT events) and, judging by the boom of a packed basement bellowing “SWING OF THE AXE!” back at them, serves as Power Trip’s very own ‘Hit The Lights’.
There’s so much more to Power Trip than reminiscence of what came before, and it’s all underpinned by an urgency and authenticity you just don’t find in bands with their focus solely on the rearview mirror. When Gale screams, “Give me that circle pit! I! Need! It!” before breaking into ‘Firing Squad’ it’s easy to believe that he’s quite literally kept alive by centrifugal force, such is the conviction in his voice. And when he later calls for the crowd to work for an encore with the bizarre, “You gotta earn your dessert, so come on up here and eat your vegetables!” no one even pauses to question what a ludicrous call to arms that ism and instead duly oblige with a stream of stagedives during ‘Manifest Decimation’m before the band make good on their word, ending on a blistering rendition of ‘Crossbreaker’.
For a couple of generations now (the entire lifetime of many in attendance tonight) the vitality of thrash has existed almost exclusively in decades-old recordings and metal mythology. But tonight, Power Trip have dragged that spirit spin-kicking and screaming into the present day.
Words: Ryan De Freitas