Ten Years of Power Trip, Texas Hardcore Heroes
A look at the legacy of the Dallas hardcore band, who recently celebrated their 10th anniversary with a hometown mosh-gala.
Power Trip is one of the reasons I’m most proud to be a Texan. They’re as integral to the state as the Rothko Chapel, Willie Nelson, Pantera, UGK, the Astrodome (RIP), the ol’ drip in Boomhauer’s voice, and a #2 at Whataburger with cheese, Whatasized with a Dr Pepper. Whatever it is, you’re gonna get a lot of it, and it’s gonna go harder than anything else—and in Power Trip’s case, that’s some of the best thrash metal in the universe right now.
Earlier this month, they celebrated their 10th anniversary with a hometown mosh-gala at Dallas’ Canton Hall, with a pre-show the night before at Club Dada. Yes, Power Trip have been a band for ten years now. You might have gotten hip to them when 2016’s Nightmare Logic got a lot of well-deserved accolades, but they’d already been sweating it out in and around Dallas since 2008, decimating any house show, DIY spot, or club they came to wreck. Vocalist Riley Gale, guitarists Blake Ibanez and Nick Stewart, and bassist Chris Whetzel were hardcore kids with a taste for thrash metal violence, and in 2011 they linked up with likeminded drummer Chris Ulsh, who also plays in some of the best bands in Austin, including Mammoth Grinder, Impalers, and the deceased Hatred Surge.
Power Trip have come a long way over the years—they’ve moved from house shows to bigger venues, thought this might be the first show they’ve headlined with a bathroom attendant. Gotta make sure your hands are clean when you pay the “Executioner’s Tax,” ya know? One thing that hasn’t changed is how hard they bring it. Watching them rip into “Manifest Decimation” at the beginning of the set felt like watching them when their debut album of the same name dropped in 2013: something ripping this way comes.
Power Trip are almost never not on tour. They’d just come off a string of dates opening for Danzig (“Danzig bought my groceries every day,” Gale bragged). Opening for the former Misfits frontman—or for Obituary or Lamb of God, which they’ve also done—they had to win over old heads who maybe haven’t listened to a new thrash record since Metallica cut their hair, which is something they don’t have to do in Texas. But Power Trip don’t coast. They play like they still have something to prove. Gale asks for a circle pit, and he gets one. He doesn’t have to beg, but Power Trip know they’re not entitled to one unless they deliver the goods.
If you’re a Texan, you constantly live between loving and absolutely hating your state. You have a lot of pride for what Texas does well (see the intro) and a lot of shame for what it doesn’t do right (see earlier in November). Introducing “Hornet’s Nest,” Gale told the audience that he wrote it about the moment he realized he’d never be in the one percent (and, by extension, how we’d never be in the one percent). It was the rallying cry we needed to hear, especially after an election that didn’t go our way. But while Power Trip does honor to the conscious strain of thrash that informed bands like Nuclear Assault, Gale doesn’t see himself as Thee Orator.
“I’m trying to figure out what’s my place to speak out on these issues,” Gale said after the show at Mama Tried, a Honky Tonk bar just a couple blocks up from Canton. (We had to keep the brand very Texas.) “I’m not scared of being political, but I’m figuring out what there is to say, because I’m not that articulate…Ask me in a year—or if I get really political like Barney from Napalm Death, then you’ll know.”
I’ve seen Power Trip who knows how many times; the only people who’ve probably seen them more than me are probably Hood, their faithful merch dude; friends who have tagged along on a tour; and anyone else who lived in Dallas when they started. People jumping off balconies and monitors is par for the course, though Saturday was the first time I’ve seen them stop the show because someone went too hard stagediving (during “Soul Sacrifice”). But Power Trip have seen crazier.
“In the London show, we had to stop it three times for the same reason, and that was a 5,000-[person] show with Trivium and Code Orange,” Gale said.
The Power Trip pit is a mythical place. It’s sprawling like Dallas, massive in area and flux. “We’re having a unity pit tonight,” Gale declared, getting at the secret to why people go nuts at Power Trip shows. It’s not any sort of magic or coercion.
“I think we’re inclusive, and we encourage people to have fun any way they want to,” he says. “I want people to let out that positive aggression in a safe environment,” he said.
The event felt celebration of Texas hardcore at large, its multi-band format harking back to Chaos In Tejas, the legendary Austin punk fest. Austin’s Criaturas played the pre-show—the first of three appearances during the weekend from Power Trip drummer Chris Ulsh, the Hardest Heshing Man in Show Business. They’re make some of the most urgent-sounding punk around, with Ulsh offering warped d-beat solos on lead guitar and vocalist Dru Molina taking the Discharge snarl and giving it her own authority. The next night, Houston’s Back to Back made quite the return to Dallas, offering a blistering set that combined Negative Approach’s bleak outlook with that signature Texas toughness.
Hardcore in Texas did not begin with Iron Age—another band that played that weekend—but it’s difficult to imagine it before them. They laid the foundation for Power Trip in a lot of ways, drawing heavily from NYHC crossover, a sound Gale credits Iron Age for introducing them to. Iron Age also came up in an era where thrash was making a “comeback”; despite not being a part of that movement, they managed to eclipse every band in it, as Power Trip would do later on.
Iron Age haven’t put out a record in almost a decade, but their set—slotted in the middle of the Canton Hall show—still had kids flying and willing to risk it all. They and Power Trip were both born from hardcore, which means that they’re the kind of bands that bring hardcore fans out the metal gig. That’s also true of Eternal Champion, Iron Age vocalist Jason Tarpey’s current focus, who also played the pre-show.
“There’s that joke that Iron Age is the future,” Gale said. “I think it was riff off the fact that they were too cool when they came out. If they came out now, they would be huge.”
Power Trip revere Iron Age—they even dedicated their performance of “Crucifixation” to them. And while they view Tarpey as something of a mentor, the scene veteran seems more in awe of them, in a way.
“The thrash scene didn’t even see them coming, because they were in the hardcore, and by the time that first LP came out, I think the thrash scene was like, “How the fuck are they better than us?” Tarpey said over the phone a couple days after the show. “They intimidated a lot of bands, and still do.”
So what is it about Texas hardcore? Why do people worship bands like Power Trip and Iron Age with exceptional fervor? I tend to fall back on the “everything is bigger” argument —we kick more ass because we’re Texans, and we’ve got a reputation to uphold. There’s a splash of underdog mentality in there too: When we prove ourselves, we prove it. “I think that’s what’s gives our bands that extra something,” said Tarpey. “Every genre, there’s a big handful of people who would say a Texas band is their favorite band.”
Gale echoes the sentiment. “There’s confidence here,” he said. “We were overlooked for a long time and people are starting to pay attention and kids are hungry to get this music out there. It’s sick, I love it.”
Of course, the show was also a way for Power Trip to pay tribute to the folks who have helped them along the way. One of them was Arthur Rizk, who appeared stage to sing the bridge portion of “Crossbreaker,” one of the hardest songs ever recorded. Rizk is the 2010s Andy Sneap, the guy you call if you want to make your metal record sound absolutely fucking fire. Rizk, who lives in Philadelphia, met Gale while rolling with Iron Age to Sound and Fury 2009. “I think I was just trying to look for weed,” Rizk said over the phone a few days before the event.
He and Power Trip are integral to each other: Manifest Decimation was his first major production job, and making Power Trip sound that killer blew open the gates of his production career. But production wasn’t Rizk’s only contribution to Power Trip’s come-up. Over the years, he has occasionally filled in on guitar, while seeing firsthand l how hard it can be to develop an audience outside of Texas.
“Even after Manifest popped off, we were grinding and playing in Europe to ten people.” Rizk said.”People think bands come out of nowhere; it’s not like that at all. It takes a lot of getting shut down and shit. We lost a fuckton of money, but it was sick to go over there and break ground.”
Rizk played three times this weekend, essentially annexing Pennsylvania hardcore into Texas. He played drums in Eternal Champion, and, during the main show, lead guitar with long-running Wilkes-Barre metalcore quintet War Hungry, who share Power Trip’s dual penchant for shred and hardcore toughness. He’s also been playing guitar with Wilkes-Barre hardcore band Cold World, who were probably the most straight-up hardcore band of the night.
Cold World and Power Trip are spiritual brothers for being heavy music dudes who aren’t afraid to admit they like hip-hop; Power Trip’s greatest shirt of all time features a purple drank sippin’ Kool-Aid Mane proudly proclaiming “We Trippy Mane!” Onstage, Rizk still shredded like a real headbanger. Gale even stagedived. And if the singer of Power Trip stagedives for your band, that should be in every press release they put out, ever sticker in front of a cover, every lede of an interview. Game recognize game.
Power Trip didn’t come up alone. They didn’t arise out of nowhere. They know that, and they take nothing for granted. If there’s a lesson to be learned from their 10th Anniversary Show — other than that they have the fucking riffs — it’s that coming from a community, not necessarily a scene, is crucial. When you shine, they shine.
“This whole circle of musicians is a great of group of people to have as friends and family,” said Tarpey. ”That show the other night was a manifestation of that, in one 24-hour period.” As is with everything else, the unity in Texas is bigger than any other state, any other scene. “Texas is holding it down, as a state,” he continued. “I’m not saying the coasts and the Midwest aren’t doing great, they are, but it’s so cool to be in Texas right now.”
Andy O'Connor is a writer based in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter.