Eight or 10 years ago, metal got cool again. For at least a decade before that, pop culture at large mostly dismissed the genre as the dominion of meathead jocks and cavemen. But something happened around the mid-2000s. The New York Times even published a feature in 2006 called "Heady Metal," which documented metal's rehabilitated cultural cachet. Most of the piece centered on drone-metal outfit Sunn O))) and Southern Lord, the label founded by band member Greg Anderson. That label was responsible for a lot of the records that found crossover success. But Texas thrashers Power Trip represent the new direction the label has taken.
Around the time that Times article ran, Southern Lord had made a name for itself primarily by championing slow and sludgy doom bands. Sunn O))) themselves play ultra-drony music that, while ungodly in its heaviness, is frequently more ambient than metal. Southern Lord also put out black metal records by the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room, Xasthur and Striborg, all of which received positive press in publications that had probably never written about black metal before.
But the past couple of years have seen the label focusing more on hardcore punk bands, and Power Trip is the best of the bunch. Last year's Manifest Decimation is a ferocious slab of crossover hardcore/thrash metal that stands apart in a time when there are way too many bands doing retro-sounding thrash metal. It's a sound pulled from metal's original heyday, but while Power Trip cops plenty of riffs from the Kill 'Em All songbook, the end result moves well past hero worship. Traces of Swedish death metal add extra edge, and like fellow Entombed-indebted thrashers Black Breath (also on Southern Lord), Power Trip is one of the few modern metal bands that can still get away with writing pit-baiting breakdowns without sounding cheesy.
While a lot of retro thrash bands have latched onto the fun-times party vibe of that style (e.g., Municipal Waste, Ramming Speed, Tankard), Power Trip's modus operandi is pure destruction. For years, their reputation was as a band that needed to be seen live to appreciate, and to see them live was to fight for your life. Manifest Decimation elevated the band beyond that distinction, standing head and shoulders above the EPs and 7-inches that preceded the album. Nevertheless, standing anywhere near a stage on which Power Trip is performing still isn't for the timid.
Drummer Chris Ulsh is pulling double duty on this tour, also serving as guitarist and vocalist for openers Mammoth Grinder. Taking into account both Manifest Decimation and Mammoth Grinder's Underworlds, that means he's partly responsible for two of last year's best metal records. Underworlds slays. It's no-bullshit, punk-ish death metal — though I'm not sure if it's from a mammoth-sized grinder or a machine that grinds mammoths. Either way, it sounds big.
No doubt Mammoth Grinder and Power Trip benefit from metal's renewed interest, but these are the sorts of records that were being made before everyone else started paying attention. Maybe it's not heady metal, but at least it's gutsy.