Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: Power Trip - Manifest Decimation

I don’t know much about thrash metal. I bought a copy of Master of Puppets in the fifth grade after a friend’s older brother turned me on to the record, but my thrash education stalled there. I eventually heard Reign in Blood for the first time more than ten years later, and I’ve heard Kill ‘Em All once or twice, but other than that I still haven’t made it through thrash 101. My metal tastes tend to run doomier or dronier, at least to the point where I don’t seek out new thrash records. Seeing the ghastly cover of Manifest Decimation, painted by Paolo “Madman” Girardi, compelled me to make an exception with Power Trip’s debut album.[1] Knowing that the record came out on Southern Lord, home of many of the best metal bands around right now, definitely helped pique my interest as well.

Power Trip does not disappoint. Throughout a lean thirty-five minutes, the Dallas band runs through the gamut of eighties thrash styles. This is admittedly a small gamut, but the band is able to make the most of a limited framework. Indeed, the best songs on Manifest Decimation are the ones that don’t deviate much from a thrash circa 1986 blueprint at all: speed; harsh, punky vocals; and shredding for shredding’s sake. Nearly every song here makes me feel like a Reagan-era maladjusted teenager in a suburban basement who’s just a little too angry for Black Flag.

The opening title track begins with an odd introduction of sci-fi synths setting an ominous mood before it is drowned out by feedback and some seriously heavy reverbed drums. That intro heralds four songs that are about as textbook as thrash can come. “Heretic’s Fork” features some screeching guitar interplay and a chaotic mix, as well as an excellent slower outro that recalls early Metallica at their most thundering. “Conditioned to Death” gets off to a draggy start, but the band rights things easily once the Kirk Hammett-esque riffing kicks into gear. The record peaks with “Murderer’s Row,” with its hardcore call and response, machine gun drums, dynamic tonal shifts, and blisteringly fast solos that sound like they were ripped from an outtake from Reign in Blood.

Unfortunately, the band briefly loses its bearings with “Crossbreaker,” a song on which Power Trip abandons its greatest strengths. The slower pace of the song should provide a nice break from the mayhem of the rest of the record, but it derails the momentum instead. Thankfully the band rights itself in time for “Power Trip,” a song that is basically just Cro-Mags flavored hardcore with a thrash guitar solo wedged into the middle. After the searing “Power Trip,” the band stretches out with closer “The Hammer of Doubt.” Over the song’s six minutes, Power Trip makes a case for how effective they can be with more time to explore different movements and more varied arrangements than they can usually cram into a song with half its length.[2] It’s a powerful finale to a record that stands as a powerful statement of intent for this rare band that can breathe new life into an old sound.

It’s possible that if I was more familiar with thrash, I might not like this record as much. It’s not unlikely that the band is just rehashing the sounds of the past without adding anything of their own. But as a thrash neophyte, this sounds like a lost artifact from that era, a brutal dispatch from the horrific world depicted on the cover, with Riley Gale’s martial bark to usher us through the hellscape. I couldn’t ask for a better guide.

"Murderer's Row"
"The Hammer of Doubt"
"Heretic's Fork"

[1] It actually reminds me of something that could have been a cover painting for an old Vertigo or 2000 A.D. comic book.
[2] Might they have a Master of Puppets style prog-thrash record in their future? I wouldn’t turn that down.

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