Energy Journey focus on loss of life of Riley Gale and what lies forward

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On Monday night time, only a few weeks after a freak deep freeze introduced Texas to the brink of an electric-grid collapse, the surviving members of the Texas steel band Energy Journey gathered at guitarist Nick Stewart’s home in Dallas.

The 4 — Stewart, 32; guitarist Blake Ibanez, 29; drummer Chris Ulsh, 33; and bassist Chris Whetzel, 33 — had unfold out throughout the state and nation through the fall and winter surge of the pandemic. They’d hadn’t all been in the identical room because the early fall of 2020.

“I simply obtained right here like 5 minutes in the past; it’s so unusual to me to be seeing these guys for the primary time in six or seven months,” mentioned Ulsh, who now lives in Philadelphia.

“It’s been a very long time, nevertheless it doesn’t really feel prefer it,” Stewart mentioned. “I assume it hasn’t actually hit me till proper now.”

The final time they had been all collectively was for a funeral. On Aug. 24, Energy Journey’s singer, Riley Gale, died at 34, a brutal lack of considered one of their style’s most viscerally compelling performers and empathetic songwriters. In a devastating yr for music, Gale’s loss of life hit particularly laborious — a younger singer on the top of his powerswho had shared levels with Ozzy Osbourne and Danzig and whose band was poised for stardom.

Riley Gale performing with Power Trip. The singer died on Aug. 24, 2020.

Riley Gale performing with Energy Journey. The singer died on Aug. 24, 2020.

(Angela Owens)

Though no explanation for loss of life has been publicly launched (a consultant for the group mentioned, “The household has not launched the toxicology report back to anybody, so Riley’s explanation for loss of life can’t be confirmed”), considered one of steel’s most necessary and creative teams of the final decade now has to stare down a future with out its singer — and shut good friend.

Monday’s interview was the primary time Energy Journey had spoken publicly as a bunch since Gale’s loss of life.

On Sunday, Energy Journey is nominated for its first Grammy, for steel efficiency, for a model of its tune “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe),” launched off a shock reside LP in June. For a bunch that takes its ferocious cues from ’80s thrash and hardcore, the band members are unexpectedly earnest about this potential award. They’d enormous ambitions as a band, and every mentioned that their friends acknowledging their achievements with Gale could be a very significant coda as they grieve.

“Dropping Riley was the saddest factor that ever occurred to me,” Ulsh mentioned. “However I’m so happy with all the pieces we achieved collectively. One of many coolest issues from the beginning was that there was no ceiling to this band, and this Grammy nomination is an ideal instance of that.”

Seven months on from Gale’s loss of life, the band and its friends understandably wrestle to speak about what he meant to their lives. “Simply heard about Riley. Goddamnit. Sending like to his household and associates and his band,” Anthrax’s Scott Ian wrote on social media after information of Gale’s loss of life broke. Ice-T wrote, “I’m devastated… Nonetheless don’t understand how… I’m speechless.”

Requested about fond recollections of his good friend and bandmate, Ulsh took a number of beats to attempt to describe their final days collectively.

“It nonetheless feels very recent. It’s laborious to speak about,” Ulsh mentioned. “We had been shut. I spent lots of my downtime on tour with him. It’s nonetheless laborious to fathom.”

“We’ve by no means been via something like this,” Ibanez agreed. “Nevertheless it’s positively introduced us nearer. You’re collectively on a regular basis, then within the blink of an eye fixed, you already know you’ll by no means see one another once more.”

“However this has helped us all notice how a lot we love one another,” Stewart mentioned.

Riley Gale leaps into the air while performing with his band.

Energy Journey at L.A.’s Sound and Fury competition in 2019.

(Angela Owens)

Energy Journey’s members have performed collectively for greater than a decade, however though they launched their final studio album, “Nightmare Logic,” in 2017, their worldview appeared completely timed to the current second of public fury and big-picture social critique.

Their music pulls from the hard-riffing roots of Texas steel forebears like Pantera however caught the ear of the tastemaking L.A. steel label Southern Lord. Energy Journey arrived at its model of thrash steel via a lens of basement hardcore punk and fervent prison-reform politics.

Even essentially the most demanding tough-guy steel followers might acknowledge their sincerity and talent. Gale was not an overtly menacing bodily presence onstage, in the best way many steel frontmen attempt to posture. However alongside friends like Code Orange, Turnstile and Oathbreaker, one thing about Gale’s conviction related deeply with followers properly past steel’s typical catharsis.

“Energy Journey was the primary heavy band I can do not forget that was universally beloved since, like, Slayer,” mentioned Albert Mudrian, editor of the steel journal Decibel. “All people knew the celebs had been aligning for them to take the subsequent step. There aren’t many excessive bands who crossed over, who can crack a Billboard prime 10. Energy Journey had been within the place to affix them.”

The band was particularly attuned to the continuing motion in opposition to police violence. Energy Journey’s 2013 tune “Conditioned to Demise” riffed on Michel Foucault to depict jail’s strangling of human potential. Gale guest-howled on “Level the Finger,” a 2020 single from Ice-T’s steel band Physique Depend launched on the top of the racial justice protests after George Floyd’s loss of life. The band’s tune “If Not Us Then Who” quoted civil-rights activist John Lewis.

Even the stampeding licks of “Executioner’s Tax,” an older tune now up for a Grammy in a reside model, hits more durable in mild of the roiling demonstrations in opposition to police brutality over the past yr.

“Demise hides behind veiled faces / It solely takes one swing and also you’re gone,” Gale screamed. “The executioner, the start and the tip / He carries chilly laborious metal masked with the style of drugs.”

Listening to that reside recording in the present day “positively hits residence,” Whetzel mentioned. “It takes me proper again to that present. It touches me now in a approach I wouldn’t have imagined.”

Though the pandemic had already shuttered the band’s world of sweat- and spit-soaked reside exhibits, the group was engaged on new materials and in January 2020 had simply thrown the second version of its hometown competition, Evil Beat, with Deafheaven, Carcass and Torche. Even mainstream shops like NPR took discover of their rise.

“It’s straightforward for me to downplay what we achieved, however the response has been fairly unbelievable,” Ibanez mentioned. “To get this outpouring of respect and love was very cool. It’s helped loads. It makes me really feel like what we had been doing had a objective.”

Few steel bands take the Grammys as a defining barometer of success. However as Energy Journey slowly begins to consider each its legacy and its future (the band has no thought but what its subsequent steps in music can be), it retains turning again to its songwriting with Gale and the best way the music resonated with followers, these deeply immersed in steel in addition to far exterior that sphere.

Riley Gale crouches on the floor during a performance.

“Energy Journey was the primary heavy band that was universally beloved since, like, Slayer,” mentioned Albert Mudrian, editor of the steel journal Decibel.

(Angela Owens)

A Dallas LGBTQ transitional-housing heart, Dallas Hope Charities, plans to call its new library after Gale, who helped elevate hundreds in donations and invited its volunteers to arrange outreach efforts at Energy Journey exhibits. “If that’s one thing that brings them calm to their nervousness and lets them have that quiet time and that area, that’ll be there for them,” Chief Government Evie Scrivner informed the Dallas Observer, asserting the library after Gale’s loss of life.

“It’s straightforward for a band to say they’re ‘anti-authoritarian,’ however Riley was wanting round and seeing individuals who had been actually oppressed; that’s what he reacted to,” Mudrian mentioned. “He wasn’t lamenting his personal state of affairs a lot as he was listening to the tales of different individuals. That speaks to a generousness he had as an individual.”

All 4 band members are simply starting to evaluate what Gale meant to their lives and what their band has meant to steel. However as a valediction for this time of their profession, they’re proud that this recording of “Executioner’s Tax” is a testomony to Energy Journey’s significance to steel, on the Grammys and much past.

“I hope we modified individuals’s perceptions about what a steel band may be,” Ibanez mentioned. “We didn’t need to compromise; we simply had been who we had been, and folks revered that about us. I hope that’s how individuals will keep in mind us.”

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