Greetings, Glancers! We return to the Top 500 Metal Albums series with an album I was familiar with in my youth but which I haven’t really listened too since. To me, when you mention the Big Four (which typically meant of Thrash Metal, but is really extended to cover all 80s American Metal), I always add Pantera in there. Get Anthrax out because seriously, it’s Anthrax. Out of all of the 80s metal bands, Pantera was one of the few who entered the 80s unscathed and even better than they had been in the 80s. In the face of Grunge’s authenticity and lack of bullshit, most 80s metal bands faded away. Pantera simply evolved and became their true selves.
You see, when Pantera started out, they were just as wanky as Poison and Winger and all of those other bell-ends. Towards the end of the 80s they brought in a new vocalist in Phil Anselmo who was known for a harsher and more aggressive style and they eventually moved towards a new sound more akin to the heavier end of the Spectrum. In 1992 they perfected this new sound, something along the lines of Groove Metal – fast, yet rhythmic, aggressive yet funky, and weighed down by timeless riffs courtesy of Dimebag Darrell, all sprinkled with a distinct Southern Sludge tone. Vulgar Display Of Power was the album which finally cemented the band as one of the pioneers of the genre as a whole and it contains some of their most famous songs. I don’t think there’s any question of this one being included in any Top 500 Metal albums list. It’s been a while since I’ve listened though, so lets give it a blast.
‘Mouth For War‘ is trademark Pantera. It has a tone all of their own and that bruising combination of drums and riffs which shouldn’t make sense but somehow whirlwind around to create a whole. Then Alsemo’s vocals rip up the stereo. There’s no glam nonsense here, just punishment. It of course collapses into a supercharge for the final moments as the thrash comes out – music to break stuff, and each other, too.
‘A New Level‘ is one I’d mostly forgot about, but it’s funny how it all comes back. Memories of one of the older teens walking around with a ghetto blaster while me and my metal and grunge mates tried to slide into their group without being noticed (while also being noticed). It has a truly blinding solo and more riffing and chugging which shouldn’t come off in a coherent way, but does.
‘Walk‘ is probably the most famous Pantera song. In the metal club I used to go to on Saturday nights, this was played every week. Even in the rock club I sometimes went to this would be the one Pantera song you would hear. Of course when I was DJing I played it too. Talk about simple but effective roots. This is basically a single note riff with a string bend. Or hammer on/pull-off depending on how you play it. As simple as it is, it’s hard to give it that flavour that Dimebag does. No metal classic is complete without a face-shredding solo, and Dimebag obliges in his unique way.
‘Fucking Hostile‘ is another famous one. You don’t get to be a Metal fan without hearing this one. It’s pure Thrash. It’s already four inches deep in your neck in the first second. There is no intro or chance to breath, just an explosion and you’re away. It never lets up and is played at three hundred miles and hour from start to finish.
‘This Love‘ is the one I always called ‘Run To You’. Because seriously, those opening notes and tone sound exactly like the intro to Bryan Adams’s song. It’s almost a ballad for the opening moments, but then the chorus flattens you. It uses a little of the quiet/loud dynamic which Nirvana had popularized, but to even more extreme levels. It flies all over the place with old school headbanging breakdowns to give you a breather and overlapping riffs and arpeggios till you don’t know if you’re coming or going.
‘Rise‘ is punishment for having a marginally slower song last time. It again explodes out without warning or any semblance of an introduction. The lack of intro is the intro and the riffs slow once the verse hits. It’s another collection of parts which shouldn’t fit but somehow do. The lyrics would be more powerful if it weren’t for Anselmo’s seemingly dubious politics/tongue in cheek outbursts over the years, but the sentiment remains solid and caustic – RISE.
‘No Good‘ is maybe the mid album step down. It’s still good, it just becomes forgettable in the middle of everything else. Great drums and bass throughout and particularly towards the end.
‘Live In A Hole‘ opens with another one note riff, though that does become something else after about fifteen seconds. It then uses voice-box for comedy effect before launching off into another series of riffs and vocals. The one note riff makes up most of the chorus once it returns. The solo is one of the most interesting the band has recorded – not because of what it is but because of how it works and what surrounds it – the beat ever quickening, then following away, then entering a dissonant stretch of industrial waste before picking up and returning to the chorus.
‘Regular People‘ does have a riff or two which seem like they were borrowed from And Justice For All. It feels like another which gets buried under the weight of the more famous songs – it’s good enough on its own but rarely gets a chance to stand out. Another typical Dimebag solo – very fast, lots of divebombs and riffs that go four steps up, one step down each time.
‘By Demons Be Driven‘ opens with a different sort of riff than what we’ve seen so far on the album. It doesn’t feel very Dimebag, but that is quickly replaced by one which is 100% pure Dimebag. The chorus ends with a sequence which I always used to replace with ‘Breakin The Law’. I still do. The solo is almost one huge screech – it’s easy to see people being put off by this, but then such people shouldn’t be listening in the first place.
‘Hollow‘ also known as Fade To Black Part 2 is the band on rare introspective form. It’s a ballad for adolescent males who don’t know how to emote. To me it always simply felt like a chilled out ending, albeit one with an edge and a crushing conclusion.
My wife isn’t a metal fan, at all. But for some reason she likes Pantera. There’s something seductive in those low-down riffs – the predatory way they growl and repeat and the fact that they are funky, like it or not. This album has some of their best riffs and is one of the quintessential Metal albums. If you don’t have at least three songs from this album on your playlist, you’re not a Metal fan. Like a lot of metal albums there are songs which get drowned out by the good stuff or by the more obvious stuff – here those songs tend to be good but do suffer a little during an album run through. On one-off listens they don’t lose any power, but in a single sitting a few aren’t as potent. To remain potent in a metal album either the songs have to be short enough that we fly through them, or each has to be completely unique. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly one of the genre’s greatest albums and Pantera were one of the few shining lights to start in the 80s but find their feet in the 90s with albums like this.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Mouth For War. Walk. Fucking Hostile. Hollow.