Discography Dissection: Pantera
Without doubt the biggest and most influential metal band of the 90’s that met a sad end after their initial break up by the death of ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott, a truly great loss. One that also halted any plans that Pantera could be reunited one day and from personal frustration means I will never get to see them live along with many others. Their popularity still lives on though and they’re greatly remembered and if you claim to be into metal and haven’t given them a listen then it’s something you should probably rectify very quickly. Pantera were previously a hair metal band in the 80’s but as most of those albums are not widely distributed or sold I’m going to leave them out of this Dissection as I feel they’re irrelevant to the Pantera of the 90’s. So, with that being said let’s get stuck in!
Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)
From the moment ‘Mouth For War’ kicked in when I first listened to it all those years ago I was in no doubt that this was going to be a classic album. The production on the entire record is big and extremely polished and sounds absolutely huge and very clear. The motivation from this album came from the release of Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ in ‘91. They felt that it was a disappointment as it was a slight departure from their thrashier style of the 80’s and saw it as a gap they could fill, they wanted to make the heaviest record of all time.
Pantera – Mouth For War
Whilst definitely not the heaviest record of all time it’s definitely one of the definitive metal albums of all time. It is brimming with metal anthems such as ‘Walk,’ ‘A New Level,’ ‘F*cking Hostile,’ ‘This Love’ and that’s only the start of the album. As it goes on the level of intensity remains throughout with the same intensity and ever present eminence of their self coined ‘Power Groove’ sound along with a sound of an intent to send a message and make a mark on the metal scene which they most certainly did. Though within all the crushing grooves there’s also variety within a couple of ballad esque tracks that made their way onto the album in the form of ‘This Love’ and ‘Hollow’ showing that whilst this band excels at huge riffs, grooves and aggression that they’re also a pretty diverse bunch of musicians who know more than one way to write a big tune.
For anyone who’s not heard Pantera before this is the definitive starting point and the best overall display of what Pantera are about. A highly essential listen and great starting point for anyone just getting into them.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Mouth For War, A New Level, Rise.
Reinventing The Steel (2000)
When I first heard this album, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it, when you put it next to ‘Vulgar’ it’s a vastly different album though it’s still full of the same trademarks and power groove that Pantera are famous for. Comparatively to ‘Vulgar’ the production also has a lot more grit and more of an atmosphere behind it which matches up with the lyrical content which covers subjects such as their personal influences, growing up, partying, making their mark throughout the metal scene and how they always stayed true to their roots. It’s a more personal album which they dedicated to their fans, with this sadly being their last studio album it coincided as being a fitting way to inadvertently make their farewell too.
Pantera – Revolution Is My Name
As I mentioned though this is a vastly different album to ‘Vulgar’ it’s very similar in that from start to finish it has intensity, passion, crushing grooves, excellent songwriting and is of course brutally heavy yet well crafted at the same time. The extra grit provided by their choice of production leaves this album fittingly sounding raw and intense as their fans back then and their current fans now love which is why this album makes such a great listen. The songs on this album are extremely anthemic, songs such as ‘Goddamn Electric,’ ‘Revolution Is My Name,’ ‘Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit’ and ‘Uplift’ are full on drinking anthems that can easily be screamed along to after throwing back a few tins.
I believe this album to be nearly as essential as Vulgar due to the fact that this showcases Pantera 8 years after ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ still churning out heavy, catchy tunes in a way that shows they’ve progressed as a band yet stuck to their same sound and managed to do something different at the same time.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Goddamn Electric, Revolution Is My Name, Uplift.
The Best Of The Rest
Cowboys From Hell (1990)
This album marked the first of Pantera’s new direction after spending the 80’s being a hair metal band after making their decision to try a heavier sound. There are still elements of the hair metal sound sometimes present in Anselmo’s vocals and some of the guitar work though in a way that’s what makes this album a bit more unique than the rest. Whereas the rest of Pantera’s work from ‘92-2000 is all mainly heavy this is the album where you hear Pantera experimenting and making their way to their sound which makes a really interesting listen.
It takes you through moments of ferocious riffing, Iron Maiden esque gallops, chugging grooves, some shredding solos along with some incredibly tasteful lead work and a power ballad? Yes, a power ballad. ‘Cemetery Gates’ is a 7 minute power ballad complete with clean vocals and guitar. The lyrical content consists of lamenting a deceased lover and the pondering of committing suicide in order to join them in the afterlife. Though that description may lead you to think it sounds a bit cheesy the song is supplemented with heavy, distorted guitars that really compliment the feelings of despair and distress that the lyrics present. It was this which initially showcased that Pantera were a diverse force in the metal scene who could write a song such as this without being overly cheesy and clichéd.
Pantera – Cemetery Gates
Ultimately though this album was laying the groundwork for everything to follow. As such it’s a great listen for anyone wanting to hear how this band started out and progressed to the albums that followed it.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Psycho Holiday, Cemetery Gates, Domination, Clash With Reality.
The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)
Brace yourself before you press play on this album as the title track will greet you with a punch in the face in the form of a disgustingly aggressive scream from guest vocalist Seth Putnam (R.I.P.) formerly of Anal Cunt. As such the track continues beating the shit out of you before fading out with a Dimebag signature pinch harmonic groove which is definitely up there as one of the finest riffs I’ve ever heard. This album is probably the most aggressive that Pantera have released helped along by the fact Anselmo’s vocals are doubled tracked in places for high and low screams with extra highs provided again by Seth Putnam.
Though this album’s arguably Pantera’s most aggressive it’s also probably their most experimental as the tempos range from the fastest they’ve done to some of the slowest. There’s even a whole track without distorted guitar in the form of ‘Suicide Note Pt. 1’ but if that doesn’t sound agreeable to you then the continuation ‘Suicide Note Pt.2’ is balls out aggression all the way through. It also contains some of the lowest guitar tunings that Pantera have experimented with showcased on ‘The Underground In America’ and ‘(Reprise) Sandblasted Skin.
Pantera – Drag The Waters
A track that deserves special mention from this album is ‘Floods’ and from listening to the first few minutes you’d be forgiven to be scratching your head as to why. Then you hit around the 3:50 mark and will see why as one of the most beautiful and heartfelt lead guitar sections I’ve personally ever heard kicks in with such impact that it’s hard not to be taken aback by it.
Whilst for consistency I wouldn’t say this is Pantera’s best effort it is probably one of the most interesting, experimental and aggressive albums they’ve ever done. To be able to fit all of these things into the space of one album is quite a feat in itself and for that reason it’s very worth taking the time to check it out.
Personal Favourite Tracks: The Great Southern Trendkill, Drag The Waters, Living Through Me (Hell’s Wrath)
Other Good Albums
Far Beyond Driven (1994)
Now, I realise that some people reading this may argue that this deserves a higher place due to the songs on it. Undoubtedly it has some essential classics by Pantera that can’t be ignored. The 1st 4 tracks such as ‘Strength Beyond Strength,’ ‘Becoming,’ ‘Five Minutes Alone’ and ‘I’m Broken’ will leave you struggling to catch your breath and leave you wanting more. However, beyond those first few for me I find the album becomes extremely inconsistent and loses itself a bit as there are some tracks that to me just don’t work. ‘Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills’ could’ve been a great track but ends up being mostly spoken word with some lacklustre musical backing that ends up not really working as well as it could’ve done.
However, the big hits on this album do stand out and make this a nevertheless important release. Though this was the album directly following ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ and as such it sounds like it was a bit of a struggle to follow it up which is perfectly understandable seeing as ‘Vulgar’ is pretty much their career defining album.
Pantera – Five Minutes Alone
However there are still some decent songs in amongst here once you’ve managed to find them. ‘Slaughtered’ is a decent mid paced groove fest that’s sure to get most discerning metal fans headbanging. ‘Use My Third Arm’ is the other track on this album I feel deserves a special mention as it gets overlooked and is a frantic kick in the face that can catch you off your guard just as you think the album’s dying down. There’s also the inclusion of a Black Sabbath cover on the album in the form of ‘Planet Caravan’ which whilst they haven’t changed the song much from the original they made the production very clear comparatively to the original. Hearing it from this slightly different perspective makes it very much worth a listen as it makes it stand apart from the original without drastically changing the song.
This album has some of Pantera’s biggest tunes on it but sadly as an album it doesn’t quite stand up to the consistency and relentlessness of the rest of their back catalogue. However, I’d say it’d be a bad decision to overlook it as the big hitters on here are some of the biggest Pantera ever wrote.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Becoming, Five Minutes Alone, Use My Third Arm.
3 Vulgar Videos From Hell (DVD)
I felt it would be an injustice if I decided to not mention these releases as for a lot of people these are likely the closest thing to seeing Pantera live. The DVD’s contain some of the most entertaining tour footage you’ll ever see from a band that gives an insight into how much fun touring can be.Showcasing primarily how much this band had a talent for consuming alcohol as much as they do for playing metal. Through the tour footage you’ll see alcohol consumption, weed smoking, dumping in the woods, them lighting each other on fire, trashing hotel rooms and that’s just a small glimpse of what’s on there. It also features appearances from various other rock stars that they toured with or were just hanging out with such as Rob Halford, Kerry King, Kirk Windstein and Rob Trujillo to name but a few. The DVD also contains all of Pantera’s music videos as well as some bonus live footage from their performance at Monsters Of Rock in Moscow.
Live 101 Proof: Live Album
Live 101: Proof is Pantera’s official live album which was put out just after the release of ‘The Great Southern Trendkill.’ It was originally intended as an alternative to a ‘best of’ compilation which it still works well as, on it you’ll find all their biggest hits from before ‘Reinventing’ was released. In terms of live albums this is one of the best you’ll find out there, it captures the raw energy of their live show and the sound of it is huge, extremely clear and obviously heavy.
Both these releases are special looks at what Pantera were like on the road and what their live shows were like along with the added bonus of all their music videos. If you’re into Pantera at all then these are both essentials for your collection.