Cowboys From Hell



If you're a heavy-metal fan, this album has got it all.  Thrash-metal, guitar solos, ballads, and a whole lot of attitude.  That attitude is provided by none other than Phil Anselmo, and the band backs him up with an incredibly tight, hard-hitting, rhythmic groove that would become an essential part of Pantera's sound.  This was the band's coming-out party, shedding their 80s glam/cheese-metal skin and becoming the almighty monster that everyone now knows and loves as Pantera.  In the process, the band would set the tone for heavy-metal in the 90s, and they were undoubtedly one of the best heavy bands of the decade.  It all started on Cowboys From Hell, which features some of the most infectious riffs of all-time provided by Dimebag Darrell (although at the time, he still went by Diamond Darrell).  This album is a lot of fun, as virtually every song on the album is entertaining and enjoyable to listen to.  In particular, the 1st half of the album is absolutely fantastic, as every song kicks a serious amount of proverbial ass.  The 2nd half of the album is a bit campier in vibe, but no less entertaining.  Overall, an incredibly, dare I say gnarly, heavy-metal album.


Vulgar Display of Power



No album cover effectively captures the attitude, intensity, and overall vibe of an album better than the cover for Vulgar Display of Power.  The image of a fellow getting punched in the face pretty much sums it up.  This album wants to fight you, and it makes you want to fight it (or somebody...anybody really).  On Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera kicked up the their aggression and intensity a healthy amount compared to 1990's Cowboys From Hell.  They also got rid of most of the power-metal influences that dominated the aforementioned album, opting instead for brute force.  That's not to say this album does not have a groove.  In fact, that's what makes this album such an infectious listening experience: it's thick, streamlined, down-tuned groove, along with epic hooks/riffs galore.  The band sound beyond razor-sharp on every track, as Phil Anselmo confidently barks out confrontational and empowering lyrics that can't help but get your blood boiling.  On Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera effectively picked up the torch passed on by Metallica from the prior decade as the world's best heavy-metal band.  They upped the ante here, taking thrash-metal to a "New Level" (pun intended), creating an angrier, more menacing sound in the process, a sound that influenced countless bands to follow in the 90s.  Vulgar Display of Power captures Pantera in their prime, and is quite simply one of the most kick-ass heavy-metal albums of all-time.  It's fucking hostile.


Far Beyond Driven



First things first, this album pretty much pales in comparison to their prior two classic outings, and that's because they're trying too hard to be heavy here.  I respect the intent, but the execution is flawed, particularly on the back half of the album, where is is a significant lack of quality material.  It's just Phil's douchbaggery in full form for all to see and the band is trying too hard to be abraisive and forgetting the groove.  That said, the first 4 songs on the album are rock solid, although most of them are not in the same league as the best songs on VDOP or CFH.  "Planet Caravan" is an enchanting way to close-out a very hostile and purposely difficult album.  Everytime I hear this album, particularly the back half, it really makes me dislike Phil, whereas on the prior efforts I wanted to fight with him, after listening to FBD, you want to fight against him. So needless to say that makes it hard to really like this particular album when the lead singer sounds like a world class asshole the entire time.


The Great Southern Trendkill



This album is every bit as heavy as FBD, and a lot of it still sounds forced as a result, but for whatever reason, the heaviness sounds slightly more satisfying here than it does on FBD.  Maybe because there is more variety to be found here as there's a few slower, creepier numbers that add to the album's menacing atmosphere.  This album seems a bit darker overall, with a bit more groove on this one as well.  Whereas FBD was front loaded with good songs and the 2nd half suffered as result, Pantera spreads around the highlights nicely on GST, which keeps the listener interested and engaged throughout.  Phil still sounds pretty dickish, but he also sounds a bit more drugged-out as well, belligerent and unfocused at times.  On GST, his mind is now cluttered and confused, a far cry from the focused and motivated man that barked with authority on CFH and VDOP.  He's lashing out on most of the album, similar to FBD, but he his tone sounds slightly more sinister.  Overall, it's just a slight improvement from FBD as it feels like a more unified album with a more unified sound/vibe.  And "Sandblasted Skin" is one of the most wickedly awesome closers the band ever cooked up...nasty...awesome...So while GST is not in the same league as CFH or VDOP, it lies somewhere between those classics and the somewhat disappointing FBD.  Good, but not great.


Reinventing the Steel



Arriving 4 years after the atmospheric and moody Great Southern Trendkill, Reinventing the Steel finds Pantera returning to their roots somewhat.  This album is less hostile and belligerant when compared to their prior two outings, but this is Pantera we're talking about, so suffice to say it is plenty heavy.  It's got a more workman-like, earnest quality about it, and the style of metal has a more old-school feel to it, recalling Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath at times.  But of course it's executed with Pantera's trademark Texas swagger and attitude, so on a certain level RITS is a more satisfying listening experience than it's two challenging predeccesors.  On the other hand, RITS lacks some of the viciousness of those 2 albums, and although it is generally a more focused, cohesive effort, there's not that many tracks here that summon up the type of blood-boiling fury and malicious wrath that the band became known for with their mid-90s output.  They sound a bit older here, a bit more seasoned, and in some respects, a bit tired too.  So while it's not as compelling and brooding as GST, and kind of lacks the immediate hooks/riffs found on the 1st half of FBD, RTS ultimately sounds somewhat refreshing when compared to those albums.  Is it better?  Perhaps, but unfortunately even though it recalls their classics from the early 90s, it ends up sounding like a somewhat more dated and worn-out version of those records.


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