Review Summary: Groove Metal at it's thickest and most aggressive.
Unsuccessfully beginning their career as comical hair metal enthusiasts and mimics, Pantera didn’t feel much of an evolution from the swift change in vocalists. Power Metal
felt thrasy and hard rock-ish in places, but again that left Pantera to their mimicking early musical childhood still, as it represented a lot of the influential thrash releases of 1986 and beyond. Finally, in 1990, just as the mammoth band Metallica started their fall off of the face of honorable music, Pantera came into their own and were no longer laughable on Cowboys From Hell
. Then they developed this sound a bit further, into a deeper, noisy, thicker haze of metal, and this developed the bands best album Vulgar Display of Power
At their heart, Pantera are a thrash band, with simpler premises and groovy motions that make it a bit more interesting and unique to their style. The virtuosity in the guitar stylings of Dimebag Darrell take the lead in here, as the rest of the band creates a choppy, thrash-y rhythm for him to take it to the next level over. “Walk” displays some musical experimentation on part of Pantera, creating an odd time signature (12/8) to give the song a ‘walking’ motion, while the vibrant vocal presence of Phil Anselmo mixed with ravenous solos give the song its memorability. Because of their thrashy aspects, it’s easy to see why their simplicity and rawness give Pantera sort of a punk-ish feel in parts, and catchy hooks and infectious guitar licks are all around, but it’s mudded-up and thicked to give the album a tougher, or better yet, darker sound and atmosphere.
Phil Anselmo, as annoying as he can be at points on other albums, is not a flaw here. His barking, as much as they leave to the listener’s imagination at points, fits the music perfectly, and beefing up the band’s sound with yet another layer. Lyrically, his words touch on bullying with the same immaturity of a thirteen year old, while he also switches over to being an absurd tough guy. This sheer contradiction in lyrical stance sort of makes Phil interesting to listen to, watching him trip over his words angrily. Phil Anselmo’s fueling rage and contradictory character make him truly a bewildering experience to listen to, but nonetheless, his flaws aren’t what make Vulgar Display of Power
not a metal classic.
What does, though, is the inconsistency of song quality. The warbling, dynamic ballad “This Love” builds over shadowy riffs into a glorious groovy gloom that only Pantera could bring the world, but the other ballad of the album, “Hollow”, buries this album at the very end with sappiness and wimpery that sounds as fake as anything, before building and almost shape-shifiting into a very generic concoction for the band and then, strangely cutting off before the song ends. Along with that, the album is riddled with songs that are bit too generic to work for the band, layered with barren, dated thrash riffs.
However, the strength of Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power
is, surprisingly enough, the atmosphere of it. The stuffy, haze-y drab that fogs up the album driven by plunging, chugging guitar riffs, and clogged bass riffs is what makes Pantera listenable. Dimebag Darrell is virtuosic on the guitar, but other than solos, he doesn’t show that here, rather he shows off his songwriting. Unlike any other Pantera record out there, even Cowboys From Hell
, the easy second best, does Dimebag ever embrace his songwriting ability nor his ability to craft an album worth listening to, here he does both. Vulgar Display of Power
, while not a classic, is one of those rare cases where a metal album hits the mainstream with a force that, rather than trembling at the thought of an atmosphere, embraces it with glee, or better yet, gloom. Phil is a douche, and Dimebag’s dead, but this album still remains.