Review Summary: Like a kid who studies hard only to get a passing grade, The Great Southern Trendkill shows strong promise in small parts, with occasionally great utilization and a few surprises (both good and bad).
Pantera's history isn't exactly one that most would want to repeat. After starting out as a laughable glam act, the group took a serious dive with the introduction of Phil Anselmo as the lead vocalist. Between releasing Cowboys From Hell
and Vulgar Display of Power
, the band seemed to have finally found their niche and be destined for a high career from then-on. However, tensions began within the band around the point of Far Beyond Driven
's release, particularly with Anselmo's various frustrations and problems. These issues came to affect the band while working on studio albums, with Anselmo's vocal parts being done at a separate studio from the rest of the band during The Great South Trendkill
Although it probably goes without saying that The Great Southern Trendkill
didn't strike high like it's early 90's predecessors, this doesn't mean it hit a new low for the band. In fact, the album showed progression after the unremarkable Far Beyond Driven
and came close to being a notable improvement. Perhaps the most surprisingly realization to find is that the separately recorded vocals don't sound disconnected from the instrumental side. What's arguably most peculiar is that the songs which don't flow as well suffer from questionable structure more than mixing.
A decent portion of the songs on this album are longer than what Pantera had previously provided, with the primarily culprit being slower sections incorporated into the heavier and faster songs. Just give "Living Through Me (Hells' Wrath)" a listen and you'll find a track that starts heavy and well but comes to a break that results in it losing steam. While it's nice to find some variety so the songs won't blend together too much, the flow during these points simply doesn't feel proper or natural. What makes this even more of an issue is that we get tracks which stick with the sound that sets them off; and these are the ones which have more lasting value. The only exception to this would be the proclaimed epic "Floods," which, rather than quickly alternating between the heavy and slow, gradually builds up before reaching its climax.
Fortunately, when The Great Southern Trendkill
works to its strengths, the results are quite pleasing. Probably the most familiar track is "Drag the Waters," showing the band in their most comfortable light; thus providing one of the album's better moments. On the other hand, we get a instant of full-blown experimentation on "Suicide Note Pt. I" by being a slower, more atmospheric track that shows Phil Anselmo actually being…subtle? It's a rather peculiar point that turns out to be a contender for the best song on the album, despite its sudden second part coming full-blast immediately afterwards.
One problem that this release continues to suffer from is something that other albums have also exhibited: a couple closing tracks after an epic near the end. After hearing the song "Floods," it's easy to feel like the album is finished since, even with only nine tracks, it still rounds out nicely. However, "The Underground In America" and "(Reprise) Sandblasted Skin" both follow and seem to contribute little, if anything worthwhile to the album as a whole. This same issue later affected Finnish act Nightwish on Once
, containing two more tracks after the superb epic "Ghost Love Score." This might seem like overkill for one complaint, but something as simple as what order the songs appear can greatly help or hinder an album's overall flow. And, unfortunately, this album suffers from the latter.
The Great Southern Trendkill
isn't an expectation-shattering album, but it's not the jinxed mess that one could easily expect, given the circumstances. What this album did for the band, more than anything, was show that they could at least progress their music by taking a few chances with song structures. This only pays off half the time and turns out to be a double-edged sword by offering some variety, just not always in the best form. Overall, the album has some good lasting value thanks to its small changes and, while not alongside even Vulgar Display of Power
per se, there's enough to push it a small nudger over Far Beyond Driven