Review Summary: "It's just not even a 'cool' sounding album in the climate of today's popular music scene...I'll be honest with you, I love that." Phil Anselmo, 1996.
1996 seemed to be an excellent year for metal, it saw the release of Acid Bath's 'Paegan Terrorism Tactics', Ministry's 'Filth Pig' and also 'October Rust' from Type O Negative and this, the rawest album of Pantera's back catalogue!
In the 90's (after their glam roots) Pantera were quite obviously on a roll. Each album since 1990's 'Cowboys From Hell' was pushing the boundaries of the popular metal scene, 1994's 'Far Beyond Driven' even gained a #1 spot! Commercial success aside; the music Pantera were producing was distinctively getting more extreme and sounding even more pissed off. In parts, 'Far Beyond Driven' makes 'Cowboys From Hell' sound a little glam at times. 1996 however saw the release of 'The Great Southern Trendkill', the most intense, crushing and downright ugliest album Pantera ever put out (not to mention one of the coolest album titles in metal). In those respects, TGSTK took the heights that the band had previously reached to near-ridiculous levels of raw power despite not repeating chart success or being as unanimously well received.
'Trendkill' storms out of the gate furiously and it may as well be dual-wielding chainsaws with the title track which undeniably sets the tone. The most intense opener on a Pantera disc bar none. 'Drag The Waters' was the albums only single which makes sense in that it is very transition-sounding; it has the sort of mid-paced lurch you be familiar with on 'Far Beyond Driven' but it also harnesses that dense 'Trendkill' sting. It also throws in some cowbell for good measure! 'The Underground In America' and the exquisitely titled 'Sandblasted Skin' are other notable examples of the bands considerable shift into faster tempos and trampling aggression. 'Suicide Note Pt. 2' is utterly relentless and is delivered without remorse. It also features the late Seth Putnam from cult grindcore band Anal Cunt on backing vocals, but only the accustomed will be able to tell the difference between his and Phil's demonic screech. 'Suicide Note Pt. 1' is the band at their most experimentative utilizing acoustic guitars, clearer than usual vocals for Phil and haunting synth towards the end of the song to create a chilling atmosphere. The subject matter is obviously denoted from this songs title which adds to the markedly more morbid lyrical content 'Trendkill' contains.
'Floods' is undeniably the greatest song on the album and most definitely one of the bands very best. At 7 minutes exactly, it is the longest 'Trendkill' has to offer. Imagine a sludgier, pessimistic version of 'Cemetary Gates' that welcomes an apocalypse. Creepy vocals, the first meandering solo and booming one-chord passages lead to one of the most melancholic guitar solos ever recorded; right at the end of the song when the clouds have cleared, Dimebag has his greatest moment. Maybe the sadness created by the last few seconds of 'Floods' still resonates so strongly because of the truly awful way in which the revered axeman's life ended.
'The Great Southern Trendkill' so narrowly betters all efforts by Pantera purely on consistency. 'Far Beyond Driven' and 'Vulgar Display Of Power', undoubted classics they may be but with all of the singles/best songs stacked on side one of each of these releases, the albums do feel a tad uneven. It may just be due to the lack of singles released from this album but even so every song has an attitude which demands further attention. Just when Nu-Metal was gaining prominence, Pantera blasted the new trends with a consistently aggressive, ridiculously oppressive, well-rounded wall of blistering noise. An overlooked gem in a sea of hate and Jack Daniels.