Review Summary: Don't fuck with Pantera.
It's a well-known fact that there are many bands out there who are willing to evolve with time. Some gradually switch their sound to slowly draw in a bigger crowd, and some completely change out of nowhere and alienate a huge chunk of the fanbase; Pantera was definitely the former. While beginning as a cheesy (and I mean VERY cheesy) glam metal act, every album the band made was getting heavier and faster until they released their first major-label record Cowboys From Hell in 1990. Switching from glam metal to a mixture of groove metal and thrash metal was a pretty interesting move to take, but it proved to be a bold success and the band never looked back to their glam days after the change. But where would they go from there? Well, they got heavier, angrier, and (instrumentally) tighter.
Vulgar Display of Power is different from Cowboys From Hell in a few aspects. One of the first things you start to notice when listening to opener "Mouth for War" is that the tuning is a bit lower than the Standard-E tuning that most of the prior album had. Definitely going with the "heavier" aspect, this actually helps with the atmosphere of numerous songs on the record, especially the always-famous "Walk." If that 5-note riff was in Standard-E tuning with this production, it wouldn't sound nearly as heavy or intimidating as it is. One of the other big changes is Phil Anselmo's voice. Back when the band made Cowboys From Hell, his voice was sort of a mix between the gruffness of James Hetfield and the extremely high Rob Halford notes sung with the "head voice" technique; here, his singing is a lot more aggressive and hardcore punk-influenced to fit the angry attitude of him and the band. Not only that, but I can see why Pantera influenced many future metalcore acts, as Anselmo performs many more screams here than in previous records. Honestly, if he kept the style from Cowboys in this album, it wouldn't have been as fitting with the band's direction; all in all, the vocals are quite alright with me.
The musicianship is as tight as ever, the band switching tempos and melodies with perfect precision. While guitarist Dimebag Darrell is generally the star of the show instrumentally, bassist Rex Brown and drummer Vinnie Paul seriously deserve credit when it comes to holding everything together so well. A song like the fast-as-hell thrash number "Fucking Hostile" certainly could have sounded sloppy, given its speed and aggression, but it instead sounds very focused and controlled due to the rhythm section's aforementioned precision. One of the most impressive displays of both the band's compositional and instrumental chops, however, comes in the form of the two ballads "This Love" and "Hollow." While not the best lyrically, the delivery is what makes these songs so good. You've got Phil Anselmo showing off his more subdued and tender vocal side, while the clean guitar work and softer rhythm section really display a more three-dimensional sound from the band. Both songs end up exploding into the usual Pantera riff-fests, but in drastically different ways; while both retain the groove metal vibe, "Hollow" never lets up with its melancholic atmosphere. Phil's vocals get angrier and the music gets louder, but the lyrics and occasional clean guitar pop-ins ensure a job well-done. In terms of faster numbers, "Rise" and "Fucking Hostile" are definitely my favorites. While I already mentioned the latter, "Rise" mixes both thrash metal and groove metal in the way Cowboys From Hell did. It's a great combo and "Rise" is no exception to that fact.
When you get down to it, there's only one problem with this record... and unfortunately, it gets in the way of a good chunk of the experience. It's the attitude. The macho-posturing and constant anger can really get on one's nerves after a while, especially on "Walk," "No Good (Attack the Radical)," and a few others. While it's nice to hear a band convert their negativity into pride instead of just generating more negativity, Pantera definitely started to sound more juvenile because of their execution of the subject matter. However, it's not always a bad thing; "Fucking Hostile" and "Mouth for War" end up getting up pumped and energized because of their rage and intensity. "Rise" is especially exciting to listen to as the lyrics promote unity and strength in numbers. The attitude definitely gets tiresome though, and hinders quite a bit of the experience.
With all that's great about the album, however, Vulgar Display of Power is still a very impressive album and an awesome followup to Cowboys From Hell. The riffs are well-written, the overall music is rage-fueled and intense, and the experience can be very exciting. If you can get past an overly macho and angry attitude from Phil Anselmo at times, the record is very engaging and rewarding. This may not be as good as Cowboys From Hell, but it gets damn close.