Pantera are one of my favorite bands in the world to talk about. Not only do they have drastic division between fans of their different eras, but every album within each era has significant factors to them that make them stand apart, for better or for worse. As somebody who takes the best from the entire catalog that spanned from 1983 to 2000, it makes it that much more fun to discuss their discography. For my first Rank And File of the year, I’ve decided to take a closer look at each album one by one, and as you know by now, rank them.
9) Projects In The Jungle (1984) “The Years Have Gone And Passed Us By”
A lot of people look at this as a step up from the silly cluster of tunes known as Metal Magic, but I think that Projects In The Jungle is worse. There’s a clear desire to be slightly grittier and move towards something a bit more traditional, but it’s a total swing and a miss. Terry Glaze’s vocals reach way too far for what the music itself has to offer, and it just comes off as awkward. Songs like “Heavy Metal Rules!” and “Killer” couldn’t be more obvious with that, and they make me cringe. The slower songs are just alright. Worse things have happened, but there isn’t a single song on this that stands out from the pack. Instead, we get thirty-five minutes’ worth of songs that sound like something Def Leppard decided to leave off of High ‘N Dry because they weren’t satisfied with them. Total fluke.
Final Grade: D-
8) Metal Magic (1983) “How long will you leave me out here in the dark?”
As much as I love the genre, Metal Magic is about as generic as glam metal can get. But it’s better than its successor just because at least it knows what it wants to do. If “Ride My Rocket” doesn’t give it away immediately, this is loaded with sleazy lyrics, poppy rhythms, and more hairspray than one can breathe in. That’s all well and good, but very little of it is memorable. I have a soft spot for the ballads, and I’ll never deny that I dig the hell out of “Biggest Part Of Me.” But as a whole, there is barely any weight to this — also a fluke, just a more focused fluke.
Final Grade: D+
7) Reinventing The Steel (2000) “Your trust is in whiskey, weed and Black Sabbath”
The final Pantera album is one where my opinion remains the most neutral. Reinventing The Steel dials back the previous intensity, causing it to come off like a throwback to the early ‘90s albums, but the attitudes of the later records are certainly still there. Ultimately, that makes it feel a bit stale, with some gems packed in between the songs past their expiration date. “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit” has some wicked hooks, and “Revolution Is My Name” is an obvious classic. I guess “Goddamn Electric” is alright, but that’s mostly just because of how funny the lyrics are. This is worth hearing, but not one that I revisit too often. Most of what this record does well, the earlier ones do better.
Final Grade: C
6) Far Beyond Driven (1994) “Can’t be what your idols are, can’t leave the scar”
The first album to officially credit Darrell Abbot as “Dimebag Darrell” is a mixed bag. Far Beyond Driven has some favorite tracks of mine, but it’s extremely front-loaded, causing some of the later songs to drag hard. But looking at all of the first four tracks (”Strength Beyond Strength,” “Becoming,” “5 Minutes Alone,” and “I’m Broken”), they’re all but flawless. The attitude and adrenaline that made Vulgar Display Of Power so great is not only present but amped up. Admittedly, this certainly pushed the “tough guy/bro” haze that comes with this band and its type, but they’re incredible tunes. After that, it’s good moments here (“25 Years” or “Slaughtered”) and absolute train wrecks there (“Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills” or “Hard Lines Sunken Cheeks”). There’s also a bit too many screechy guitar passages that go nowhere. Without a doubt, this is one of the harder albums to digest and talk about, but once you get into it, it’s well worth the ride. And the closing cover of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” is beautiful.
Final Grade: B-
5) The Great Southern Trendkill (1996) “Tortured history, addict of misery, this exposes me; for the weakness is a magnet, watch me do it!”
The Great Southern Trendkill isn’t too far off from its predecessor, and it definitely has some of the same issues. There’s no shortage of aimless screaming and whiny Dimebag-isms that feel somewhat pointless. But, the overall mood of this one invokes more terror, pain, and fear than Far Beyond Driven, so naturally, I like it just a tad better. Both “Suicide Note” tracks are incredible for literal opposite reasons. The first is an acoustic ballad meant to generate a sad, gutted, and hopeless feeling, while the second is so heavy and extreme that it feels like a proverbial gun blast. The title track and “Living Through Me (Hell’s Wrath)” are both fuming numbers that almost make you able to feel Phil’s physical anguish and struggles with addiction. “10s” and “Floods” are calmer favorites of mine, because of their ability to cast the same feeling with a different makeup. There is some redundant filler to get through, like “13 Steps To Nowhere,” but overall, I dig what Pantera did with this album.
Final Grade: B
4) I Am The Night (1985) “Tender angels of mercy, how they run from my sight; eclipsed into darkness, searching only for the light!”
Everything that Pantera had strived to do in previous records was finally achieved with I Am The Night. Perhaps a goofy title and album cover, but now the vocals are strong, the riffs have a lot of clarity, and the actual songwriting is superb! Diamond Darrell’s solos also jump out and rip you apart, heavily reflecting his hero Eddie Van Halen. “D.G.T.T.M.” was the earliest sign of his advanced abilities. “Down Below” and the title track suggest far more speed induction and fury, between the drum blasts, Terry Glaze’s attitude, and the hard-hitting rhythms. Masterful melodies are present, heard in “Daughters Of The Queen” or “Forever Tonight.” Even the more ridiculous tracks like “Hot And Heavy” shine bright, and I believe that tune is everything that “Ride My Rocket” wanted to be. This is the only essential Terry Glaze record. It was never pressed to CD, but accessible bootlegs are worth every penny.
Final Grade: A-
3) Power Metal (1988) “Goodbye mystery, goodbye pain, goodbye love, we’ll meet again”
The first Phil Anselmo album isn’t very far removed from its predecessor. The only reason why I prefer Power Metal ever-so-slightly to I Am The Night is because Phil’s singing is just a small step better. “Down Below” got re-recorded for this, so you can use that to gauge it yourself. The production and tones did get a bit harder here, which made it the perfect gateway to Cowboys From Hell. But apart from that, it’s still the same build of some songs fast and blistering, others calm and concise. “Death Trap” and the title track prove to be the former, and almost wouldn’t sound out of place on a ‘90s record. On the other hand, “Rock The World” keeps things steady and easy. “We’ll Meet Again” is a gem, the somber ballad that almost feels like a prequel to “Cemetery Gates,” along with an immaculate solo and the works. Other bangers like “Proud To Be Loud” get unfairly overlooked, and just about everything here is perfect. Diamond Darrell fronting vocals on “P.S.T. ‘88” is a bit of a mess, but even that I’ll still admit is kinda fun. Essential listening, especially for traditional metal fans.
Final Grade: A
2) Cowboys From Hell (1990) “Through all those complex years, I thought I was alone; I didn’t care to look around, and make this world my own”
Cowboys From Hell and its follow-up are what I consider to be the peak point for Pantera. The sound that has been in evolution since 1985 has reached its maximum groove, but even this isn’t a full-on groove metal effort. Thrash metal makes up a large portion of the musical basis, which can be heard in the abrasive bottoms of songs like “Heresy” or the “The Art Of Shredding.” The latter is one of my favorite closers, opening with Rex Brown’s booming but simple bassline, only to erupt into a techy-thrash onslaught. The gang vocals are all over the place here, and Phil Anselmo’s voice is perfectly balanced between gruffness and cleanliness. “Cemetery Gates” will always remain one of my favorite songs ever written, between the lyrics, the crying guitars, and the advanced construction. The real groove-metal pushes come through in tunes like “Primal Concrete Sledge” or “Domination” because of Diamond Darrell’s start/stop strumming style backed by Vinnie Paul’s blasts. The slower nature of “Message In Blood” as well as songs like “Psycho Holiday” cast a looming doom shadow over what proves to be the last signs of their previous records. “Medicine Man” will also throwback to this a bit, leaning closer to speed metal. The record that many normies think is the first Pantera album is almost an hour in runtime, but not a single second of it is forced, filler, or boring. Lots of variation and absolute brilliance.
Final Grade: A
1) Vulgar Display Of Power (1992) “Taught when we’re young, to hate one another, it’s time to have a new reign of power”
Objectively, Cowboys From Hell is a more diverse and well-written record, but Vulgar Display Of Power is far more straightforward, and the only place where groove metal was ever perfected. There are a handful of great albums with that label, but this is the highest it will ever peak, in my opinion. This record extracts the start/stop sections and gruffer vocals from its predecessor and paints the whole record in these colors. But unlike the albums to follow, it doesn’t get out of hand at all. The guitar tones and intimidating delivery on songs like “A New Level” or “By Demons Be Driven” are crafted so fluidly. Others like the riff sequence of “Live In A Hole” and “Mouth For War” carefully load in the punchiness. Even the infamous “Walk” cakes on the grooves to extreme ends, and as overplayed as it may be, the solo is undeniably incredible. “Fucking Hostile” and “Rise” are where you’ll get your taste of speed and adrenaline, where “This Love” slows things down with buildups. Closer “Hollow” calms everything down and is the perfect way to close out an effort like this. Picking between the second and third Phil efforts is damn near impossible, but if I’m going strictly off of how it resonates with me, this is the ticket.
Final Grade: A+