And it was 1990 that saw this change come recklessly and wildly into place when Arlington quartet Pantera re-emerged with their fifth album Cowboys From Hell. This album would become a rebirth for the group and a rebirth for metal in general. It saw the group abandon their cringeworthy glam metal of old and return with a much rougher, dirtier and more extreme brand of metal. As guitarist Darrell Abbott transformed from "Diamond Darrell" into "Dimebag Darrell", Pantera charged forward with a full-scale assault upon a mass of unsespecting and delighted metal enthusiasts with the introduction of groove metal which saw the perfect marriage of pulsing thrash metal riffs and danceable hip hop rhythms. The previous glam metal releases meant nothing. This was their real debut. This was the real way to say hello to Pantera and a new dawn of heavy music that would give heavy music at it's most extreme a place in the mainstream world of music where it belonged.
And then a year later, Nevermind by Nirvana topped the US Billboard 200 album chart and heavy rock music was given a newer rebirth once again in the form of grunge music, as the Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains all reached extreme heights of mainstream success. However, this meant that the world of metal was still left begging for more and the rise of groups like Machine Head and mainstream emegence of Sepultura meant more progress was made in the rise of groove metal. but ultimately, it was Pantera that a new generation of optimistic metalheads looked upon for a desire to continue to intense assault of revolutionary heavy metal as they had on Cowboys From Hell. Surely it was an impossible task. There was no way an album with the same kind of game-changing and reputable impact could be made, surely...
When speaking of the mentality the group had for the making of the album, Anselmo states that the idea of playing making the album was simply "playing metal with hardcore attitude" and it shows through the constant addition of the extra badass qualities that hardcore punk brings mixing itself with heavy metal traditions to create the kind of musical attitude that was unheard. It resulted in bleak and sludgy verse structures mixing with more in-your-face and frantic grooves during Live In a Hole and Regular People (Conceit) and most importantly, giving badass riffs to more emotional ballads. The closest anyone had got to doing such a thing was Guns N' Roses and they never had any immense breakdowns or deathly growling, like heard in This Love and Hollow. And these moments don't even divert from the pure emotion that emits from these songs, surely a sign of how strong they are.
The emotional impact of Vulgar Display of Power is also a considerable force, both when listening and in hindsight. Though the performance is violent and aggressive, there's a lot of positivity to be found on the album. Rise is a song that calls for mass unity and brotherhood amongst mankind as Anselmo yells "Mass prediction, unification/ Breathing life into our lungs/ Every creed and every kind/ To give us depth for strength." In hindsight, this idea of brotherhood is something that makes this album so wonderful. It's the sense of brotherhood within Pantera that makes this album even more powerful a listen. Anselmo had fully settled into a group, having not joined until fourth album and unofficial Pantera album Power Metal and when listening to the album, it's quite clearly the sound of four guys kicking it together and having an awesome time without a care about what anyone else thinks. It's a far cry from the events in later years which saw Anselmo and Dimebag have a very public fallout in 2003, leading to the demise of the group and the horrific onstage murder of Dimebag a year later meant Phil was never given any chance to make any kind of reparations with his former partner in metal. So, when listening to Vulgar Display of Power, it's a warming callback of more glorious days, a true album which resembles friendship and brotherhood across musicians.
So, Vulgar Display of Power is an album that's all about being as brutal and hardcore as possible in playing heavy metal and twenty years on it's still as heart-racing, punishing and tearing a listen as ever with raw energetic performances with genuine roughness, bile and vigor mixed with the performance. It's the album that has inspired a generation of groups, putting both nu metal and metalcore into action by mixing wiry, adrenaline filled hardcore breakdowns with in-depth more emotional heavy metal passages. It's a masterpiece of metal and though it is extremely likely that Pantera are never going to make any kind of return, albums like this mean their legacy will last forever.
Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power 20th Anniversary Edition CD/DVD set will be released on 15th May via Rhino.