Saturday, 25 February 2012

Celebrating 20 Years: Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power

 As the 1990s came into emegence, metal music seemed to be on it's hind legs. Only the thrash sound of Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica (who were about to drop the thrash sound for 1991's Black Album) and many more were the kinds of metal that were genuinely thrilling and epic as well as being to reach larger crowds. However, the kind of metal that was seen to gain a greater rising were the mass waves of glam metal and hair metal bands, all of whom reached large amounts of attention and stardom for essentially playing pop music disguised by some guitar riffs and pompous attitudes, while the rising of the more viscious and exciting black metal and death metal was recieving little attention or care. things looked grim. Metal was desperately in need of a group that could reach out to the masses of rock fans and simultanously deliver a performance that was raw, exciting and fresh. Otherwise the genre had no hope.
 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...

And of course, today fans of metal across the globe can celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the release of an album that ultimately did have the same kind of game-changing and reputable impact on metal as we know it. 1992's Vulgar Display of Power became one of the most influncial metal albums of the 1990s with it's influence remaining a prominent force today. As grunge rose at an astonishing rate and glam rock wasn't able to last the pace, frontman Phil Anselmo knew that it was a case of adapt or die and more changes were made for Vulgar Display of Power that metal music thrives on today. And most notably, the change in vocal style for this album is remarkable, the high pitched Judas Priest and the ridiculous cock rock style of spandex and poodle-perm hair was all banished, Anselmo shaved his hair and switched a much deeper guttural growl to give the songs a more monstrous delivery. And sure enough as he is first heard screaming "Revenge/ I'm screaming revenge again" during opener Mouth for War, it's obvious that mainstream heavy metal has once more become as evil-sounding and forceful as Black Sabbath intended for it to be in 1970. The influence of this album has stretched far and wide across the world of metal as we know it today. The group's sludgier performance, bleaker performances on tracks like A New Level and By Demons Be Driven manage to conjure up awe-inspiring atmospheres of pure morbid brutality while the more rapid hardcore punk delivery of Fucking Hostile and Rise are a rush of epic ecstasy and energy. Both elements of playing can clearly be identified when listening to Lamb of God or Mastodon, arguably metal's most widely regarded and celebrated groups of this generation. As well as this, there's the stomping, swaggering Walk, a song with such a simple groove from Dimebag and pounding bassline from Vinnie Paul that has become a heavy metal anthem. It's power that emerges through the no-tricks-just-riffs nature of the song is still felt today. It's still performed onstage during shows for completely different groups. Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet for My Valentine have performed it onstage together. Simply if you know modern metal, you know that song inside out.
 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.

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