Pantera is, without a doubt, one of the finest bands ever to set foot on planet Earth. I can't speak for other parts of the galaxy, maybe one of the guys from Nocturnus can shed some light on that, but I do know that if you want to experience POWER GROOVE here on the third rock from the sun, you must jam some fucking Pantera.
First, let me address the tragic death of Dimebag Darrel. As you will see from the rest of this post, I am a huge Pantera fan, but I have to be real on this one. Damageplan fucking sucked and you can totally see why someone felt like Dime deserved to be shot for defecating on the corpse of Pantera by starting that band. I mean I can totally imagine myself saying "He should be shot!!"
The beginning: The glam years
Many internet metal nerds would probably spend a lot of time making fun of Pantera's early records which as most of you surely know are unbelievably gay. I am not going to do that because their other records are so fucking sweet and I would rather focus on them. Enough said on that subject.
Cowboys From Hell (1990)
There are certainly a fair amount of people who think this is the best Pantera album, but I think they are "I only like the demo" types who try too hard to be different. It is definitely totally fucking awesome but it also has some real stinkers like "Cemetary Gates" that keep it from rising to the top. Oh and "Psycho Holiday," ugh, what a fucking turd. That said, the mosh parts in "Primal Concrete Sledge" and "Domination" are ungodly brutal and most definitely the prototype for countless awesome 90s mosh bands like Earth Crisis and Abnegation (for better or worse). Also, the title track might be the best song ever written, I'm not sure. It's either that or "Wake Me Up" by Wham! A lot of people seem to think this record was a big Exhorder rip off, which I guess it sort of is, but the songwriting is so much better that it's not an issue as far as I'm concerned.
Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
Now this is where things get REALLY good!! This is when Pantera created a NEW GENERATION OF POWER GROOVE! Also, Phil had one of those haircuts where it's long on top but shaved all around the sides. If you saw Prong, White Zombie, or Tool in the early 90s, you saw lots of these haircuts. Anyhow, from beginning to end, this record fucking shreds. Well, except for "This Love" which was a total puss move. "Hollow" was also gay, slow, and far too long, but the mosh riff at the end is super brutal so it makes up for the rest of the song. But "Mouth For War," "Rise," and "Live In A Hole" are fucking classics. Lots of lame football types liked "Walk," which is a good song and I like it too, but they kind of ruined it for me. But overall, this must be considered their finest release and the definitive Pantera album.
Far Beyond Driven (1994)
When this album came out, I wasn't really ready for it. I think this is where Phil started to come unglued so there are lots of weird, longer songs on here that are obviously the product of an insane junkie. They drag the average down, but this one also has some of Pantera's finest songs such as "I'm Broken," "Shattered," and of course "Strength Beyond Strength" which is definitely one of the very most underrated Pantera tracks. Overall, this album is kind of a mixed bag: Half face-ripping awesomeness, half weird crap that makes you race for the fast-forward button on your AM/FM cassette Walkman. Lots of people I went to high school with would listen to this album while sitting on a rock in the woods and smoking pot and wearing a Starter jacket. In retrospect, I should have joined them instead of writing zines in my parents' basement.
The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)
This is another hit and miss record. It has some of their very best songs like "The Underground In America," "Floods," "Suicide Note Pt 2" and "Sandblasted Skin," but some seriously shitty shit that just goes on forever and sounds like the dull ramblings of a self-centered junkie. Which I guess it is. Why is it that drunks and junkies always think that they are so interesting? They just go on and on about whatever trivial bullshit is in their brain, writing what seems to be an endless stream of books, songs, and movies about it. Someone should tell them how gay it is (although I did like the last VOD album a lot). It's certainly not interesting, novel, shocking or noteworthy in any other way. It just reminds me of my parents.
By the way, I was recently watching the Cowboys From Hell VHS, and was startled at how unintimidating Phil was. At the time it seemed like he was such a bad looking dude, but looking at him now he just looks like some surly, white-trash guy that you would see at 7-11 stocking up on Mountain Dew before he goes off to his roofing job. His physique is definitely not impressive at all, which isn't how I remembered it.
Reinventing the Steel (2000)
This is sad. With a band as great as Pantera, you would hope that they could go out on a high note, but it didn't work out that way. I tried so hard to like this album, but it's just not that good. They probably phoned this one in, and it shows. Basically it feels like the blueprint for Hell Yeah to me: flimsy, hackneyed riffs and NO POWER GROOVE whatsoever. Disappointing, but what can you do? Just put Vulgar Display in the tape player instead of this.