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Pantera's "debut" album, is one step up in heaviness from their previous effort, Power Metal. To me, this is also the best thing they've ever released. While Power Metal was very competent, this is raising the bar much further and has a more professional polish to the songs. It's more or less a slightly groovy speed/thrash metal album for the most part. The Exhorder comparisons and ripping off have been really analysed to death in reviews of this period of Pantera's career so all I shall say is that the similarities are indeed there and very prominently shown, but that doesn't change the fact that this is one focused and hard hitting album.
It needs no time to warm itself up and goes straight for it in typical metal fashion, with what could be considered their "flag tune", the title track. It's got the tough attitude, the staple southern sound and all the aggression that you can squeeze into four minutes. Classic. It then speeds up with "Primal Concrete Sledge", a short but menacing tune that holds you firmly down to your seat. "Pyscho Holiday" is a slower, more considered and stretched out song, while "Heresy" does just the opposite and thrashes away with its infuriated riffs. I must mention Diamond Darrell's excellent leads in the former song. "Cemetery Gates" is a semi ballad of sorts, and is a longer song with many different parts to it and a generally mournful and sombre atmosphere. I'd say this is the most unusual song here, but has a fantastic feel. It's definitely the highlight of the album. Back to the all out thrash with "Domination", mimicking the "Heresy" formula and keeping up the quality. It's the same with the next couple of tracks. They're ones that slip the memory the most, but manage to retain something and keep the album going.
Before "Medicine Man" brings us back to the "Psycho Holiday" feel again, with the emphasis this time on a darker and mystic mood. It's continued with the furiously charged "Message In Blood" with the foreboding, doomful verses and the incredible riff that holds that all together. "The Sleep" continues onward with a sort of more a ballady feel, but in the sort of way "Cemetery Gates" dug into a deep gloomy hole. "The Art of Shredding" closes better than I'd fear at this point, it's a monster thrasher with ripping energy and an offbeat structure.
This is far more consistent than the two albums that come after it, and the good songs come thick and fast. The mid paced and slower songs mingle well with the fast thrashing numbers. It's a shame they never retained the same standard again, but there are many great moments still present in the Pantera catalogue.