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In 1992, Pantera released Vulgar Display of Power, and it was a hugely successful album for all the right reasons. Inspired directly by Metallica and contemporaries losing their edge as the 1990s came around, it was easily one of the heaviest albums - if not the heaviest album - ever released into mainstream at the time (to make it fair, obscure Scandinavian death metal bands don't count), and this was achieved without cranking the gain up to twenty and screaming every lyric. So when 1994 rolled around, Pantera had to live up to Vulgar, and that was far from easy. They released their third official album, Far Beyond Driven, that year, and the album made it to Number 1 on the Billboard 200 charts as soon as it debuted, considered the most extreme metal album to have ever done so - but as one critic put it back in 1994, this wasn't on its own merits so much as the success of its predecessor.
Far Beyond Driven is a great album, but it marks the point where Pantera started going downhill. Pantera didn't want to slow down any momentum; they only wanted to get heavier and heavier. So how do you make an album heavier than the legendary Vulgar Display of Power? One correct step is to change the tone entirely - the previous album, while it did have gloom in tracks like "This Love" and "Hollow", had overall lyrics about "confidence and power", and even had a front cover of someone getting their face punched in. In between this album and the former, frontman Phil Anselmo suffered an injury to his back and, with his prescribed painkillers not working enough, began taking heroin to ease the pain, so that he didn't show signs of weakness towards the media. This story is important, because it directly affected the tone of this album - this one is far, far darker than Pantera's previous two. The gloomy blue cover does reflect the lyrical and musical content of the album, with lyrics like "I'm Broken" and "Hard Lines and Sunken Cheeks" about Anselmo's drug use. But how did they go downhill? As I mentioned earlier, cranking up the gain and screaming every lyric is the wrong way to get heavier. As well as getting heavier in tone, Pantera did exactly that as well.
The album spares the bullshit and immediately starts like a kick to the face. Not long after, everything slows down as the guitar plays a seriously haunting harmony. The album's lead single, "5 Minutes Alone", is rightfully one of Pantera's most well-known songs. The story behind it is nearly as famous as the song itself (look it up), and the song with its groovy main riff is truly a contender for the most pumping fight song ever made. The first three tracks are superb, but the album gets a bit bland after that. "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills" is an infamous song that warrants a description. It feels like filler and is just... bizarre. I can only assume it's a joke song, because otherwise lyrics about how he "fucked your mum" and references to cunnilingus ("she called me daddy as I ate her alive 'til daylight") have no place here, and they take away from the album's seriousness, even if the instrumentals are catchy and the heavy ending is good. It must be heard to be believed.
There are no truly awful songs on this album, but there's nothing special about some of them - they just seem to fill the gaps between one good song and another. One of these "nothing special" tracks, that stands out in a bad way, is "Slaughtered" - it's too damn "heavy" (the term is used loosely) for its own good - and as much as I love Pantera, the awful screamo-metalcore bands of today can actually be traced back to this very song, right down to the "AAARGHARGH" vocals and irritating guitar riff Dimebag plays halfway through. Every modern "metal" song today sounds like a bad rip-off of this song. This is the proof I will use to defend my point that the album marks their "going downhill", because unfortunately Pantera doing stuff like this didn't end on this album (and sadly it didn't end with Pantera either). Anselmo's lyrics on this album make up for the music on less interesting tracks, however. Deserving of a mention is my favourite song from the album, "Shedding Skin". With a cool riff slightly reminiscent of "Jump in the Fire", this song contains some of Anselmo's best vocals - the shivering whisper of the verse truly sounds like the singer is suffering, and with some of the most vulgar and brutal introspective lyrics ever written (not counting bullshit lyrics about gore and torture), the song describes how the singer feels about a cheating girlfriend that he says is "sticking to [him] like a scab" (whether it's a true story or not, it's still powerful). At the end, the shivering becomes a disturbing yell, with lyrics that are pretty unpleasant to say the least.
Instrumentation on this album is a step up from the previous. The guitar work is more experimental - the tuning often goes as far down as D and C# standard (previous albums never went beyond E, E flat and drop D) - which is actually a good way of getting a heavier sound - and there's a lot of cool techniques like harmonics used commonly here. You can actually hear Rex Brown's bass playing this time around, as it hasn't been muted in favour of loud guitar like the last album. The drums however don't stand out as much as they do in Vulgar, so making a proper judgement on the drum playing isn't easy. Best tracks from the album: "Becoming", "5 Minutes Alone", and "Shedding Skin". In final, I would recommend this if you are a casual Pantera fan or even a casual metal fan (if you're a metal hipster who only listens to "tr00 metal", you'll probably just jump on the "Fagtera sux" bandwagon and hate the music), but just keep in mind that there are some repetitive bits and the vocals can get annoying
(No apologies for the cliche title, fuckers!)
Far Beyond Driven is a curious album, for it is both business as usual for the band, and yet a bit different. Outward appearances suggest it to be a better produced version of Vulgar Display of Power, but let me tell you that these two are not one and the same, despite their obvious similarities. It represents a very subtle shift in the sound of the band, and one that is indicative of the fucking awesome trendkilling to come.
So I should like it, right? Uh, no. This is way more inconsistent than the previous album, because while the thrashing numbers have gotten better, the groove has remained the same or gotten worse. Listening to this thing is a pain in the ass, and at times borders ear-rape with its sheer repetitive nature or through its downright awfulness. As you can imagine then, this is a fucking difficult album to have a clear opinion on. The general mood of the album remains the same, but the musical quality is all over the place.
One of the first things you will be hit by is the production, which just pisses me off because it is very difficult to sum up in terms of quality. Everything is clearer and sharper than on their 1992 album, with the guitars being more serrated in nature, the bass coming through more easily, and the vocals becoming very distant-sounding. That should be a bad thing, but frankly, Phil's voice is pretty poor on this album, especially when not being backed up by some incredible, truly aggressive music. At the same time though, there is just something wrong with this mix. I can't really put my finger on it, but it might be because it sounds really fucking dry and sterile, and thus just sounds off, despite being better than before. The guitars sound too thin and trebly and the drums are an irritatingly thin click, and while it can be tolerated on the first few songs, towards the end it gets goddamn grating and annoying.
This irritation isn't helped by the fact that Dimebag has become increasingly obsessed with his fucking groove riffs. They dominate the midsection of this thing, and makes the album really off-putting to listen to by being borderline suffocating with how boring the groovers here are. Oh yeah, and they seemingly go on for 3 times longer than they need to, just to add insult to injury. And to incite even more anger in the listener, occasionally he pulls out a fucking smoker of a riff! Listen to 'Strength Beyond Strength' or 'Slaughtered'. THOSE are the riffs Dimebag can produce. THOSE are far heavier than any of the groove bullshit on here, in addition to being way more exciting and legitimately threatening. Oh, and his soloing has gotten kind of odd too. They aren't as flashy or polished as they used to be, rather they attempt the 'sonic madness' he would perfect on The Great Southern Trendkill, by relying more on effects than before. It is a bit hit and miss to be honest, with the solo in the opener 'Strength Beyond Strength' sounding legitimately menacing, while in the very next song 'Becoming' the solo is this pinch harmonic driven, noodly and squirrely thing that doesn't live up to Dimebag's reputation at all. As always though, regardless of quality, they are a nice respite from the shite grooves, so hats off! (I guess).
The rhythm section is mostly competent and functional in what they do. Rex just follows the guitars around, and does a good job of giving the album a slight grit through its low end, but there are no bass breaks or imaginative bass lines to be found. Vinnie is even less creative, because unlike a bass, the drums can do some pretty inventive and intense shit. For the most part though, he just does his boring 4/4 crap, a rut he has fallen into since 'Walk'. Then again, when most of what he has to work with are mid-paced boring grooves, there isn't much room for any technicality or creativeness. Both members have their time in the spotlight, with mixed results. Rex delivers some of the most boring bass drones ever on 'Good Friends and A Bottle of Pills', while Vinnie provides a glorious clusterfuck of fills all strung together with miles of double bass on 'Use My Third Arm'.
Inconsistency also mires our good friend Phil Anselmo, too. You see, Phil is angry about... stuff. 'The man'. That punk down the street. You know, 'street topics'. So how does he best express his not-at-all marketable outer coating of obviously genuine anger? Easy, by attempting 'death metal' vocals which are more like monotonous and grating hardcore shouts that don't fit with the slow songs AT ALL. Because he has to hold out the syllables on the slow songs, his atonal, zero-range tough guy shouts really get on the listener's nerves. On faster tracks though, his shouts become indecipherable rants that work well as a percussive instrument, and on the aforementioned 'Use My Third Arm', his shouts border on death metal vocals, which is the first spark of life that is a sign of things to come. That said, his performance on 'Good Friends and A Bottle of Pills' is, uh... how do I put this politely? Oh yeah, it is ABSOLUTELY FUCKING TERRIBLE, because he goes for the shitty nu 'metal' approach of low, crappy mumbling and utterly ghastly high-pitched grindcore style screams.
Noticing a trend yet? Well, that carries over into the quality of the songs: a sea of groove-based mediocrity with a few choice cuts and one absolute fucking stinker of a song. The best examples of the former would include the 2 singles, 'I'm Broken' and '5 Minutes Alone', which are this album's versions of 'Walk' or Pantera's attempt at writing 'Enter Sandman' or 'Sad But True'. Just think of a really boring, stagnant groove track, with bone-headed lyrics and crap vocals to boot. And then there are songs like '25 Years', which may as well go on for 25 years because it is too FUCKING long and boring. Pantera have the songwriting chops and riff craft to make 7 minute songs ('Cemetery Gates' and 'Floods' are both monumental atmospheric dirges), but choose not to use any sort of variation because they need to sound 'FUCKIN' TOUGH', by repeating the same goddamn groove over and over at the same fucking tempo! HOW can people like this shit?!
Must I even talk about 'Good Friends and A Bottle of Pills'? I don't think so, but for those who haven't got the hint: IT SUCKS!. There are no riffs at all, these stupid pinch harmonic effects that are headache inducing, to be honest, and Phil's vocals, which I have already covered. Have the skip button ready for that one. On a more positive note though, there are some really fucking good thrashers on here that wouldn't look too out of place on The Great Southern Trendkill were it not for the production. I have mentioned them already, but 'Strength Beyond Strength', 'Slaughtered' and 'Use My Third Arm' are fucking amazing, and show everyone in the band in top form. They are lethal thrashers that are legitimately some of my favourite Pantera songs ever, and give the Slayer album of the day a run for its money.
So, the order of the day here is a fucking inconsistent album. Most of it is truly boring, though it gets slightly grating towards the end and there are some ups and downs along the way. One thing to note though, and one thing that separates it from its predecessor, is the subtle shift in tone here. With Vulgar Display of Power, that was a surprisingly ‘clean’ and inoffensive album. Nothing about it inspired any particular passionate response in me, and it had a slight sense of melody borrowed from its predecessor, Cowboys From Hell. It was a very safe release, with any and all rough edges sanded off. Here though, Pantera are 'Becoming' darker and more hostile. It is only slight, but this thing, at times, does not drag its knuckles along the floor. It can be a pugilistic, violent album. This darker tone hints at what would come, for both the band and its music. It isn't Trendkill by any stretch, and it lacks the sheer hatred of that album.
The best way to view this album is a cross between Vulgar Display of Power (which is essentially Cowboys From Hell diluted to like, 5% concentration) and The Great Southern Trendkill, watered down to about 60% concentration. Doesn't sound that appealing, does it? There is a reason for that. This thing, despite the hostile tone, is as gasmask_colostomy put it, 'unsavoury'. It is very unfriendly and oppressive in nature, and while I have some respect for that, it does mean that it is very annoying at times. My verdict here is AVOID.
Of the 4 Pantera albums I've reviewed so far this is the best, ignoring a few tracks on Cowboys From Hell and some nice solos on Reinventing the Steel Pantera has provided a catalogue ranging from boring (Yesterday Don't Mean Sh**) to just straight up bad (Walk). This album is still a far cry from perfect but on average it felt like a pretty worthwhile listen
Phil has basically abandoned his vocal range altogether at this point. If there were any moments where he tried to take a moment to shine they were easily forgotten, I doubt there was though, I'm fairly confident he has destroyed his voice by this point. He does fully utilize his screams here though. They take awhile to get used to. His lyrics have moved away from being mindless drivel about masculinity and beating people up and have focused on other (still extremely masculine) topics, its a nice change even if it sticks close to the tree.
The guitar work comes next, again no technicality or melody. Just that rhythmic grooving that he loves so much. His tempos are up and he remembers to utilize riff changes so he does a much better job at not getting stale. Pair this with the new lyrics and it adds in some desperately needed substance to the music. His soloing, while still borrowing heavily from Slayer's screeching and Van Halen's effects, also incorporates shredding in a much better way and his signatures style finally sounds unique and somewhat innovative. Also, this is Dimebag we're talking about, expect screeches everywhere (Strength Beyond Strength) also expect some pinch harmonics here and there. His guitar work over all is far more interesting and demanding of praise (except maybe his screeches, he's usually pretty competent at how he uses those).
The drums are faster then before but are still mostly just time keepers, very simplistic and nothing you haven't heard the likes of before. He uses the double pedal to its fullest and there is more variation between his beats as it seems he's trying new things. The bass player sadly is mixed out. Again, I hear he is the perfect match for Dimebag, but I can't actually HEAR him for most of it, I mean come on turn the guy up a notch or two will you, I'm sure he deserves it.
This album would have gotten 10% higher except there is one stinking turd on here that simply cannot be ignored. That stinking pile of turd goes by the name 'Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills'. The bass is clearly audible but uses a single one note rhythmic groove through the entire thing. The guitar is mostly screeches that sound like they were thrown together with no real thought. The drumming is slow and reminiscient of a rap beat (which would normally be excusable in my book funny enough). The vocals are have no emotion or energy and are just spoken drivel, I would say its a bad attempt at rapping but that would require him to at least sound like he was trying to stick to a particular rhythm or pattern which he doesn't in any way.. The lyrics are about 'fuckin yo girl while you was asleep homie' with as much unnecessary vulagrity as possible. The best part though is that it sounds like it ended and then you hear the drums and bass pick up again just so they can fade out, like seriously, what was the point in that?
Most of the rest of the album is quite enjoyble with maybe 2 or 3 tracks that are pretty boring but man this one was just bad.
I don't think I've ever been reconciled to this album, ever since the first time I bought it. I already had 'Vulgar Display of Power', which I liked pretty well, mostly because the guitar playing was heavy and catchy. This album was darker and less accessible - there's a very overt intention to oppress the listener on 'Far Beyond Driven', from the extremer than thou lyrics to the slightly murkier production to that sinister feel that hangs over the guitar melody on the opener. Overall, I would call it unsavoury, in both senses.
'Strength Beyond Strength' a good place to start to work this album out. It's one of the more popular songs on here and (to me anyway) is notoriously two-paced. The opening riff is a nasty, grinding piece of something that I don't want to examine; the second riff is a bit thrashy and much tastier; the song switches between the two of them, then the slower groove riff comes in with that ominous backing guitar and Phil Anselmo being slow, deep, and hard; the lead builds up really slowly, bursts out for a moment, and the groove riff is gone; repeat the first two riffs and we're home.
If that sounds boring or unappealing, that's because it is to some degree. The following two songs have really, really terrible stop-start riffs: 'Five Minutes Alone' rides an awful three note chug until it finally becomes alright after three minutes (for about sixty seconds), while 'Becoming' is actually excruciating because the shitty groove (not-)riff has an ugly pinch harmonic thrown in. Dimebag Darrell is a good guitarist, but my god he doesn't have a clue what riffs sound good. Just because it sounds like someone hitting their head against the wall, doesn't mean I want to headbang to it. 'I'm Broken' is a very solid swaggering track which, while I wouldn't quite call it a riff fest, has a number of swinging and stuttering riffs that work nicely in the same sort of style as before, though they sound godly in comparison.
The latter half of the album is more interesting than the beginning, provided that we sidestep carefully round 'Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills' like the four-day-old pile of puke that it is. '25 Years' has the single worst one-note bang bang bang BANG riff that sees Phil Anselmo stomping over it like he's trying to dislodge excrement from his shoes (he is), plus one or two passable groove sections that actually count as riffs. Weirdly, 'Shedding Skin' has the audacity to actually not suck and 'Use My Third Arm' flings in a fairly convincing death metal riff, before we tumble out of the washing machine with a complete copy of Sabbath's 'Planet Caravan', which is easily the most pleasant song on the album.
Everyone has their own take on Phil Anselmo's vocals, so I won't go into a lot of detail, but he's shouty and incoherent rather than the brutal snarl that he can hear. Drums are overdone on here: Vinnie Paul is skilled behind the kit but is either trying to do too much and just making a noise or doing the wrong thing. Rex Brown is guilty of the same thing with his bass, except the addition of having a thundering tone and coming up with about three good parts all album. Dimebag Darrell pulled off some good solos on 'Vulgar Display of Power', but they are largely gone to shit on 'Far Beyond Driven', and two thirds of the riffs are just complete garbage.
The original cover for this album was supposed to be a corkscrew going into someone's anus. The music isn't quite that unpleasant and painful to listen to, but we aren't far off.
To many, as I have observed, Far Beyond Driven is not a solid Pantera album. The criticisms I have heard are that the album is too far removed from the Cowboys from Hell/Vulgar Display of Power sound, or that it is not as consistent as The Great Sothern Trendkill or Reinventing the Steel. While each argument certainly has bearing, I feel that there is a certain necessity to Far Beyond Driven that bridges the gap between the two sounds. In fact, Far Beyond Driven is just that: a bridge album. Certainly, it deviates from the Cowboys from Hell sound, and it does not have the same power as The Great Sothern Trendkill, but in its own right, the sound of songs like “Becoming,” “I’m Broken,” and “Five Minutes Alone” opens the door for that alteration from one well known and certainly appreciated sound to another.
One particular difference in sound is Phil Anselmo’s scream vocals. The guy’s singing on his first two albums with the band is amazing and added a level of force that helped establish Pantera as a powerhouse act. With Far Beyond Driven, he takes his vocals to the next level. This transformation is evident in the less consistent “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills.” Now, this was my first Pantera album, and, admittedly, I did not care for Pantera or metal when I bought it. This was the album that changed all that. That being established, I pretty much skip over this song when it comes on. Its greatest value is in Anslemo’s use of screeching vocals during the chorus. This is the first song that exemplifies this particular style for him, and he only develops it further with the following two albums and to much greater affect. Songs like “The Great Sothern Trendkill” (title track from the album of the same name), and “I’ll Cast a Shadow” (one of my personal favorites) display similar vocalizations in more structured and much more appreciated songs.
Another alteration the band makes through this album is Dimebag Darrel’s guitar work. His speed riffs (known well by those who favor Cowboys from Hell) are traded in for a heavier, thrashier sound. Where once his riffs were the speed and clarity heard in “Domination,” they are now the heavy shrieking sound heard in “Becoming,” a song that is fitting for this transitional album and easily my favorite song both from this album and Pantera’s overall catalogue. This banshee sound continues throughout the following albums, notably in Reinventing the Steel’s “Goddamn Electric” and “You’ve Got to Belong to It,” while the heavy riffing is abound in almost all subsequent songs from Far Beyond Driven. In fact, Dime’s heavy riffs are the one consistency found in Far Beyond Driven, which, while it gives it its strength, it is also the albums weakness.
Far Beyond Driven is definitely Pantera’s least consistent and weakest album, yet it remains a staple in their discography as it represents a change, a becoming from one great sound to another. Its value as an album is therefore important, and many of the songs on the album, most songs in my opinion, are excellent. Certainly, the two follow albums are much better for a myriad of reasons, but this album is, again, a bridge. It is not the finished product of the change. It IS the change.
In the grand scheme of Pantera's albums with Anselmo, I'm torn between deciding which one is the weakest, Vulgar Display of Power, or this one. This one has cleaner production and heavier riffs, but lacks the depth and clean sections that managed to keep Vulgar loosely tied to Cowboys From Hell. But album comparisons aside, the tracks here come down to three standards: good, mediocre, and downright fucking awful.
The good: "Strength Beyond Strength", "Becoming", "Slaughtered", "Use My Third Arm", "Throes of Rejection", and the cover of "Planet Caravan". "Strength Beyond Strength" is a nice, brutal opener with a good deal of thrashiness to please even the most hardened Pantera critic. "Becoming" is all groove, but because of the cool addition of pitch pedal and relatively short song length it doesn't become another banal groove-fest like "Walk" or "5 minutes alone". "Slaughtered" is essentially modern metalcore minus the limp-wristed groove and gothenburg inspired hooks and melodies. "Use My Third Arm" is the most varied track, alternating between thrashy grooves, tremolo riffs, blast beats, and a fairly decent breakdown. I've always had a soft spot for "Throes of Rejection", probably because it's one of those few groove songs that is just balls-to-the-wall pure anger and hatred. Being a sucker for covers that stay true to the spirit of the original track, I can't complain about the Sabbath cover.
The mediocre: the radio hits "5 minutes alone" and "I'm Broken" and the ballad "Shedding Skin". All these tracks follow the same general principle of grooving over some decent riffs for about five to six minutes while Anselmo barks out a hybrid of Hetfield and Cobain.
The downright fucking awful tracks that ruin this album: "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills (my vote for Pantera's worst song)", "Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks", and "25 years". These tracks exemplify everything that was ever wrong with Pantera's music, and groove metal in general. "Good Friends..." tries to channel Mr. Bungle and Faith No More with the rage of eyehategod, but falls so short of any of those marks and sounds more like a pre-cursor to awful "mathcore" garbage like iwrestledabearonce. "Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks" and "25 years" both take the cake for awfully long and uninteresting limp-wristed groove that tries to emulate eclectic doom metal like Type O Negative's debut, but comes out as a heavily watered down version of the black album.
I fail to see why people think this is Pantera's finest hour, being half full of solid thrash/groove tracks and the rest being either the 90's equivalent of pop metal or absolutely awful attempts at experimenting with other genres. If "Good Friends...", "25 years", and "Hard Lines..." were all cut out, this would probably score a 65 or a 70 in my book. But either way, if you want Pantera in true form, go with Power Metal, Cowboys From Hell, and their sludge/groove masterpiece, The Great Southern Trendkill.
This is the most honest and hard-emotional album Pantera has ever made, and by hard-emotions I mean that Max Cavalera feeling from the "Arise" album. It's straight on hard, heavy and and ear-popping with some brilliantly pulled off mood changes through out the songs. From "Strength Beyond Strength" song till "Planet Caravan" cover It makes you want to break all hell to the world and rub shit in some politicians face or some asshole that stepped on your nerve.
So riffage is the most responsible agent for this explosion of bad-assness, with some pretty much mind bending solos that rip your brain cells like heroin does to a junkie. The riffs are pretty much simple at some points, and I read in some review that, I quote "anyone could have thought off this shit". OK, AC/DC's riffs are all pretty much simple and basic, and yet many people, including me, appreciate them and their work, and If you don't you're a fucking retarded. Another example is Burzum, which is one of my top 10 favorite bands. If that isn't simple music I don't know what is, and still it's considered one of the best metal bands (one-man-bands) of all time. But let's get back to the riffage on this album. Like i said, they're simple at some points, though many of the guitar techniques redeem the simplicity and fit in perfectly, thus making the guitar sound like a true Texas chainsaw. And that's called riffage ingenuity of one Dimebag Darrell , creating something simple, yet not so simple for others to cover it properly, and yet so impressionable on the hearing part. So riffage get's pure 20% for genuine awesomness.
About the vocals on this album I could talk for days, but I'll try to keep it simple. Though I really do like Phil's vocal style, they're pretty much not so "great" on this particular album due to his drug addiction. But still he managed to fit in perfectly with the guitar sound and the whole "I'm fed up with this shit" idea. He ranges sometimes from NYC style punk shouts to some high pitch vocal fry, or from that same punk style mixed with growl shouts to a pinch of the southern "heat" dirty singing, which makes the whole vocal thing much more interesting to listen to. Now many people don't like this, but really, it's metal, it's not supposed to be "beautiful", he's not supposed to sound like a fucking princess Peach from Super Mario or Kirby(I INTENTIONALLY INSULT POWER METAL, even though I do like some bands of that genre). So vocals get 20% for being just what they're supposed to be, crude, rude and loud.
As far as lyrics go, they're pretty much OK, and standard Pantera. They're not idiotic, they're not poetic either, but a quite good mixture of surrealism, sarcasm at some points, and straight-forward punk "fuck you, you're shit" stuff. The lyrics basically, just have a good straight point, they're not mindless at all, and they really depict quite well the "personal struggles" theme. So lyrics get 15% for keeping up that consistent hateful, strong message for the 3rd album now.
Bass and drumming are quite complementary, filling the hole of the second guitar deficiency. Drumming is an excellent thick rhythm monster, filled with bass line's bass bombing thus making it all sound like a one individual instrument, instead of 2. Vinnie really does his job well, keeping the whole band in rhythm shape, and Rex pulls his real hard wrapping it all out in one single moshable bomb. So drumming gets 20% for being a fucking machinery, and bass line gets 15% for being one hell of a bass-bomb.
So final thought is this: This album is most certainly much hated, but it shouldn't be, and I don't know why groove genre is so generally hated. Yes it has some idiotic bands, and some ups and downs, but so do other genres. Personally this is my 3rd favorite metal genre, with thrash being No. 1 and death metal on the second place, and I don't find anything critically bad in it(like in some other groove band's work), and I didn't start with metal just yesterday. So all in all this album Is worth it's praise, It's definitely worth listening to, and even more if you like any bit of hardcore punk, either NYC style or other, mixed with some blues based thrashy death riffage and good moshable-headbangable atmosphere.
After being quite stunned by the amount of negative, and quite ignorant - reviews for this album, I felt it was time to bring some perspective to this great and important album.
Seriously, there are reviews here written by kids who were 6 years old when this album was released, and given a whopping 0% score. Give me a fucking break.
Back when this album was first released, metal was in a quite dismal, beaten up state. Not many bands were around carrying the torch, but the few that were are undeniably important. Pantera, Sepultura, Slayer - all of these bands helped push metal through the 90's, without it rotting in the gutters.
For some reason, Pantera always get slammed for being a "fake" thrash band. Uh, I don't ever remember them saying that they were a thrash band to begin with. They are what they are, and comparing them to classic thrash bands is pointless and retarded. Anyone expecting a "Beneath the Remains" from these guys is even more retarded. The ones who constantly say that they just ripped off Exhorder are even dumber.
After the legendary "Vulgar Display of Power", I firmly believe that Pantera did a great job of following up that record. Here, the songs are a bit slower and much, much heavier, with the trademark Pantera sound. Dimebag's playing on it is relentless throughout, well planned, and well executed, with shit loads of devastating riffs.
Sure you have the classics that everyone knows - "Becoming", "5 Minutes Alone", "I'm Broken", etc, but this album offers a whole lot more. It's not just 3 good songs, with just mindless shit for the rest. Take "Slaughtered", a complete mammoth of a song - huge, deep riffs heavy enough to rattle your eyes out of their sockets. "Shedding Skin" also features some downright excellent guitar work, and throughout the whole album the band performs great.
No one ever even talks about "Throes of Rejection".. I just don't get it. A complete fucking kick to the head, yet it gets no praise whatsoever. When the massive riff kicks in at 0:58, you better be ducking for cover. Just totally awesome, raw, pure aggression.
Their cover of Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" is also a nice touch, and a fine way to end the album.
Most of the reviews on here are those dumb, metal elitist types who still think Gorgoroth writes good music. It doesn't make sense to review an album if you weren't even fucking born when it was released, so please fuck off and do something productive with your time, because those reviews aren't clever or cute, and actually quite misleading for those genuinely interested in picking up the album.
Pantera were playing sold out venues during the 90's, being quite busy with kicking everyones faces in, while most black metal bands were still releasing albums which sounded like they were recorded in a giant tank of horse shit. No thanks, I'll take Pantera any day of the week.
One of the most controversial set of bands to discuss in the world of heavy metal most comfortably belong to the groove metal genre. It can't be plainly stated enough how quickly these groups divide the various metal circles out there with almost equally divided fans. Amongst these, I often find myself embattled as what to really say about Pantera, since their own career was divided between focused, aggressive music and something akin to this album, which runs amok with little concentration and a heavy emphasis on the predictable.
I now and will always wave the albums "Cowboys from Hell" and "The Great Southern Trendkill" as this band's two best offerings, with "Vulgar Display of Power" and this one being something of an anomaly. It seems strange that two mediocre efforts could be sandwiched inbetween two albums full of focus and quality material other than perhaps falling victim to the trend oriented tendencies of the decade. In theory, one could liken Pantera's career 1992-1995 as something similar to Anthrax, as simply watching a once gifted band pissing away their potential by making sub-par material. Since this would all crash and re-emerge as "The Great Southern Trendkill," an album even diehard Pantera fans ignore, I guess one could argue that Pantera were trying to feel out their style since "Vulgar Display" but the pop-oriented metal songs of this album tell a different story.
As with most things Pantera recorded in this era of their career, Dimebag remains something of a saving grace. Granted, he can't directly pull this album from the depths of mid-90's mediocrity, but he does help it become a much better version of what Skinlab would be doing a few years later. He does offer a few more magical moments here than was present in "Vulgar Display" which helps this album eek out a better score. Phil Anselmo has actually taken a turn for the worst here, evolving his hardcore-esque bark from the previous album into something that sounds like quasi-death grunts shouted into a tin can on a string. He always seems to sound distant in the mix, which is probably all the better since I personally couldn't stand this version of his vocal style and we can all thank our deity of choice he didn't do it again beyond this album.
Even with the above musicians who aren't on their "A" game, this album could have been better than it was. Much like the previous album, Pantera wrote their songs several minutes too long, something fellow Texan band Pissing Razors would remedy by cutting their songs to 2-3 minutes. Here, its more likely to be 4-5 minutes, with "Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks" and "25 Years" going 7 and 6 minutes respectively and both are guaranteed to bore you senseless. "I'm Broken" is a similar story, despite its iconic status, and "5 Minutes Alone" would be another example but its made slightly better by being more memorable and focusing less on driving a repetitive groove into one's skull.
Despite the mediocre material that runs rampant here, there are songs that help salvage this listen. The opener in "Strength Beyond Strength" is one of the more notable, as it filters in some thrash influences while also helping to craft a better version of groove metal into a three and half minute song, ideal for this genre. "Becoming" is another good example at only three minutes, and manages to maintain focus instead of launching off into endless groove land. "Slaughtered" takes my pick as the best of these, manifesting a style that would become a template of sorts for some like-minded songs on the next album. Phil's constipated coyote barks become more in the range of full fledged death grunts and suit the song very well. "Slaughtered" remains one of the few songs I still listen to from this album, and probably the best off either "Vulgar Display" or this album.
For all the pointless mediocrity on display here, this album does have a few tracks worth salvaging, though I'd be hard pressed to bring up a reason why anyone would look into purchasing this from anywhere other than the bargain bin. Even the cover of "Planet Caravan," which is essentially a bonus track tacked on due to its being left out of a Black Sabbath tribute album, is particularly lackluster. If one could find "Strength Beyond Strength," "Use My Third Arm," "Becoming," and "Slaughtered" from an outside source, they'd already have the best songs this album has to offer. As such, this isn't anything I listen to much of anymore as I still champion the superiority and unfortunate one-time only of "The Great Southern Trendkill." That album had focus and set forth to aggressively answer some questions about this band and their standards. "Far Beyond Driven" does none of that, and instead finds Pantera lost in a haze of lacking ideas and the misconception that all good music needs is a heavy dose of groove.
When you takes anger, violence and aggression, mix it with a shitload of heavy groove, you gets something far beyond driven. This is one of the more brutal stuff existing on earth, much more than all these ludicrous grindcore bands which can't carry a brutal track for longer than a minute...or half.
If you followed Pantera's discography till 1992, it will be pretty predictable for you to guess that this album gonna be heavy like a shit, and that's right. "Vulgar Display Of Power" was pretty vulgar, but this album had taken some steps farther (listen to "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills", you'll know what I mean). The lyrics are much more straightforward: "Fuck you and your College dream", "The president in submission, he holds out his hand on Your television ", "A crippled America", "I fucked your girlfriend last night, while you snored and drooled, I fucked your love." "I can see you, can fuck you, inside of you".
You got that point.
Now, the way the lyrics delivered is flawless, just fits perfect. 'Philip Anselmo' shouts powerfully the lyrics like a killer and the excellent riffage of "Dimebag Darrell" is harsh and heavy and combines perfect with the vox. The guitar has a real heavy tone, sometimes it also down tuned so it sounds extremely heavy but still remains clear so it doesn't sound too much dirty and hard to comprehend. This album has one of the best guitar sounds I've heard in metal. It's very heavy, very piercing but still remains clear. There is also a lot of use with whammy bars and diving solos which adds a vibrating sense within the album, especially in the exciting solo in "Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks" which is one of the best solos I've ever heard. What else? Vinnie does an amazing job here and shows an awesome skill with double bass drumming. The bass lines are also pretty intense due to the pure production and adds a groovy feeling, it actually can be heard and that's a huge plus for this album.
To sum up: "Far Beyond Driven" is easily one of the best metal albums from the 90's. It got a lot of headbangable riffs and exciting shreeding solos, agressive vocals and interesting song writing which remains awesome for the whole 56 minutes of it. Simply a must have for each headbanger!
This is the first Pantera album that's almost rendered unlistenable by an overwhelming emphasis on groove riffing and horrible screaming from once talented frontman Phil Anselmo. It's not entirely repugnant, but for the most part, absolute garbage.
The majority of the album is groove riffing. I should hate every second of it, but try as I might, the catchiness of the groove is hard to deny. Sure it's not the most balls out killer sound ever, but there is a certain heaviness to it that's undeniable. Certain songs really do this well, "I'm Broken" and "5 Minutes Alone" for instance. There are some psuedo thrash moments, but they're brief and generally the precursor to some incredibly banal groove shit. "Strength Beyond Strength" shows promise by thrashing it up for a bit, but eventually degenerates into more mindless grooving. The songs I've mentioned, plus maybe two more, are decent enough that the poor riffs don't completely destroy them. The rest of the album is trash, nothing more or less. The cover of "Planet Caravan" is interesting, but that song wasn't that great to start with.
The only other redeeming aspect of the album besides being something mindless to headbang to is Dimebag Darrell's guitar solos, but a guitar solo rarely justifies a shitty song, unless you're the type that likes to listen to 3-4 minutes of terrible wannabe metal to hear a 20-30 second guitar shred fest. To each his own, but the highlight certainly isn't anybody else in the band. Rex and Vinnie have a solid rhythm section I get, but they only really add to the overwhelming groove infection that makes up the whole of the album. Phil Anselmo just plain sucks. He doesn't even sound aggressive anymore, just tired and shitty. His performance here was probably the inspiration for countless Hatebreed-like mallcore bands and that's even more unforgivable than having to listen to him on this album.
So to recap: there's "I'm Broken," a couple cool riffs in a few other songs, and some nice guitar solos. That constitutes maybe 8 minutes in music total, though the album is at least seven times that in length. So what's going on during all those other minutes? Not a damn thing. Not a damn thing worth listening to twice anyway. This is overrated if at all.
This album had a bright future of collecting dust on my shelf for the past 8 years, but I recently got it out again as I have tried to reconcile my present opinions as both a musician and a reviewer with the rather morbid history that was the music of the early to mid-90s. This album pretty much gets less hatred from me than the last one because of a slightly better production and some better riffs. However, the critical flaws in the style that Pantera had adopted since VDoP have now been magnified, and a connection with the source of the corruption can be seen clear as day.
In response to rather incomplete take on history Brocashelm provided, I will now seek to correct what I believe is an oversight in the nature of music history. There were far greater things going on musically in 1994 than what was presented before us, and naturally at the time it would have been both difficult and costly to invest the needed money to import the music I speak of. Power Metal had been kicked down, but as underscored by the continuing presence of bands such as Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian and Helloween it was far from finished. Other bands such as Angra, Kamelot, and Nocturnal Rites were just starting to hit the scene and were achieving great success outside the States. Furthermore, if history proves accurate, Dio and MegaDeth were still pumping out music and challenging the notion that groove was the key to saving metal.
Let it be stated plainly that the value of music or any other art is not determined by public will, if that were the case, the best art would be pornography and wallpaper. So what if “Far Beyond Driven” debuted at No. 1? If the masses can be ignorant for throwing their money away on wallpaper pop act geared towards public consumption, what makes it better that metal bands get them to do the same thing on musical diarrhea tailored for the same purpose? I couldn’t give a damn if a heavy album debuted at number 1, what I’m concerned about is whether or not it’s actually enjoyable to listen to.
Furthermore, the fact that Metallica saw fit to tour for as long as they did is the key to understanding the reason for the chain of events that would follow. The bands who survived the hostile takeover that the Grunge scene incited, guided by the recording industry, were the ones who compromised with the so-called caprices of said scene in terms of song creation. That’s right my friends, Pantera sold their souls to the groove and spat on the face of what metal stood for, defying conventions. There is nothing more conventional than creating music that you can tap your foot and nod your head to, and that is what defines the lion’s share of Pantera’s music. We’re not angry with Pantera because they sold a lot of records; we are pissed at them because they put out music that sucked.
No offense to fans of Pantera, but what the hell do you mean by showing the Metallica kids the real shit? What I hear on this album is actually a bastardized version of the same groove that we find on Metallica’s “Black Album”, though with frog farts acting as vocals and some more emotionally driven lead work. I don’t despise the Black Album nearly as much as others do, but I do know what the results of its undeserved success have been and one of them is this album. The more radio friendly tracks in particular bear a strong resemblance to such Metallica tracks as “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Enter Sandman”, particularly the lack of development of the riffs. But the flaws don’t end there obviously.
We have some songs that are not only skip-worthy, they are completely revolting. “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills” is nothing more than a collection of repetitive and boring riffs with Phil Anselmo either blabbing random bullshit in that corny low speaking voice of his or screaming unintelligible nonsense in a hideous set of grindcore style screams. I’m not going to quote any of the lyrics, because quite frankly they are so utterly idiotic that I fear killing brain cells if I get them in my head while typing them. When you put the horrible spoken and yelled lyrics and the disjointed guitar sounds, you have the essential blueprint for every Korn song that has ever been recorded.
We’ve got a large collection of groove tracks as well, some of them being far too long for their own good. Both “25 Years” and “Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks” break the 6 minute mark, which is way too long for something that constantly grooves, speaking nothing for the goofy ass lyrics that dominate the sung parts. As Voltaire put it best “Anything too stupid to be said is sung”. “Throes of Rejection” and “Becoming” have a strong amount of groove, but are thankfully shorter and have more interesting riffs and some good change ups. “Shedding Skin” is our token ballad on here, and like on the previous album it is injected with plenty of boring groove sections.
Naturally, as was the case with the previous collection of musical abortions VDoF, we have some tracks that are highly listenable and loaded with intrigue. The opening number “Strength Beyond Strength” and “Use My Third Arm” are coated with some amazing speed/thrash sections., particular the latter which has some amazing drum work in it. “Slaughter” is mostly devoid of boring groove sections and has some fast sections that flirt with thrash. All of these songs have their fair share of Phil Anselmo noise, but it works much better with the faster sections of the songs.
Now let us get to the matter of the mainstream friendly tracks as they are the primary reason for the album’s success. Essentially “5 Minutes Alone” and “I’m Broken” are more vocally aggressive versions’ of the various singles that came off the Black Album. There is a rather interesting and probably non-coincidental parallel between the amount of development of the main riff of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and the main riff of “I’m Broken”. And much like its predecessor, this riff is banged out over and over until it’s drilled into your skull. In fact, the cover art depicting a man getting his head drilled is a rather fitting analogy to the way the mid-90s groove metal was presented to the masses, and the excruciating pain that the old metal faithful probably felt as they were indoctrinated into this corrupt version of the music they love.
We then close this album off with a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”, which is 100% unchanged save Phil’s vocals, which actual succeed in sounding weaker on a ballad than Ozzy Osbourne was when the song was first recorded. Although one might think this song a rather pointless bonus track, it helps to demonstrate the large musical void that existed at the time. In the 90s, there was no innovation, to suggest otherwise is to tell the greatest lie of all time. Every band took their sound from the achievements of former rock acts, most of them zeroing in on one specific album by a band in order to achieve it. Grunge and Groove Metal were both taken from Black Sabbath, and both missed the point what that band signified. They were not a force for stagnation, nor were they a band defined merely by darkness, they were a band that believed in the principle of musical progression, of breaking down barriers, not building them up like prison walls and then calling it innovation.
In conclusion, although we have a cleaner production on this release, it is still the same expression of musical bankruptcy that was observed on its predecessor. Don’t waste your money on this piece of garbage, for there is better music out there to be heard. “Far beyond Driven” is blight on the history of heavy metal, but it is nonetheless a thing of history, and there it ought to remain as a lesson for future generations on what happens when metal compromises with the will of the public.
* NOTE * After reading abunch of negative reviews for this album on the site, I re-listened to this album and tried to apply some historical perspective into this review...take it for what it's worth...thanks.
Debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Probably the heaviest album to date to do so, and easily Pantera’s most furious effort to date, this was also their last great act of purpose as a band. The scene: Nirvana had arrived on the scene, making the glam and hair metal that had previously sold bucket-loads unfashionable seemingly overnight. Now American was in the throes of the “alternative” music takeover, a funny conglomeration where artists as divergent as Marilyn Manson, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, and Soundgarden grabbed many, many inches of column ink, wrote new rules for what was cool (by logical reasoning also deciding what was not cool) and the fashion world adopted the “new” scene with eager aplomb.
The metal scene itself was in equal confusion. Death metal had left the building popularity-wise, black metal was this evil thing from across the sea that no American fan quite grasped yet, Metallica was still touring the black album after three years, and metal fans were wondering if this grunge and alternative thing was their future. And so returned Pantera into this muddled fray. After kicking many doors down with Vulgar Display Of Power, the band were now bent on driving their sound deeper, harder, showing the Metallica kids (formerly the Guns N Roses kids that Metallica wanted to impress) where the real shit was, and doing their best to flat out ignore everything else that was going on. And in doing so, Pantera made their heaviest, hardest, most tortured and unlistenable album yet. To be brief, it’s another metal masterpiece.
By now openly adopting fringes of industrial and death metal elements (the rapid fire regimented rhythms, as well as the guttural roar and savage riffing) the band were a true no compromises proposition. You didn’t have to like Pantera but standing in the way of this off the rails self-destruction machine was highly inadvisable. The skinny: some of this album is so densely packed with noisy, almost discordant riffs it becomes painful, which was surely the intention. For example, “Use My Third Arm” sounds like an epileptic fit one would suffer upon falling asleep blind drunk to discover in paranoid horror that you have no memory of how you got where you are. Been there…not fun. “Strength Beyond Strength” kicks off affairs with a blast of thrashy speed before “Becoming” adopts a slower, but no less torturous riff, with Dimebag supplying enough false harmonics and pick squeals to fill an arena on their own. “Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills” is Anselmo addiction poetry at it’s finest, managing to parody a Ted Nugent song title and write a harrowing tale of drug-blurred perception all in one sick, almost revolting 3 minute cut.
That pretty much leaves the more famous cuts to deal with, which for the most part are only slightly prettier. “5 Minutes Alone” rides another discordant riff backed by those militant industrial strength beats, blessed as well with some very serpentine Dimebag soloing, and an appropriately desperate vocal from Phil. The real heads over all winner here is “I’m Broken,” a track that combines all that is great about the thing that is (was) Pantera in exactly 4:25 of musical ferocity. A killer riff, guttural vocal, a chorus that will tattoo itself on your soul, and the ending: a tribal stomp of dense storming power that could have lasted three times as long and I’d still want to hear more of it. Another nice thing: as the smoke of “Throes Of Rejection” and it’s churning, nauseating riffs wind down, the band mellow out into the most unexpected of Black Sabbath covers, the ethereal “Planet Caravan,” perhaps the perfect doomed but meditative mood to close this raging effort.
For Pantera, this album would see them at their peak in every sense. From this point on, good but not godlike albums would appear, Anselmo, despite recording a masterpiece of an album with side project Down, would appear to become ever more of an addicted mess (mostly to pain killers taken to cope with a back injury) and finally Dimebag and Vinnie would retire the band’s name and reputation to the past, forming the effective but about two years too late project Damageplan. And then in one of rock’s most senseless and premature murders ever, Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott was shot and killed onstage while performing by a mentally disturbed fan.
Pantera caught tons of shit over the course of their existence for essentially not doing what was expected of them. It's funny to find that in their sad abscence, some metal fans still regard their legacy with suspicion and malice. I gotta say I don't understand this. Pantera never sold out, got soft, sued Napster, betrayed their fans, said metal "was dead," or any other number of stupid things other big time bands have over and over again, and still they get no respect. I just don't get it. The day I'm too cool or hip to understad metal this fierce, please shoot me. I'll be dead already.
I was a big fan of Pantera a few years back, but I've never really loved this album. In my opinion it contains to much filler. Let's see what we have here.
Opener 'Strength Beyond Strength' is killer. It's a fast, in-your-fucking-face kind of song that makes your adrenaline production sky-rocket. It goes midtempo in the middle, but soon gains speed again. Now if every Pantera song was as good as this. 'Becoming' is more sluggish, and a very good song too. While there's no denying how talented Dimebag is at playing guitar, you can be driven nuts about how he plays sometimes. Not only that, he has a terrible tone too, and it sounds like it's recorded inside a metal tube/cylinder or something. And the pinches and squeals aren't that cool. Next song is '5 Minutes Alone', and it's one of Pantera's most popular. What can I say, it's good, and especially the chorus makes you wanna murder, in a good way. The riff is a bit like 'Walk', slow and that start-stop type riffing, which I mostly like a lot. The solo in this one is crazy, it sounds like some sort of siren, and very different from Dimebag's rhythm guitar work, which is a plus.
The disc continues with 'I'm Broken', another good one, and slightly better than the two before, in my opinion. Actually, 'Becoming', '5 Minutes Alone' and 'I'm Broken' are kind of in family. They have about the same half-slow tempo, and generally the same feeling. Which is why I never remember which order they come on the record. Another cool solo, by the way, on 'I'm Broken'. Then we get another kind of beast. 'Good Friends & a Bottle of Pills' is a slow, stupored, sleazy number, with the bass taking the front seat. I love it, actually, it's so different from anything else. Phil talks like he's stoned in the verse (which maybe he was, at that), and screams his lungs off in the chorus, and it all adds up to a fun and interesting track. Ok, so far, so good. But then comes 'Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks', which sounds as dull as the title promises. A VERY slow and doomy affair to begin with, before it speeds up in the verse, and then it slows down again in the crappy chorus, maybe the worst chorus I've ever heard. Now that's an accolade! Arrgh, listening to it pains me, I must say. 'Slaughtered' is way better, thank all the gods, but hardly a masterpiece. I like the main guitar riff, and the drums that follows it, air-guitar worthy methinks. Again, though, the chorus is a major letdown. All he says is "slaughtered!". Ah, well.
'25 Years'....'5 Minutes Alone'....hmmm....many numbers and timeframes on this album, and '25 Years' sure is the worst of them. This is, if not the worst song on display, then pretty damn close. Horrid verse, horrid riffs, horrid chorus, horrid everything. It's simply stupid. When Pantera decides to suck, they sure do it big time! Luckily, quality comes by again with 'Shedding Skin', which has a funny main riff. Sounds very happy, unlike the verse, which is just a whispering Phil and mellow guitar playing. Come to think of it, this song is not that great, but the main riff makes up for it. Wish I was good enough to play it myself! Another useless track we have in the horribly titled 'Use My Third Arm'. 34 seconds into the song it actually sounds trash/death, but of course it soon changes back to suckiness. That death section is used a few times, and sounds cool, it's just too bad that the rest is garbage. The last original song is 'Throes of Rejections', and sadly this isn't any good, either. A somewhat interesting main riff section, where it suddenly stops, and the drums get all the attention for a sec, but it can't save the song.
After so many shit songs, it's bliss to hear the final track, 'Planet Caravan'. For those who do not know (and by the gods, everyone should know) this is a Black Sabbath cover. It's neither better nor worse than the original, and that's fine, 'cause it means it rules. It's a tripped-out hippie kind of a song, with nice clean guitars, easy tribal drumming, and neat sound effects. As this plays, let me just say that "Far Beyond Driven" is a mediocre album, where the best songs are the opening track and the cover. The production is fine, the guitar tone is suck, the bass is uninteresting, the vocals are sub-standard, and the drums are cool. Lots of nice moments tucked in with lots of shit ones, therefore the score.
'Till next time, my fellow metalheads.
There is one main problem with this album, and that is the lack of consistancy that it holds. It really drops off after "Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks" and doesn't redeem itself until "Throes of Rejection".
With that in mind, this album sounds like it was put together fast. In that I mean that the riffs are not the greatest, the lyrics are not the most original and the production is not up to par with "A Vulgar Display of Power". The guitar tone is annoying and sounds like it did on "Cowboys From Hell", but much heavier. The drum sound is rather tinny, but bearable (no Lar$ here). The production has so much fucking treble I can't even hear the bass at all, with the exception of maybe "Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks". Phil's vocals are good, they are pretty much the same as always, and are a HELL of a lot better than they are nowadays.
More evidence that the songs were rushed is the abrupt song changes. Take the first track "Strength Beyond Strength". It is a decent song, but the ending part is annoying. The song would have been much better if they had kept the fast thrash throughout. Speaking of thrash, much of that is gone by this time. Many of the songs are midpaced, such as "Becoming", which has a few good riffs and a catchy chorus, but again, nothing absolutly special going on here. "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills" is great. Well, the actual song sucks, but the lyrics are funny as hell and Phil's vocal delivery is very convincing. Other notable songs include "5 Minutes Alone", the best song on here, great riffs, nice verse part, "I'm Broken", which is pretty good but drags at the end, "Thoes of Rejection" features a good buildup with a killer chorus consisting of basically one word, and finally "Planet Caravan", which is very well done and a faithful tribute to the Sabbath original. A soft, smooth ending to a heavy album.
With the good out of the way, here come the bad. "Slaughtered", "25 Years", "Shedding Skin" and "Use My Third Arm". All in a row too. Damn. None of these songs are memorable in the least, have any cool riffs or any decent hooks. Just stay away from these songs.
A good album, not great, but good. Check out Pantera's other stuff out first.