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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.