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I've always said that Pantera would have one hell of a “best of” compilation, but until then we'd have to put up with mediocre albums. Honestly, Pantera would have been better off making that best of, because Reinventing the Steel sure isn't contributing much to it.
The average Pantera album consists of 3-4 extremely good songs, and 7-8 pathetic songs. The band's final offering has addressed this problem and made a consistent album, that doesn't drop down to any truly abysmal songs. However, it's got even less standout tracks than earlier albums.
There's some changes from the standard Pantera mould here, it's still got heavy groove, probably the bands thickest slab of southern influence, and very simplistic riffs which make up the band's core sound, but Reinventing the Steel offers up a lot more fast material than usual. Not as much as on The Great Southern Trendkill, but more than the few albums before it. In fact most songs have moments that are at the verge of being thrash. Note that it's just quick pulses of thrash thrown into a vast sea of groove. But it's there. Along with this, there's a big step up in the quality of song structures and dynamics, featuring less linear approaches, and more than 4 or 5 different riffs in a song.
Probably the most notable change is the lowering in the numbers of solos. Now there’s not one in every song. Most still have one, but “Hellbound” doesn't have one, and even the complex "Revolution is my Name" doesn't have a clearly defined solo section, among others. Even then, the solos are really a long step down from Darrel's best work. They still have the Dimebag unique touch, but it's not that stunning. This is pity because Pantera have relied on Dime's solos to really take the songs to being more than stupidly easy-to-play groovers. Instead, this album has a little more complex riffing for its technicality fix. It's still slow as hell most of the time, but the guitars definitely have a lot more going on than usual. The results are a mix in quality, some songs have interesting guitar work, but most of the time it's only average. Still, there's no three note riffs like "Walk" on here, most of the time they've got a very southern rolling approach.
The problem with that album is that it's so safe sounding. There's a little more emphasis on some areas than usual, and other sections of the album are less in depth, but for the main part, the band just plays it safe, and sticks to what they have always done. The solos are dumbed down or just plain absent, the drums are pretty dull, rarely showing any off any of Vinnie Paul’s skills beyond his ability to play complex things with his feet, whilst not losing any arm mobility. This is still a good piece of drum work, but he doesn't seem to be overly powerful or meaty. Phil's screams are almost exclusively limited to his low growl, with his higher screams only coming out on a few songs. I never really liked his high screams, but you know, they're still missing resulting everything being a little one dimensional. And the lyrics are pretty bad. Really, it's quite a cop out even for Pantera. Usually there was at least an immature sense of "Yeah, this song makes me want to fight people". But now we get songs about Texas, or about a passage of time. There's really no silly badassness to it. It's just so tame.
All over the album there are signs that the band simply didn't give a shit. the cover art is stupid, basically it seems like the band decided they wanted a picture of fire, found one, it happened to have a scrawny guy in boxers jumping through it, but they gave up looking and accepted it. Then you've got the lyrical edit on "I'll Cast a Shadow" at around the 4 minute mark, which no one seemed to notice. It just seems to hint that there wasn’t too much effort put into the album.
Pantera’s final album wasn't really a particularly bad one; it was just an uninventive, tame one, with no real drive behind it. And it shows, with most of the album being kind of dull. It does have it strengths, and it is catchy, and due to its consistency, you probably won't be forced to turn it off before it's done due to utter repulsion, but it just lacks the attention grabbers to get you to put it on in the first place.