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Though I originally got into heavy metal thanks to a collection of my father's cassette tapes of bands like Dark Angel and MegaDeth, one of the bands I truly enjoyed early on was Pantera. As time has moved on, I began to break apart this band's music, focusing on the albums as a whole as well as the songwriting approach taken. Call it maturity or realization, but my almost fan boy adoration of Pantera has slowly subsided over the years, being replaced with a sometimes mild, sometimes excited reaction to hearing this band's music. The two albums that get the most out of me these days are "Cowboys from Hell" and "The Great Southern Trendkill."
While "Cowboys from Hell" was an excellent blend of various metal genres including more traditional styles and minimalist thrash with lots of prowess from Dimebag Darrel, "Trendkill" takes a different route. What is present on this album seems to be a darker yet even more hostile version of Pantera. The music seems specifically designed to charge forth like a battering ram through Phil Anselmo's enemies both real and imagined. The album also showcases a more creative machine that was Pantera at this point in time, including being the band's most varied album post-1991. While "Vulgar Display of Power" and "Far Beyond Driven" could get a good thing going at times, they would also become stalled in middle of the road metal. Both those albums were, most of the time, like placing a brick on the accelerator of a car that was suspended on a lift: sounds good, but you're never going to go anywhere.
"The Great Southern Trendkill" survives the pedestrian metal attempts on its two preceeding albums by making some changes. For one, the music is much more focused instead of directionless hostility. Someone already beat me to the explanation for this, which includes Anselmo's ever increasing volatile nature, accusations of rascism, increased substance abuse, internal problems within the band, so on and so forth. Phil Anselmo probably makes the biggest change in the band, putting forth some seemingly current lyrics that are relevant to this day about trends and the subversion of hipster disciples who jump on each new trend like a street walker does her clients. The 1990's were a rampant time of trends, one of the most horrid in which was the mainstream's fascination with halfwit alternative rock bands of the day.
Anselmo's other major contribution to this album is his change is vocal style. While "Vulgar Display" had that militant bark and "Far Beyond Driven" had that quasi-death grunts shouted from halfway across a parking lot feel, "Trendkill" finds Anselmo charging forward with shrieks more akin to his work in Superjoint Ritual. I would argue, however, that his work here is far less nerve racking thanks entirely to the better ideas and musicianship on this record, which keeps Anselmo grounded. The record is also layered in its vocal affects, which gives songs like "13 Steps to Nowhere" and "Sandblasted Skin" a demonic feel. This comes again from the internal issues of the time, as Anselmo was not even in the same state as Rex, Dime, and Vinnie during the recording sessions.
The unusual creativity exuded on this album come in the forms of songs like "Floods," "10's," and "Suicide Note Pt. 1." "Floods" is an excellent example, and while a bit too long, possesses an interesting contrast between somber darkness and later in the song when things begin to pick up. "Suicide Note Pt. 1" is an unusually serene number that comes off as a dark country song (I mean country music, not this Kenny Chesney nonsense) that stacks up as one of Pantera's very best. "10's" is the least of these, which has a nice atmospheric tinge to it, but for its entire duration refuses to kick things up a bit when such a change would be most welcome.
The remaining songs either fall into Pantera's usual (though improved) Southern groove or faster versions of such. "Suicide Note Pt. 2" is an excellent example of the faster songs, and works very well for the band. With a song like that, it begs to know why Pantera couldn't throw in more songs like these in their time which would have undoubtedly improved "Vulgar Display" and "Far Beyond Driven." The title track also throws in some faster sections, albeit temporarily and showcases Anselmo's new found lyrical approach against the mainstream media. "War Nerve" is more mid-tempo work, but is a much better than song than anything found on the previous two releases. "Drag the Waters" is another example of this, throwing in some cowbell to alleviate your fever.
Unlike the more celebrated releases by this band, I could not find a single dud here, except maybe "10's." They all possess merit of some kind, and with perhaps the exception of "Living through Me" manage to avoid becoming mindlessly repetitive or suffer from aimless meandering. Its definitely an improvement over preceeding works for this band (not to mention the one that would come after it) and is quite possibly the best album they put out. Songs like "Sandblasted Skin" and "War Nerve" help one to forget all about the stagnated groove fests of "Far Beyond Driven," which for some unknown reason is a more cherished album than this one. In fact, this is the one Pantera album that never gets much respect, even though the live versions of these songs that appeared on "Official Live: 101 Proof" were killer and the highlights of that album.
Like some have already said before me, this is a Pantera album for Pantera fans and non-fans alike. I can certainly see those who couldn't care less about this band getting into this, considering I know some who have. Its especially far removed from their other material in terms of aggressive and focused attack, yet still planted enough to win the adoration of Pantera fans. I for one continue to enjoy this album more than any other this band has put out, and recognize it as their best second only to "Cowboys From Hell" in terms of musicianship. It would have been interesting to see Pantera continue down this road, which obviously did not happen given the step down that "Reinventing the Steel" was. I also like this album for its statements, particularly against the "hip" crowd and their trends plus against the stereotypical outlook on the Southeast U.S. This is all just icing on the cake for a Southerner like me, but for those who couldn't care less, I can definitely recommend this to non-Pantera fans. Its removed from what most media outlets celebrate about this band, to the point that many Pantera fans seem to skip over it entirely.