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Before I start off this review in going into what was and still is an amazing album, let me give you some insight as to the feel behind this album. I will start off by quoting the great American author Henry Miller from his 1945 novel "The Air Conditioned Nightmare." And I quote;
"The Southerner has a different rhythm, a different attitude towards life. Nothing will convince him that he is wrong, at bottom he has supreme contempt for the man in the North. He has his own set of idols - warriors, statesmen, mens of letters - whose fame and glory have never dimmed. The South remains solidly against the North, in everything. It wages a hopeless fight, very much like the fight of the Irish against England."
And by saying that it gives you an idea of the mentality, the feel, heart, and soul of Pantera which is southern culture and southern pride. And in that southern culture/pride it brings out sometimes the mis-concepts, stereotypes, stigmas of practically anyone and everyone below the Mason-Dixon line. My theory of why Pantera was so controversial in many ways was that they were proud of their southern roots and homeland and didn't go with the flow with the whole rebel flags and that stuff. And yes I have watched the videos of his so-called racist rants on stage. That's NOT racism. When you come from the south, that's just a general rule of thumb for respect. I'll go more into that later. But for not only Phil but the rest of Pantera, they were that rowdy bunch of southern boys who just got into trouble. It's a very common thing when you hear it from the mouths of mothers in the south talking about their sons and their taes of general hell-raising.. It's expected of us. It's a way of self-education to not do stupid shit because in the end....it comes back to haunt you. Aside from the ominous hints I've been dropping, the FEEL of the south is here; the Spanish moss, the alligators, the intense raging heat, the watered-down beer and burning feel of whiskey. Even the underbelly that's nothing but unemployment, anger, drugs, depression, poverty, etc. It's all there. That fiery red phoenix from the south is glowing with anger. And not a bird that burned faster, hotter and sadly shorter than Pantera. That was one freebird they couldn't chain that's for a damn fact.
Now that I've given you a picture of where the album comes from, let's go a bit further into the actual album and where the band was at the time. Fuck it, let me tell you what metal was like in 1996. It WAS dead. It couldn't have been more un-cool to say you were a metal head or a fan of heavy metal in general. I am not saying an underground didn't exist. I am not saying that Metal Maniacs was still providing us a service. I'm not saying that...I am talking about the society's mindframe in 1996. It was the total opposite of 1986. In 1986 I'm sure, I'm almost fucking positive that you would have been way cooler wearing a Slayer shirt. But in 1996....forget it. No way. No Headbanger's Ball. And I was in 8th grade in 1996 so I know what the fuck I am talking about. It was nothing but Marilyn Manson, Silverchair, and just about everything still left-over from the Grunge genre. It was piss-fucking-poor. The coolest thing? 311. Forget Metallica. Not even a blip on the metal radar. As far as mainstream bands still able to crack the Top possibly 50 Billboard mainstream boards Pantera were the saving grace for those bleak years. And for them to be from the South, it was the ultimate non-politically correct thing in 1996. Everyone was trying to clean-up, go slower, be less aggressive....aside from Slayer being the only other mainstream band left over from the 80's, Pantera was the band that kept the flame burning. But the fame burned them hard.
Now with not only their previous success, Pantera started getting flamed from within their own camp. Phil Anselmo suffered from a spine injury, got hooked onto painkillers/heorin, got into some trouble with starting fights with security guards at concerts, and on top of this everyone looked at him and started aping his vocal style. Here he fucking lets loose on the false. He doesn't take a sledgehammer to a brick wall, he drives a tank into that wall of bullshit that he was dealing with. In fact it's his performance that truly outshines the rest. Let's not forget Dimebag who comes up with some really innovative stuff here. I mean before I thought "Yeah he's good" but there are song on here that goes beyond the groove metal sound that got ripped-off to no end and he goes into some weird melodic territory that you think "I wonder what would happen if he did a full album of this?" Because for the most part "The Great Southern Trendkill" is this massive mood-swinging album. Again, more than likely due to the influence of heroin that Phil was under during the recording. Vinnie and Rex I never saw anything that stuck out as far as their performances, but when you have Phil Anselmo and Dimebag Darrell in your band you're going to be/get overshadowed. It's a no-brainer. Plus whenever you look at what the remaining members went on to do with side-projects, it's obvious the talent and longevity as far as career went to Phil considering his "downfall" was drugs, the guy is still living a manic-like lifestyle with constantly releasing music and touring with Down and all of his million side-projects from his yesteryears. Don't get me started on Vinnie's crap side-project and that one he did with Dimebag which unfortunately was Dimebag's last....but in comparison to everything, the talent went to Phil, the tragedy to Dime, the lackluster to Vinnie and the support wheel/drama-free one to Rex. Production wise, this is possibly the best out of all their albums. Even though the music and vocals were recorded separately, it's clear as shit.
Songs? They exist. Bundles of them. In a way this is probably the most moodiest of all the Pantera albums. Very bi-polar . This album goes through the manic-like highs and depressive lows of heroin abuse and combined with Phil Anselmo's hatred for the media, trends and fantasies about the end of the world...someone check him into a psych world. "The Great Southern Trendkill" starts off with Phil screaming like a dying hyena. From there it gets only angrier and angrier. "War Nevre" is Phil's ultimatum against the media and press. For a 14/15 year old version of me....how could I not LOVE, LOVE the lyrics "Fuck the world, for all it's worth, every inch of planet Earth, fuck myself, don't leave me out." DGAF what anyone says; for 1996 where the uniform for angry young teenage males such as myself dressed in Airwalks, baggy camo cut-off shorts, wallet chains and various band t-shirts from the mainstream bands at the time. That was and in still in some way the total shit. Even whenever I listen to "War Nevre" today, I still get the feeling of that young pissed-off teen angst version of me but more in a vinatge-y feel-good emotion saying "Yep, angry young man." Of course Dimebags thrashing chugging grooves was basically like getting a huge dick in the ass due to the sheer brutality of the track and then Phil in the background screaming "HATE!" like a dying animal left a huge impression on me. Remember what I was saying earlier of accusation's of Phil's supposedly racism? It doesn't exist. As a southern male who has family in both Louisiana, Georgia and was raised in central Florida...I see nothing racist about this. I know some people might think "Well duh that's because you are seeing it from the same view as Phil or sticking up for his ass." Wrong. if anything he is pointing out the irony in the supposed racism and the actual open-mindedness of the variety of people, races, genders, and religions that comprise of the south. The general rule of thumb is that if you show respect, you will be treated with respect back. if you act like a douche bag you will be called one. And we as southerners are NO different than what you may find anywhere else int he world. Racism just doesn't happen here. It's everywhere. And I think that Phil got misquoted on that. "Drag The Waters" let's up a bit on the anger. "10's" is where we start feeling the shift of the mood. Very Alice In Chains-like where Phil starts showing a bit more doomier and I suppose 'melodic' singing? There's a huge doom feeling to this song. You can hear where the heroin influence of what Phil was playing with come in just by the nature of this song and feel of it because there's some weird echo sound effects in the background, possibly double layered vocals to give it a more darker feel. "13 Steps to Nowhere"...a weird groovy kind of song that's hard to put my finger on, and then we come to the big two part "Suicide Note" divided into 2 songs. Remember how I mention this album was bi-polar like? "Suicide Note prt. 1" is very depressive. Melancholy. Themes of regret, sorrow, sadness, basically the picture of a man trying to keep being the strong one but is battling an addiction and he is painting a picture of how low it can get if sticking the needle in your arm and the poor bastard is suffering. This is possibly Phil's most heart-felt song. The sound is a slow country-esque harpiscord where Phil sounding like he's singing from an abyss crying out for help and sympathy......then comes "Suicide Note Prt.2" where it's the polar manic opposite. Here you see the side of the addict from a different point of view which is the asshole self-destructive side, still suffering but the psychotic angry "Fuck you all, I'll do it with a smile on my face" in total time bomb mode. The lyrics sum it up perfectly in prt. 2 with Phil screaming "Why would you help anyone who doesn't want it, doesn't need it, doesn't want your shit advice, when a mind's made up to go ahead and die? What's done is done and gone, so why cry?" It's the face of addiction and abuse that rarely gets seen where the disease overcomes the person in total protective mode and the person cannot speak from their own mind but the mind that is craving more of that drug. "Living Through Me (Hell's Wrath)" is a of Phil saying to all of his copy-cats "You want to walk a day in my shoes? You won't be able to." Then comes the hallucinogenic, doom-ridden apocalyptic epic "Floods." Something about this song resembles an Old testament misanthropic flavor to it. Again this goes back to as previously mention about Southern lifestyle. We (as in the southern states) are not called the Bible Belt for nothing. Our hugest religious influence/lifestyle is the Baptist church(not everyone, I'm talking deep south ie: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, etc....Louisiana is more Catholic-influenced) and when sings the lyrics "Wash away man, take him with the floods" and you hear the vocal effects of him sounding like he's underwater and the sound effects of thunder, lightning, and rain. That right there is old-school deep southern religion. It's not a happy one. It's not a forgiving one. It's not a particularly positive one. It's a natural one if anything. Without going to much into explaining it more, there is a symbolic meaning behind it. "Floods" also sees possibly Dimebag's all-time best performance, not only with the melody but the fucking RIFFS! The chorus where Phil chants "Floods! Floods! Floods!", his crushing Sabbath riffs come full blast. And towards the end we get a two part solo; the first which could have easily been on "CFH" or "VDOP" and the last part being a very haunting and ghostly sounding epitaph to his legacy. Imagine Eddie Van Halen playing a guitar solo mourning Dimebag's unfortunate future death in 1996 and you'll get an idea. Very spooky. The last two songs "The Underground In America" and "(Reprise) Sandblast Skin" comeback in full blast Pantera style.
Besides a couple of songs that I usually skip because they just ALMOST, almost seem like filler "13 Steps To Nowhere" and the last 2 songs, they are still good. But for the majority of this album it's the contrasting moods and song feeling between the angry, raging, and violent and the depressed, moody, melancholic and suicidal. It's quite obvious that this album had a huge impact on me as a young teenager. Even though I had been listening to Hard Rock/Metal for a few years prior (AiC, White Zombie, Helmet, Megadeth, Metallica, Sabbath, Cooper, BOC, and I'm not ashamed to admit this Marilyn Manson, etc.) for 1996, this was an angry fucking album. It was what was needed in the mid 90's especially for kids like me who were born in the early 80's (80-83) and loved Hard Rock/Heavy metal in the early 90's and grew up with the music but for the majority of the 90's it wasn't kind to us. For us this was in a lot of ways or beacon of light for someone carrying that torch ninto the mainstream and telling everyone "No. We're here to fight the good fight. We'll win some and loose some, but we're not going down or quietly into the night." I mean yes there was black metal ( didn't get into that until shortly after listening to this album), there was the corporate rise and success of death metal, and there were new bands forming and there was a sense of things changing. And for all that change to happen there needed to be an album which presented Metal in it's ugly face. Pantera did that where everyone else was listening to fucking Sublime and 3111. Pantera was that high school football team that when you attended their events and heard of their glories, and victories you cheered for them. And much like that old football team they did stuff that probably won't ever happen again, but for a small time, Pantera made damn sure that their voices were heard in full raging anger and all. Yall come back now ya hear.