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I had just about given up on these guys after the past two albums, but something happened between this album and the last one that while they were on tour, because they actually found something that they had completely lacked on previous efforts. Both VDoP and FbD were loaded with attitude and intricate guitar solos, but the overall songs were about as unfocused as you could get. In addition to that, Phil Anselmo was not pulling off the death metal vocal voice at all and sounded more like a more masculine version of Kurt Cobain, but here he has done something equally rough yet much more metal appropriate with his voice.
Particularly on the faster tracks, Anselmo has pumped a good deal of black metal style shrieks, which work a lot better than the quasi-Hetfield/Metal Core sound that he had exhibited on the last 2 albums. It’s not as individualistic or as varied as the brilliant vocal display he had exhibited on Cowboys from Hell, but it sounds a hell of a lot more metal. He still displays the flaws from previous efforts, but they have been cut back quite a bit and localized to a few specific tracks.
The lyrics also have a bit more focus, seeming mostly to be directed towards the band’s sense of Southern Pride. Unlike the crowd of politically correct whores of the mainstream, I’m not frightened by this, mostly because I haven’t swallowed their propaganda about my country’s history. Directly after recording their last album, Pantera had caught some shit because of a rant that Anselmo made on the topic of rap music and black pride. Phil Anselmo doesn’t strike me as a bigot based on the company he keeps, particularly guitarist Kevin Bond of Superjoint Ritual who is half-black ( a race more often ridiculed by pure black Americans), and a life-long friend named Kirk Windstein is jewish.
In response to the flak that they caught, Pantera decided to give the guilt-drenched left wing the finger and released an album of unapologetic Southern Pride. This alone gives them points in my book as many bands had seen fit to pander to left-wing propaganda in recent years and basically suck the cock of socialism with their music. (*cough* MegaDeth). This is highly consequential as it is the primary drive of the lyrics, which are a breath of fresh air from the directionless-yet-fashionable non-conformity that the last 2 albums represented. To put it candidly, Pantera had finally got themselves a set of enemies worthy of the blind rage that they exhibited on this album, the mainstream media and the political left.
Musically, the good far outweighs the bad, as Pantera has ratcheted up the tempo and the aggressiveness of their sound to something that transcended the boring groove sound that dominated their past 2 releases. Such high octane cookers as “Sandblasted Skin”, the title track, and “Suicide Note Part 2” are loaded with evil as hell vocals, crushing guitar riff, and a pounding rhythm section that will probably blowout your speaker if you push the volume past 6. “War Nerve” , “13 Steps to Nowhere” and “The Underground in America” are a bit slower, but still equally as aggressive. Dimebag Darrel’s soloing is getting even more effects driven, and there might be an argument that some of these solos influenced some of the lead guitarists of the current Black Metal scene.
What we can call the ballads of this album are, in fact, quite interesting songs. “Suicide Note Part 1” is an all acoustic ballad with a synthesizer track that sticks out like a sore thumb. Anselmo’s vocals are low and dark as hell, painting the picture of a man ready to end his own life. “Floods” is a bit overlong, but shows another rather gloomy vocal performance on the part of Anselmo, at times utilizing some odd effects in order to make his voice sound like he’s underwater. The acoustic lines are quite gloomy sounding as well, although the true highlight of this song is Darrel’s agitated guitar solo, which is my pick for the best one on this album.
The groove tracks on here are a bit mixed, but still a monster improvement from the last album. “Drag the Waters” sees a more polished vocal performance, although it’s still a bit long for a groove track. The cowbell in the drum line is a nice touch, underscoring the Southern spirit of the album. “10’s” is my pick for the weakest track on here, it has too many of those annoying as hell micro-bends that have that Korn sound to it. “Living through me” has too much groove as well, in addition to some structural meandering. This time it’s a bit more forgiveable, as using the skip button 2 times is a hell of a step up from using it 6 or 7 times.
In conclusion, this album is a step up from previous efforts with this new sound that Pantera would continue to exhibit until their ultimate demise. Among the releases that they had in the 1990s (excluding “Cowboys from Hell”, which was seen as an 80s album by nearly everyone) this one is the best. It doesn’t shack up to the musical greatness that they had on their first 2 albums with Anselmo, but it is worth the money. This album comes recommended to fans of Black Metal, Death Metal, and all other aggressive styles with mostly toneless screams. The rage on here is focused, it’s well directed, and it hits its intended adversary, the cult of guilt and unquestioning conformity.