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A lesson in hate! - 97%

mastodon_t, September 20th, 2009

Well, I can say one thing for sure about this record: I'll never forget the day I've listened to it for the first time. It was 1997, I remember myself walking into a 1 hour photo and, for some obscure reason, there were some Cd's for sale in that shop, including the one I'm reviewing. Seeing that there was a snake on the cover and looked pretty badass I decided to buy it, then I went home and listened to it. Well, my response after just 10 seconds into the first song could be translated in English as "Holy Fucking Jesus what the fuck?" That was more than 12 years ago, I was very young and just got into metal music, I wasn't prepared for such an outpour of rage in music form; at the time I thought heaviness in metal music came more from the speed at which notes where unleashed upon you or from the complexity of the songs rather than from the volume and intensity of them. Ten years later I understood what this album showed me back then, something that at that time unconsciously prompted me to instantly make a copy of it on cassette for my friends to experience what I labeled "The Heaviest Album Ever". Did I really say that? Yes, but it was years and years ago. Do I still mean it? Yep...

The fact with this album is that its heaviness doesn't come from how fast the songs are, or how heavy the distortion of the guitar is (well, maybe just a little bit), it's not something that was thought over and then conveyed in the studio. No, the heaviness of this music comes from the souls of the very people who wrote it and played it. The execution has little or nothing to do with it. And, for the record, I, as I bet almost everybody else out there, have in all these years listened to stuff that was played faster, louder and with heavier production (and even with more layers of guitars), but nothing comes even close to the brutality of this album, the lethal dose of hate that T.G.S.T.K. is.

Now, I don't know what happened in the two-year time that occurred between this and its predecessor, Far Beyond Driven, but, believe me, it turned Pantera's music from the poser "let's-kick-them-asses" redneck crap that boosted them into the pantheon of sell-out MTV metal-whores (along with Korn, White Zombie and all the other bitches) into a genuine, mountain-sized, 40 minutes long, ugly growl of hate towards everybody and everything. I mean, let's pretend to forget the fact that the sounds of all instruments on "Trendkill" are much thicker, deeper and heavier than they've ever been on a Pantera album; let’s also forget that, on here, carefully orchestrated harmonies, vocal melodies and jaw-dropping guitar solos left place to demonic, keyboard-driven dissonances, unrelenting death-growls and eardrum-raping noises; let's pretend to forget all this, but don't we still remember that Phil Anselmo guy, the same guy that only two years and one album prior to this was singing about his dad getting drunk and kicking his ass, about his friends turning their backs on him and then, again, kicking his ass... he was essentially singing about him getting his ass kicked. Well, this same guy is now back with a vengeance and an infected throat filled with spite and hate towards the whole fucking world and with an overwhelming desire to destroy it. He really takes on everything, from the media, to the justice system, to the low-lives and the common people. Religion, industries, families... he doesn't leave anybody out. Not even himself.

And if the lyrics are pure manifests of anger then the music is the most appropriate I could think of. Dimebag Darrel was a talented guitar player, one of the most inventive in the 90's scene and one of the most original and with a distinctive sound. Yet, starting from Far Beyond Driven he dared to challenge himself and his own talent by filtering his fluid, very technical style with some more atypical, whistling, ear-raping... what do you call that? Noise. Now, why would anyone in metal music (a genre that is already more than too often referred to as "noisy" from common people, even when they are talking about Metallica and the Irons) adopt such a style, when everything before was going just so well, if not because he's had enough and doesn't give a shit anymore? The riffs are simplistic, very heavy and groove oriented, leaving more and more open space for inhuman screams and demonic guitar-noises to breathe (see "Living Through Me", "Drag The Waters", "Sandblasted Skin", for example). But even in a chaotic ordeal like the one he’s putting you through, be sure, if there's a ballad, chances are good ol' Dimebag will grace your ears with some amazingly beautiful and heartfelt guitar solos. His best on T.G.S.T.K. must be the solo he played on the track "Floods", a quirky semi-ballad with and holocaustic undertone. Another great one is on the other semi-ballad, "10's", while a special mention goes to the bluesy southern boogie that wraps up the title track, notable. Cherry on top of his performance is the only real ballad present on this album, "Suicide Note Pt.1”; this one is a highly depressing tune, with lyrics referring to somebody's life destroyed by drug addiction, somebody who's loathing into madness and decides (obviously) to take his own life. And, I swear, never ever has music been so in theme with such negative lyrics. Even before you read the booklet or before the singer starts singing the guitar sets already a funereal tone all over you, and you already know that this ain't gonna end in a good way... a little masterpiece.

The bass sound is really great, unlike other Pantera albums where you could only hear the bass in the solo section due to the fact that the band don't have a second guitar. In this album, fortunately, Rex' bass lines are allowed their place in the spotlight along with all the other instruments; and I say fortunately because he does such a great job it would have been a shame to mix it out of the final product like had happened in the previous records. Not that what he does is technically unbelievable or amazing in any "aesthetic" means, but firstly because the guy chose one hell of a sound for this record and then the much more simplistic approach to song-writing from Darrell allowed Rex to stick his head out of the swamp of riffs and lay his own ideas here and there during each song, adding to the overall quality and general eclecticism of the “Trendkill”. Highlights in his performance here are the guitar-bass duet in the chorus of "Living Through Me", the bass lines that accompany "Floods"' guitar solo and, in general, the fast thrashers of this album, like "Suicide Note Pt.2", the title track and "War Nerve".

Vinnie Paul does a fucking amazing job on the drums. As usual. I am very proud of this guy, for the way he handles the groove so fucking tightly, for all the amazing double bass flavour that he adds here and there and for his tasteful, genuinely southern approach to tribal rhythms (listen to the song "13 Steps To Nowhere" to understand what I mean). We must note that, in this album, the guy unleashes some of the fastest beats he's ever played, especially on "Suicide Note Pt.2", which are really very close to blast-beats.

So, in the end, I think it's safe to say that this album is a good recommendation to give to someone who wants to experience a little pain while listening to the music he loves. Especially the unrelenting screaming of Anselmo (helped by Anal Cunt's Seth Putnam) can result, for the first couple of listens, in a very painful experience. I swear, these guys never stop yelling, especially during the first three songs. But it's also one hell of a schooling in a matter that is very important, probably vital to heavy metal music: I'm talking about HATE, and ANGER, and DISDAIN. Because that's what metal music comes from and what it represents, and if a band can't express that then it means they’re merely entertainers, they're fake. And so is the listener if he can't take it. A wiser fella than me once said: "If you can't stand the heat, then stay out of the kitchen!". Well... I’ll say if you think you can’t stand 40 minutes of the most hate-fueled heavy metal you’ve ever heard, then don’t listen to this.

So, after 12 years I could finally share my thoughts about this album with whoever will take the time to read this. I've done my best to retain the feelings I had upon my first listen of this album, and even though much time has passed I can say in all honesty that the story hasn't changed much: this album still manages to brutalize me every time I play it. And I'll forever thank Pantera for it.

R.I.P., Dime!