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Pantera are most known for their abrasive, ultra-heavy form of groove metal, most predominately displayed here. Sure, they didn't invent groove metal, but they popularized it for the masses and the dozens, if not hundreds, of imitators that would soon follow. Unfortunately for their imitators, the groove metal that they spawned on this album died with this album, and no other groove metal album would really go on to garner any serious respect in the metal community from this moment on.
First of all, this album isn't entirely groove metal. Some leftover Cowboys from Hell style thrash shows its face in tracks like "Fucking Hostile" and "Rise," and it makes them easily among the album's best tracks. The rest of the heaviness on this album is derived from the introduction of Pantera's soon to be signature groove riffing. And to be honest, I don't really mind it here. "Mouth for War" hits hard and fast, mixing some thrash riffing with groove riffing to make for a pretty heavy, pretty cool song. The best thing about this song is that one of the guys at Id Software ripped off the verse riff in MIDI form and included it in one of the levels of their legendary first-person shooter DOOM (I think they ripped off "Rise" too). Seemingly irrelevant, but for me, that sends my nostalgia meter off the charts. The most well known groove metal song of all time, "Walk," is included here, but I actually like it. There's something about it's simplicity, especially since it's the first song of its kind that I ever heard, that makes it cool. The groove metal formula is clearly working well here, but I promise you, by the end of the album, you'll be convinced that's it died here as well. The second half of the album just gets tedious and old, with a bunch of unmemorable filler songs. Fortunately, it closes on a high note. The second power ballad of sorts is here. "Hollow" is magnificent and reminiscent of the mighty "Cemetary Gates" in its fusing of great clean riffing, meaningful lead work, and some powerful riffing. Unlike the earlier power ballad, "This Love," which is the first sign of this album's inherent shittiness.
There's a lot of great, or at least decent, riffing on this album, but the guitar solos are one of its highlights. Every song gets A-list lead guitar treatment by Dimebag, from the classics to the most banal of the groove metal dregs. Everyone else does a decent job as well. The drumming and bass work are spot on, so I can't really form any complaints against them. The vocals, however, have clearly deteriorated from Cowboys from Hell. There's only a few moments where Phil actually sings, and even fewer moments when his screaming is tolerable. Again, it sounds cool at first, but by album's end, it becomes unbearable. And while the lyrics are okay here, every album after this one features shittier and shittier ones.
What we have here is a highly overrated album, glorified more for its aggression and badassness than for its musical substance. This abrasive deconstruction of the once formidable Pantera would only continue as their albums went on, making this look far better by comparison, but it's still no masterpiece, by any means. Oh, and the cover art, while sort of brutal, is in no way the best picture of a guy getting his face destroyed by a fist. Check out Anthrax's Fistful of Metal to see and hear what a great metal album should look and sound like. At best, Vulgar Display of Power has its moments. At worst, it, along with Far Beyond Driven, influenced an entire generation of moshcore/groove metal bands that continue to plague the metal scene to this day. You might feel inclined to avoid it on principle, but at the end of the day, it's really not that bad.