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A New Level - 90%

MegaHassan, January 10th, 2009

Pantera. The mere utterance of this word among a group of metalheads can either spawn a multitude of comments of how they were awesome, amazing etc... or it could do the opposite and invoke the wrath of many anti-Pantera metalheads. Most Pantera fans point out Vulgar Display of Power as the high point of their career, where they finally shed all all their melody in favor of a more straight forward and “tough” sound. Detractors of this album claim the exact opposite. They believe that this is the album where Pantera “sold out” etc... going as far as to claim that this album “killed thrash.” Honestly speaking, that is probably the most hilarious thing I've ever read in my entire life. An album killing an entire genre? Give me a break. I'm not going to dwell on that further, though. This IS a review of an album, after all.

Before I continue, I must confess that there was a time when I hated this album with a passion. This was one of the first metal albums I heard after being introduced to the genre via Iron Maiden, and I hated it. It took me more than 2 years to fully grasp what this album was about, and why it could be so highly praised by the “metal press.”

On Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera set out to push their newly discovered sound further into uncharted territory. In order to do develop your sound and define a genre, it is imperative that you shed some of the “excess baggage.” Slayer did that with “Reign In Blood”, Anthrax did that with “Among the Living.” Hell, even Iron Maiden did that in “The Number of the Beast”. Pantera did the same here; they discarded a lot of the things that made Cowboys From Hell what it was. They weren't “selling out” here, they were simply pushing their sound further, pushing the groove metal sound further. The riffs are no doubt simpler and the tempo is definitely slower, but I ask why is that a problem? The same people that worship Black Sabbath songs like “The Wizard” and “Evil Woman” hate the songs like “Walk.”

With the exception of the aforementioned song, the songs here aren't exactly very catchy. Being catchy was probably the last thing on the band's mind when they were recording this album. The songs on this album are the complete opposite of what the masses' concept of “catchy” is. The songs here are extremely hard to get into and understand, but they are extremely good at doing something else. VDoP focuses on the slow outtake of aggression, as silly as it may sound. The simple riffs, coupled with Anselmo's hate filled (yet somewhat irritating) screaming (death metal vocals? Hah!) creates a genuinely crushing atmosphere. While thrash metal bands usually featured fast songs with a no-holds-barred approach on their albums, Pantera did the opposite, while at the same time using (simplified) thrash metal riffs. Not all the songs are slow, though. There are two notable up-tempo tracks here, “Rise” and “Fucking Hostile”, and the position of the tracks couldn't have been better. I don't know any better way to describe the effect it has on the overall sound, so I'll describe it this way: conserve-conserve-conserve-ATTACK!-conserve-conserve-ATTACK!

A lot of the riffs here are the usual “chug-chug” riffs but they often make way for an infectious groove to slip into the music, which succeeds at drawing an unaware listener further into the music. The first two songs and the second-to-last track show this aspect of the music very well. The drums are extremely simple, and a little more variation and a better overall performance would have contrasted well with the riffs. I don't have much to say about the solos, because I don't know an awful lot about guitar solos and that stuff, but I seem to enjoy them, so yeah.

The two main problems I have with this album is that 1.) Anselmo's vocals are extremely irritating at times, but I think that with enough patience most people would be able to get used to it. And 2.) The bass is hardly audible, and can only be heard when Dimebag releases one of his earth shattering solos, which is a real pity because the bass could have really added to the crushing tone of this album.

Overall, this album is probably the best album Pantera have ever released. It's extremely consistent, and shits on most groove metal albums. This album is not a thrash metal album, so if you listen to this expecting a truckload of riffs and fast songs, you're going to be extremely disappointed. This is a groove metal album, and hence should be treated as one. And considering that this is a groove metal album, it's damn good.