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Back in the year 1992, the musical world was essentially collapsing down onto itself, as the recording industry was reveling in its newly found ability to completely destroy a musical scene and then rebuild it as it saw fit. Nearly everyone I’ve debated on the fall of metal in the early 90s say the same thing, “it was inevitable”. Bullshit! Things are only inevitable when no one stands up and acts in opposition to what is happening. The fall of metal back into the underground that it came raging out of back in the late 70s was brought about not just by the disease of “Grunge”, but also by the willing submission to that takeover by bands like Pantera.
The question revolving around how Pantera could have helped in destroying metal is the concept of “The Groove”. Many have alluded to this in reviewing both this album and the ones that came after it, all of which were piles of crap that happened to be sugar-coated with some amazing guitar soloing. Essentially when music grooves, it doesn’t go anywhere, we don’t get change ups, we don’t get contrast, we simply get the groove. We don’t get intricate riffs, we don’t get soaring banshee screams and clean low vocals, we merely get the groove. We don’t get music: we don’t get art, WE GET THE FUCKING GROOVE!!!
The true nature of the groove is fully realized in only a small number of the tracks on here, the most blatant example being the pretentious and utterly terrible song “Walk”, but its presence is seen in nearly all the songs on here. To be fully forthcoming, I don’t despise the groove in itself, but I do if it interferes with the musical value of the album. This album bears almost no resemblance at all to “Cowboys from Hell” other than the guitar solos; it sounds like a third-rate punk band with Eddie Van Halen playing the lead tracks.
As much as I hate to say it, Pantera did something truly groundbreaking on this god awful release; they managed to completely piss away a great sound in favor of innovation gone haywire. This album, in its entirety, is probably one of the most blatant musical self-contradictions I’ve ever encountered. You’ve got amazing lead guitar work and drum work meshed with boring as all hell groove riffs and probably the worst attempt at death metal vocals I’ve ever heard. Phil Anselmo probably had the most versatile and powerful voices of the late 80s, and he would throw it all away on trying to sound like a dying bullfrog (which is the only thing he succeeds at).
Although this particular release has its share of stand out tracks that I can not only tolerate, but actually enjoy, they number a rather pathetic 5 out of 11. Out of these the obvious winner is the opener “Mouth for War”, which contains a solid set of thrash riffs and an amazing set of guitar solos. Phil Anselmo is not breaking the high ground as he was 2 years ago, but among the songs on here is voice is not overtly ridiculous, as is the case on many others. “Fucking Hostile”, despite having a rather stupid sounding title, is an amazing speed fest that actually reminds me a lot of the faster sections of Type O Negative’s “We hate everyone”. This is essentially high octane punk rock with a guitar player who actually has his shit together. Anselmo’s singing on here is fairly ridiculous, but it works well with the hyper speed guitar riffs and blast beats.
“This Love” has a nice quiet section with some somber low singing, reminding a lot of the softer sections of “Cemetery Gates”. The chorus is a bit repetitive, but the riffs are fairly solid and the solo is crazy as all hell. “Rise” kicks off with an amazing speed metal intro, and then settles into an up tempo set of thrash riffs. The lyrics are actually quasi-intelligent, and take some good shots at the education system. “Regular People (Conceit)” has a great set of introductory guitar riffs, which thankfully are not accompanied by Anselmo’s annoying ass grunts. The lyrics on this one are kind of stupid, but the singing mostly sounds like a decent James Hetfield impersonation, which has its redeeming qualities on a song like this.
Everything else on this album is skip-worthy, ranging from the 100% terrible to the mostly bad. “A New Level” has probably the most utterly boring introductory section, followed by a somewhat interesting faster section. Essentially the true killer of this track are the vocals, which are intelligible, but utterly hideous sounding. “No Good (Attack the Radical)” starts out with a decent riff, but as soon as the vocals kick in we have something that sounds like bad metalcore, loaded with quasi-rapped, quasi-screamed nonsense. The chorus is slightly less ridiculous, but still has the core sound to it. “Live in a Hole” has a nice guitar solo at the beginning, including some rather cool talk-box effects. However, the corrupting presence of both Anselmo’s dead frog vocals and the groove pretty much kill the body of the song.
“By Demons Driven” has a rather generic sounding intro riff, in addition to an out-of-tune unison bend that is probably where Korn got their inspiration for all of their music. We’ve got a good amount of groove on this one, with the occasional changes in feel which amount to nothing more than mindless meandering. “Hollow” has a nice acoustic line for the first half of the song, and I can actually tolerate Phil Anselmo’s voice because he is actually singing, although you can tell that he’s already blown out his higher range. However, the second half of the song sees the electric guitars kick in and the return of that fucking annoying groove.
However, the true viral corruption, the true reason why I hate this album as a whole, is the 5 minute plus groove-fest “Walk”. Back in 1993 this fucking song was all over the place, and even though I was a full-blown Kurt Cobain freak at the time, I couldn’t stand this song. It’s the same damned 3 notes banged out over and over for the first minute, and although we have some occasional held out power chords, like a bad habit the damned 3 note groove manages to worm its way into the verse, the pre-chorus, and the damned chorus. Truth be told, I don’t think there is a damned verse or chorus in this song, there is only the groove, it’s just there, grooving, not moving, just grooving.
The lyrics to this song are so utterly brainless and pretentious that they deserve to be satirized for the next century. “Re...spect….Walk….Are you talkin’ to me!”, what the hell are you singing about Phil? In my experience, when someone feels obligated to shout at the top of your lungs that you’re manly, there must be some question in the matter. To give you the brutally honest truth, as this album claims to be doing, if you want to prove your manhood you can do so by doing something with yourself. Grabbing a microphone and doing nothing but bragging about how much of a tough guy you are is the same as a whore grabbing one and boasting about how many guys she’s been nailed by.
Basically to sum up, this album underscores the pretentious angst that was on full display in nearly every mainstream act during the early to mid-90s. Although now the self-proclaimed “Dimebag” Darrel has not given up on shredding up some amazing solos, this is about the only thing that is remotely metal about this album, everything else here contains the building blocks of grade A mallcore, mostly of the Korn variety. The riffs are redundant and boring, save the exceptions that I noted previously. Furthermore, I’m probably going to piss off a lot of people by saying this, but Phil Anselmo’s vocals on this album and subsequent releases are more reminiscent of Fred Durst than they are of Charles Schuldiner. Did Pantera help usher in the generation of mallcore posers that we still hear about even today? It’s tough to say, but I suspect that their concession to the same groove style may have been a model for others.
In conclusion, I can not give this album my recommendation; it is a truly painful listen. If you really want to get a taste of the better parts of this album, go onto itunes and download “Mouth for War” or “Rise”. If you simply love Dimebag’s soloing and can stand a little bit of extreme S&M style pain, you may give this album a whirl, but definitely go for a used copy out of the bargain bin.