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Pantera's Last Great Gasp - 90%

brocashelm, April 19th, 2006

* NOTE * After reading abunch of negative reviews for this album on the site, I re-listened to this album and tried to apply some historical perspective into this review...take it for what it's worth...thanks.

Debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Probably the heaviest album to date to do so, and easily Pantera’s most furious effort to date, this was also their last great act of purpose as a band. The scene: Nirvana had arrived on the scene, making the glam and hair metal that had previously sold bucket-loads unfashionable seemingly overnight. Now American was in the throes of the “alternative” music takeover, a funny conglomeration where artists as divergent as Marilyn Manson, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, and Soundgarden grabbed many, many inches of column ink, wrote new rules for what was cool (by logical reasoning also deciding what was not cool) and the fashion world adopted the “new” scene with eager aplomb.

The metal scene itself was in equal confusion. Death metal had left the building popularity-wise, black metal was this evil thing from across the sea that no American fan quite grasped yet, Metallica was still touring the black album after three years, and metal fans were wondering if this grunge and alternative thing was their future. And so returned Pantera into this muddled fray. After kicking many doors down with Vulgar Display Of Power, the band were now bent on driving their sound deeper, harder, showing the Metallica kids (formerly the Guns N Roses kids that Metallica wanted to impress) where the real shit was, and doing their best to flat out ignore everything else that was going on. And in doing so, Pantera made their heaviest, hardest, most tortured and unlistenable album yet. To be brief, it’s another metal masterpiece.

By now openly adopting fringes of industrial and death metal elements (the rapid fire regimented rhythms, as well as the guttural roar and savage riffing) the band were a true no compromises proposition. You didn’t have to like Pantera but standing in the way of this off the rails self-destruction machine was highly inadvisable. The skinny: some of this album is so densely packed with noisy, almost discordant riffs it becomes painful, which was surely the intention. For example, “Use My Third Arm” sounds like an epileptic fit one would suffer upon falling asleep blind drunk to discover in paranoid horror that you have no memory of how you got where you are. Been there…not fun. “Strength Beyond Strength” kicks off affairs with a blast of thrashy speed before “Becoming” adopts a slower, but no less torturous riff, with Dimebag supplying enough false harmonics and pick squeals to fill an arena on their own. “Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills” is Anselmo addiction poetry at it’s finest, managing to parody a Ted Nugent song title and write a harrowing tale of drug-blurred perception all in one sick, almost revolting 3 minute cut.

That pretty much leaves the more famous cuts to deal with, which for the most part are only slightly prettier. “5 Minutes Alone” rides another discordant riff backed by those militant industrial strength beats, blessed as well with some very serpentine Dimebag soloing, and an appropriately desperate vocal from Phil. The real heads over all winner here is “I’m Broken,” a track that combines all that is great about the thing that is (was) Pantera in exactly 4:25 of musical ferocity. A killer riff, guttural vocal, a chorus that will tattoo itself on your soul, and the ending: a tribal stomp of dense storming power that could have lasted three times as long and I’d still want to hear more of it. Another nice thing: as the smoke of “Throes Of Rejection” and it’s churning, nauseating riffs wind down, the band mellow out into the most unexpected of Black Sabbath covers, the ethereal “Planet Caravan,” perhaps the perfect doomed but meditative mood to close this raging effort.

For Pantera, this album would see them at their peak in every sense. From this point on, good but not godlike albums would appear, Anselmo, despite recording a masterpiece of an album with side project Down, would appear to become ever more of an addicted mess (mostly to pain killers taken to cope with a back injury) and finally Dimebag and Vinnie would retire the band’s name and reputation to the past, forming the effective but about two years too late project Damageplan. And then in one of rock’s most senseless and premature murders ever, Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott was shot and killed onstage while performing by a mentally disturbed fan.

Pantera caught tons of shit over the course of their existence for essentially not doing what was expected of them. It's funny to find that in their sad abscence, some metal fans still regard their legacy with suspicion and malice. I gotta say I don't understand this. Pantera never sold out, got soft, sued Napster, betrayed their fans, said metal "was dead," or any other number of stupid things other big time bands have over and over again, and still they get no respect. I just don't get it. The day I'm too cool or hip to understad metal this fierce, please shoot me. I'll be dead already.