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Far Beyond Downhill - 15%

morbert, March 17th, 2023
Written based on this version: 1994, Cassette, EastWest

It took me decades but eventually I wrote my Cowboys From Hell review back in december 2022. As it was time for me to say something about Pantera. Why I loved them in the early nineties but also why I really developped a distaste (euphemism) mid-nineties which has only grown worse with decades.

Well, things started to go wrong in 1994. When 'Far Beyond Driven' was released. The band had already become massive. You couldn't go anywhere metal-related without seeing Pantera shirts everywhere or hearing either 'Walk' or 'Cemetary Gates'. New bands were starting to mimic them and even older band had incorporated many Pantera-isms in terms of groovy rhythms and more chugging guitars. Even some of my hardcore friends who normally hardly played any metal were all of a sudden 'into' Pantera. Anyway, I heard Far Beyond Driven at a friends house. He bought it the day it came out. What was it, late march 1994? Something like that. So we went to his house to listen. And I'm glad we did so I never made the mistake of actually spending money on the (back then) expensive CD and I bought the cheaper cassette. And tried it so many times. I really tried. and tried.... and tried.

So I can't say it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know, the whole 'disliking a bands growing popularity makes it easier to dislike an album' because I gave it a lot of chances. I wanted to 'get' it.

But alas!! As 'Far Beyond Driven' was such a huge let down. Sure, the album started nicely with the uptempo energetic 'Strength Beyond Strength' but it was all downhill from there. 'Becoming' with that Korn intro, 'Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills' with the Fear Factory intro which never even turns into an actual song, '5 Minutes Alone' sounded like what Lynyrd Skynyrd would've been had they been founded two later than they did. (Not to mention the inspirationless dull video they made for it).

The meanderfests of '25 Years', 'Slaughtered ' and 'I'm Broken' which brought chugging and grooving down to the dumbest sublevels. We're now 29 later and I still don't get it when someone actually likes 'I'm Broken' or why it was even nominated for a Grammy. To quote myself from an earlier review: Pantera settled for the common denominator of "groove, gruff and angry". It was so utterly boring. 'Use My Third Arm' at least had a fast part in. Still a dull song though.

Song number 6 ('Hard Lines Sunken Cheeks') was the first on which something even remotely interesting happened. There are actually a few riffs in it! Wow. Thank you for at least trying! Not a good song but at least it kinda tells a story and takes its time. Same goes for 'Shedding Skin'. One of the best songs here. Would've been a filler on the previous two albums though but on Far Beyond Driven it is a highlight.

Far Beyond Driven made the fillers on 'Cowboys from Hell' and 'Vulgar Display of Power' seem like masterpieces. Quite an achievement. Pantera went from refreshing (1990) via influential (1992) to neanderthal within a mere 4 years. Well done (sarcasm) Don't expect anything as remotely dynamic or good as 'Cemetary Gates' or 'This Love' on this album. I think they drank away the last remains of their sensitive side somewhere on tour in 1993.

Also Anselmo's vocals had gone downhill quite a lot and quite fast. Ever since 1990 he tried to be more badass than on any previous album but I honestly think in 1994 he couldn't even sing 'Rock the World' anymore even if he actually tried. Within 6 years a good vocalist had disappeared and was replaced by some angry bald dude. Even compared to the previous two albums a lot of vocal quality and diversity is just gone, especially the screams. Sure, apart from his bad boy gruff vocals he does some mumbling (there's 'Shedding Skin' again) and even (kind of) sings on Planet Caravan.

Listening back in 2023 to this album, I think even less of it as I already did in 1994. So it hasn't grown on me nor has it some unexplainable historical emotional value. 3 decades later I still think Far Beyond Driven is a depressingly bad album. I'm gonna put on Cowboys and Vulgar now to at least end this day with some good Pantera memories.

Standouts:
- Strength Beyond Strength
- Shedding Skin
- Planet Caravan