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Reinventing Disappointment - 65%

Napalm_Satan, October 11th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, EastWest

Pantera's finale really screams 'mediocre!' right from the off. The cover art is half-arsed, I never hear this album mentioned by casual Pantera fan or metalhead alike, and it is not lavished with praise like their 1990 and 1996 albums, or even as divisive as their 1992 and 1994 albums. And for once, outward appearances are correct. This is a somewhat confused, drained, and dull record, and yet is passable. It is completely inoffensive, at worst being boring. That is all Pantera ever were at their worst - largely boring and inoffensive, with the odd moment of sheer disgust ('Good Friends and A Bottle of Pills' or some of Phil's vocal work circa '92 - '94).

This release is much more of a disappointing and frustrating release than an outright bad one. Coming off of The Great Southern Trendkill, which I honestly believe is THE masterpiece of Pantera and groove metal as a whole, this is a massive fucking disappointment. I know that the preceding album was quite situational, and thus difficult to fully replicate or expand on, but this is a huge goddamn regression. Take for instance, the production. It is the bloody opposite of The Great Southern Trendkill's job, in that the drums sound like a dull plastic thud, it is too quiet, the guitars are muddy and in the odd case nearly inaudible, and the whole thing lacks bass or a low end. It is completely hollow and soft, a massive step down from the loud, abrasive production from 4 years prior.

Another thing to note is the sheer inconsistency of this release. While every 'official' Pantera either consists of lots of throwaway groove and a few choice thrashers, or a little bit of groove with slower and faster thrashers being mixed with atmospheric balladry, the mood of the album remains constant. Whether it be the marketable faux-aggression of Vulgar Display of Power and Far Beyond Driven or the fire spitting, acidic hatred of The Great Southern Trendkill, the atmosphere was present throughout. Here though, the album spends most of its time dithering about in the former, while occasionally getting its shit together and caving the listener's skull in (i.e.: it sounds like the latter). It is utterly confusing and annoying, and serves to throw off the continuity of this album completely. Even previous thrashers like 'Strength Beyond Strength' and 'Mouth For War' never did that to their respective albums.

Compounding this inconsistency is the level of musicianship at work and the type of song these respective levels of quality spawn, as well as the mood produced as a result. Groovy numbers have always bashed heads with thrashers of the mid-tempo and fast strain with Pantera, with ballads occasionally wafting into the fray too (a good indicator of quality is a higher number of the latter 2). However, the aforementioned loss/gain of driven anger makes the transition a hell of a lot more jarring, in the bad sense. This album spends a fair amount of time in boring groove land, with Dimebag churning out yet more 3 second, 3 note riff fragments known as 'the groove'. Vinnie and Rex closely follow suit with boring beats and unimaginative bass support, with the shit production not helping at all. Seriously, 8 years of this crap and numbers like 'We'll Grind That Axe For a Long Time' and 'You've Got to Belong to It' are just as boring and unimaginative as past songs like 'Walk'. Like most groove metal songs, Pantera have not made any progression in any way on this front. The crap, marketable variety of tough guy anger makes several appearances on this album, and all seems about normal for this band (Trendkill and Cowboys are exceptions to the groove genre, not the rule)...

...and then a song like 'Death Rattle' or 'Yesterday Don't Mean Sh**' (censorship, real fucking tough you guys!) just comes out of nowhere and hits the listener like a goddamn freight train. Phil goes from his worsening 'death metal' voice to a much more lethal shriek and a more aggressive and dynamic thrash shout. Dimebag sends forth his best thrash riffs from the days of yore to pummel the listener to death, and Rex and Vinnie are doing something other than following Dimebag's riffs. Songs like this and 'Hellbound' or 'Revolution is My Name' are shot through with the southern spirit of The Great Southern Trendkill and sound genuinely hateful. What the fuck? I never understood that, how can a band write a full album of songs like this, and then only muster up about half the number the next time round? Surely tensions in the band had gotten worse, how could this not be more lethal for more of the time?

The lyrics are really fucking bad. Normally that is to be expected for Pantera (even Cowboys From Hell had some pretty insipid tough guy stuff) but the last album proved Phil could write nearly-intelligent lyrics with 'a lethal dose of American hatred'. However, here he just roars forth his lyrics about being a tough guy who once again, is 'GONNA FUCK YOU UP!'. Seriously Phil? The better tracks here manage to make these lyrics sound something close to the concepts of 'sincere' and 'threatening' but even then the writing still sucks.

Another issue I have with this album include a lack of variety and overall banality to the proceedings. It is still quite animated, as Pantera always were, but the creative synthesisers and guitar effects of the previous album are pretty much gone, with one of the few exceptions being the one in 'Hellbound'. Other examples of this include a reduction in soloing, so some songs here lack the one thing that made groovy Pantera rise above the mediocrity they helped make during the period, and there are no ballads at all here. This albums reeks of a lack of inspiration and being rushed on the whole, with the production, inconsistency, lyrics and cover art being further indicative of that. And yet, I can't hate it. This doesn't really offend me so much as it does bore me with its typical grooves, confuse me with its inconsistency, especially with the circumstances surrounding the album and frustrate me with how they managed to throw away yet another great sound in the name of 'sounding tough'. I would say this is for the fans only, but even they don't take too kindly to this album. Even so, it isn't horrible, and for all its flaws is kind of entertaining in the right setting and mood. A bargain bin gem is the best way to sum it up.