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Their Last Fighting Breaths - 63%

psychoticnicholai, November 17th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, EastWest

Reinventing the Steel is the sound of Pantera trying to get one more album out before inter-member pressure, side-bands, as well as drugs and alcohol would inevitably destroy the band. Tensions were at an all-time high and the years since Trendkill were hard on Pantera. Still, it seems like they had just enough energy to pull together one more album. Reinventing the Steel is the album that shows what happens when the hardships that powered Trendkill go on for far too long and end up dragging the band down. There is good material on here, but it's in much sparser quantities than in earlier releases. The classic groove of Pantera is still here, but it comes off as struggling and tired, as though the band meant for this to be the end of their "official canon" before they all called quits.

Every musical idea on this album comes off as much simpler and having less passion than before. Fewer of the songs stick out prominently and many feel like recycled or second hand ideas from previous albums. That's not to say they sound bad, they just sound simple and unexciting. There are songs on here that do come off as a genuine work of effort. "HellBound" for example, is great at revving you up for the rest of the album with its chunky bass lines and the pounding lead guitar barrage; and it feels much bigger than it is thanks to the strong buildup over its 2 minute and 40 second running time. "Revolution is my Name" is another song with imposing riffs that tower over anyone listening and a catchy chorus that draws people together in head-banging unison. It borrows from Down's style of sludge and that adds even more density to the song. Most of the other songs here are a mixed bag of "boring and tired" like "You've got to belong to it", and "decent but forgettable" songs like "Death Rattle" which many of us only remember since it was featured in a SpongeBob episode. Most of these songs use an idea that only gets half-realized, plodded out, and while it sounds okay while it's there, it leaves no impression. There's a decent groove kudos to Dimebag, but not much else in the way of catchiness or lasting impact. Songs like "Death Rattle" and others in the middle of the album feel like a series of "Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am" situations since they feel shorter than they really are and don't build to anything. The complexity of Trendkill has been dialed back extremely far and most of this album suffers for it.

There is one decent quality to Reinventing the Steel and that is the leftover sludge sounds from Trendkill. This leads to some interesting ideas that are better fleshed out towards the end of the album. Sure, "Revolution is my Name" has a lot of debt to the sludge style and that adds an air of menace to the song, but it doesn't go full in towards sludge like "It Makes Them Disappear" and "I'll Cast a Shadow" which go for a murky, hellish timbre. These songs have a deathly atmosphere about them as the slow, low, and foreboding riffs spell out the nearing approach of this album's end, much like the nearing approach of the band's end, like death's hand creeping slowly towards you. While they still sound rather simple, it works with a sludgier tone, and they were pulled off fairly well. It doesn't save the rest of the album, but it makes for a chilling final chapter.

While the magic isn't lost on this album, you can certainly feel it slipping away. The music here was simpler, less emotive, less passionate, and more tired. You can tell that Pantera was at their breaking point when Reinventing the Steel, because everything sounds like Pantera, it just sounds less engaging. As I observed before, there are choice cuts on here, but the overall album has less to offer than the other "canon" Pantera releases. While the continuation of some of Trendkill's sludge-based ideas are welcome, and give the ending songs a satisfying "impending doom" vibe, most of the songs on this album just feel like something that was written out just to fill space. This is the weakest of the “canon" Pantera albums. It's still decent, but it seems like the band didn't give it their all here since they couldn't. We're talking about a band that was suffering more and more from interpersonal tension, fighting, and drug abuse as time went on, wearing down Pantera, and wearing down this album. Perhaps Reinventing the Steel is worth a recommendation if you have all the other "canon" Pantera albums and you just want a little more, but even then, this album still feels weaker and less iconic than any of the others going all the way back to Cowboys. It sounds okay, but it's just that, okay.