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They left "Cowboys" for this - 55%

JamesIII, March 19th, 2010

For some time now, I havn't felt overly compelled to pen any opinions about this album, or anything that Pantera did between 1992-1994. Both "Vulgar Display of Power" and "Far Beyond Driven" were albums that I wasn't incredibly fond of even when I listened to Pantera on regular occasion. Having heard the better side to this band's creative process on "Cowboys from Hell" and "The Great Southern Trendkill," and some extent their late 80's material, I knew what Pantera could do when they set their minds to it.

I decided to reverse my previous decision and pen some lines about this particular album. My views aren't firmly planted with either the usual Pantera bashing crowd nor the usual Pantera worshippers crowd. I don't really see "Vulgar Display of Power" as a monumental effort worthy of its classic status and recognition by the media, nor is it really the worst thing that metal has ever concieved, probably far from it. Instead, I would agree that Pantera took a serious gamble in expanding their sound here. Some have said this expansion and change in songwriting style was a mad gamble for radio success, which might hold some ground. However, considering their varying changes over the course of the 90's and considering even their diehard fans reject "The Great Southern Trendkill" as their weakest album might put a heavier focus on merely a change in musical direction. A rather poorly planned and poorly executed change in direction, but an honest one nonetheless.

Coming off the thrash/power/groove hybrid works of "Cowboys From Hell," I will be the first to admit that this album is complete step down in terms of quality. For one, the riffs are limited as was/is common in the American groove metal (post-thrash) genre which this album firmly belongs to. Second, Phil Anselmo's once majestic Rob Halford tribute vocals have now been changed drastically to that of a militaristic bark, or "tough guy" shouts as some prefer to call them. This leads to an obvious departure of both the power metal and thrash metal tendencies of the previous album, and replaces both will similiarities closer to that of a more metallic version of the early 90's hardcore scene.

Since this album's track list has been analyzed numerous times by now, I won't go into a complete track by track breakdown. "Mouth for War" is a good opener, definitely setting the tone for the majority of the album which is based on the heavy groove. There is a little speed metal influence tacked onto the end, but it doesn't really add much to the song as a whole. "Rise" manages to flesh out some speed metal ideas, and it should come as no surprise that the song is one of the best off this release. "This Love" provides some interesting moments that contrast one another, eventually going on to mesh relatively well from the creepy but tranquil sections to the usual post-thrash metal style displayed elsewhere on this album. "Hollow" also echoes this to a degree, although it can be broken down in a more simplistic manner as a half-ballad, with the ballad at the beginning and the usual Pantera coming at the second half.

Unfortunately, there is a copious supply of throwaway tracks here that represent underdeveloped songs, which also became a characteristic of the bands who became influenced by Pantera. "Walk" and "No Good (Attack the Radical)" are all too obvious examples of this, the former as a five minute borefest with very little of interest going on and the latter with its quasi-rap spoken word sections that probably influenced some of the rapcore acts that would follow in succeeding years. None of the other songs here are quite as offensive as those two, but none of them are really anything of interest, either.

Before I enter my concluding statements, I would like to address one reason for contempt that many have used. This charge that many hurdle towards this album is that it should be scoffed upon solely for influencing nu-metal. Well, I don't have any real doubt that Korn's first album did carry some degree of influence from what Pantera and other groove outfits were up in that time period. These accusations, while somewhat true, are frequently handed out without taking other similar instances into account. However, I can't seem to find anyone who is willing to bash Suffocation or Carcass for influencing Job For A Cowboy and the subsequent wave of deathcore bands, despite that influence being all too obvious in their music. Nor could I find anyone to criticize Sleep or Kyuss for influencing retro hipster bands like The Sword. Its more or less a convienent but empty point to make since disliking a band simply for superficial issues like their audience or what music they influenced is pointless.

So, it seems my overall opinion of this album doesn't differ too much from its other detractors. This is made even more clear because I still enjoy some of Pantera's music from time to time but generally avoid this album and "Far Beyond Driven" altogether. I wouldn't call it excruiatingly bad, as I have heard worse but its not something I'd go on to place on a pedestal. There are better Pantera albums to be heard, particularly "Cowboys from Hell" and "The Great Southern Trendkill," so I'd advise those curious check in either one of those two releases. If one must seek out this album, then I'd advise checking for this "classic" in the bargain bin.