Friday, May 11, 2012

Pierce a New Hole: reflections on Pantera's most dangerous record

2012 marks the 20 year anniversary of Pantera's seminal Vulgar Display of Power. like many people my age, Pantera is a crucial band in the development of my love for "extreme" music. looking back at most of their catalog, though... one finds that while they're no doubt the heaviest thing going within the context of platinum selling artists, in the big picture it's still pop music; catchy, hooky, and accessibly angry.

1996's Great Southern Trendkill has many of those hallmarks that made the previous records such hits, but there was something about this particular record that spoke to me so much more than VDOP, FBD, and so forth. it was undeniably a Pantera record, but it had the self-reflective bitterness of NIN's Downward Spiral coupled with caustic near-underground extremity that the other records never really reached.

 lyrically, this album is not about being "stronger than all". it's about anguish and death. it dives full bore into the kind of disgust only hinted at on previous records. it's Anselmo's most pure performance, lyrically and vocally.

 listening to these tracks, i don't picture the bald shirtless he-man from VDOP. i picture a brooding loner sinking into himself as he braces for a prolonged vomit fit. this isn't the Anselmo who wants you to chant along to "Becoming GOD SIZE". here, he knows we are nothing, and no amount of lunkhead posturing is gonna fuck the pain away. here he is an open wound with teeth and throat, screaming and mumbling through seemingly endless tirades of negativity. for much of their phony-tough fan base, this proved too much to handle, and this album wound up not being nearly as celebrated as its more arena-friendly brothers.

and it's not like the music is such a party, either. for all their shenanigans and fun-lovingness, the Abbot brothers match Anselmo emotional squalor riff by riff and beat by beat. the guitars are spidery nerve endings of sound, a corrosive evil version of Dimebag's trademark style. the drums hit hard and seemingly soaking wet with some undefined liquid. it's a shame Vinnie Paul seems to think so little of this record. true, it's no good time, but this was the sound of a band maturing and trying new things while still maintaining their trademark sound. it really is something to be proud of, and most people would agree that GSTK contains perhaps the most powerful composition of their whole career; the morosely epic "Floods";

beyond being their darkest, most frenzied album, it's also their most musically interesting record. going back to this album is like visiting that weird older kid who showed you your first gore movies and metal records. it's the album that made me want only the heaviest, most violent music out there, leading me to the likes of Anal Cunt (whose frontman Seth Putnam makes an appearance several times on GSTK) and other southern metal extremists like Eyehategod (who toured with Pantera the year this record was released) and Soilent Green (whose 1998 record Sewn Mouth Secrets gave me a similar, albeit much more potent and raw rush).

sadly, Pantera never really recovered their momentum after this record.Anselmo battled substance abuse, shows got sloppy, and it was almost five years after Trendkill that the band emerged with a new record, which was the frustratingly reductive Reinventing the Steel; a ham-fisted attempt at trying to recapture their "happier" times, only without the memorable songs and youthful energy, but i digress. Anselmo went on to explore black metal and crossover, with the results ranging between surprisingly charming  (see Arson Anthem, Christ Inversion, Superjoint Ritual demos) to better left unsaid (see Viking Crown, Superjoint Ritual studio albums), as well as put together a label that has a pretty impressive roster of fringe metal and such. one would be hard pressed to argue against GSTK being the starting point for all this, but who knows.

"if i hit bottom and everything's gone
in the great Mississippi please drown me
and run." 


Aaron said...

Great review of a classic album. I do like REINVENTING THE STEEL, but that's beside the point. I tend to gravitate more towards TRENDKILL more than any of their other albums because, to me, it IS the band at their most mature, musically-speaking (although I'm sure their behind the scenes antics would contradict that).

Nick said...

it's almost like the "thinking man's" Pantera record.