Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 8: Pantera, "Walk"

Artist: Pantera
Song: "Walk"
Album: Vulgar Display Of Power
Year: 1992

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For many fans of heavy metal, the 1980's were a frustrating and often embarrassing period, as the so-called "hair metal" bands took center stage and did an impressively poor job of representing a sound and style that they did not deserve to personify.  Due to these image-conscious, often laughably pompous bands, the overall genre of heavy metal gained a rather unwanted reputation, and there was a brief time when it looked like the genre might fade away completely.  Thankfully, there was the band Pantera.  Though there were a few other groups making similar music at the time, one can make the case that it was almost entirely due to the existence and music of Pantera that heavy metal returned to its roots and regained its fitting reputation.  With their fierce music and amazing groove the permeates nearly every one of their songs, Pantera even managed some mainstream breakthrough, and they remain today one of the most highly revered bands in the entire history of heavy metal and hardcore.  Though they released a number of superb albums before the tragic murder of guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott on December 8, 2004, there are few albums of the heavier persuasion that can compare to their 1992 classic, Vulgar Display Of Power.  Bringing a rage and raw sound that is fitting of the name, Pantera unleashed an absolutely hardcore classic in the form of their 1992 single, "Walk."

From the moment that "Walk" begins, it is immediately clear exactly what type of band Pantera is, and the musical assault never lets up for even a moment.  The heavy, repeated guitar pattern from Abbott gives the song an amazing sense of movement, and it is almost instantly one of the most intimidating songs ever recorded.  As the song moves into the opening verse, the "doubled" sounds makes the overall impact even more aggressive, and the amount of emotion that comes through in the music is truly uncanny.  Bassist Rex Brown adds to this mood and power, and he also injects the bands' trademark "groove" into the song.  It is this aspect that set Pantera apart from their peers for much of their career, as they are able to make their songs "more" than "standard" heavy metal music.  The performance on "Walk" from drummer Vinnie Paul (AKA Vincent Abbott) is nothing short of stunning, as few drummers have ever sounded as intent on destroying their drum kit as he does on this song.  The way in which all three musicians are able to make "Walk" seem to sway is a characteristic that is quite literally found nowhere else in heavy metal, and it is this odd hybrid of metal, blues, and elements of funk that make Pantera so unique.  Yet the band is able to bring together these different sounds without compromising any of the intensity of their music, and "Walk" exemplifies this unmatched musical mixture.

Serving as a perfect compliment to the music both in terms of sound and attitude, Pantera's frontman, Phil Anselmo, stands today as one of the most important figures in the entire history of heavy metal.  Rarely even attempting to sing in the traditional sense of the word, the gritty and aggressive nature of his vocals are often nothing short of mesmerizing.  Almost always choosing to shout his lyrics, Anselmo demands the complete attention of the listener to each line in the song, and this often moves to the point where one cannot help but sing along.  Furthermore, the vocal style of Anselmo brings in equally intimidating and overbearing mood as one finds in the music, and this ideal "fit" is yet another reason that Pantera excelled far beyond their peers.  Truth be told, one would be hard pressed to find a more straightforward, yet perfectly fitting lyric for a heavy metal song as one finds on "Walk," and the lyrics provide the ideal final piece to the songs' overall impact.  There is perhaps no better musical representation of the idea that "life is tough for everyone," as well as the idea of simply "being who you are," and the lyrics often play in brilliant contrast to one another.  When Anselmo delivers lines like, "... you cry to weak friends that sympathize...," one might see it as heartless, but later in the song, he speaks of how those same "friends" turn on the protagonist, and the overall theme of the "power of the one" becomes completely clear.  There are no subtleties or holding back on "Walk," and the brutal manner with which Phil Anselmo delivers the lyrics helps to make the song nothing short of a heavy metal classic.

Throughout the history of music, countless bands have made attempts at creating songs of self-pride and handling ones' own problems.  However, while many valiant attempts were made, none even come close to the overall sentiment and impact that one finds on Pantera's "Walk."  Quite literally every aspect of the song feels as if it is doing all it can to intimidate the listener, but once one gets past this aspect, the theme of taking pride in self becomes far more clear.  It is due to the overall sound and impact of the song that "Walk" has become a true classic, and it has been given a massive number of cover versions over the years, with the likes of Trivium and even Alice In Chains putting their own spin on the song.  Yet as is the case with most songs, none of the cover versions bring a similar energy or ferocity as the original, and this further proves just how unique a band one finds in the music of Pantera.  The way in which "Dimebag" Darrell creates the songs' deep grooves, whilst rarely using more than four chords on a song is nothing short of stunning, and few artists in history have ever been able to make "so much from so little" as one finds in his compositions.  This aspect, as well as the sheer attitude with which he played is what cemented him as an icon of guitar playing, and he gives one of his finest performances on Pantera's unforgettable 1992 anthem of self respect and self preservation, "Walk."

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