Saturday, April 14, 2012

April 14: Pantera, "Vulgar Display Of Power"

Artist: Pantera
Album: Vulgar Display Of Power
Year: 1992
Label: East/West

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 Pantera's masterpiece, which similarly stands as one of the most important albums in metal history; their 1992 classic, Vulgar Display Of Power.

From the moment that the album begins, it is immediately clear exactly what type of band Pantera is, and the musical assault never lets up for even a moment anywhere on the record.  The heavy, repeated guitar patterns and massive riffs from Abbott gives the songs an amazing sense of movement, and it is almost instantly one of the most intimidating albums ever recorded.  As the songs continue on the album, the often "doubled" souns 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 each track on the record.  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 all of Vulgar Display Of Power 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 the complete effort that is this album 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 across the entire record provide the ideal final piece to the overall impact of the music of Pantera.  There are no subtleties or holding back anywhere on Vulgar Display Of Power, and the brutal manner with which Phil Anselmo delivers the lyrics helps to make the songs nothing short of heavy metal classics.

Throughout the history of music, countless bands have made attempts at creating albums  of self-pride and handling ones' own problems, and trying to spin them in their own, unique sonic arrangement.  However, while many valiant attempts were made, none even come close to the overall sentiment and impact that one finds on Pantera's Vulgar Display Of Power, and to this day, it stands as a high water mark for the genre.  Quite literally every aspect of the album feels as if it is doing all it can to intimidate the listener, but once one gets past this aspect, the themes and overall intent of the record and sound become far more clear.  It is the way that the band is able to move as a single unit, throwing their power around across a variety of tempos and moods, that sets Pantera apart from their peers, and in many ways, they introduced an entirely new generation to the world of "proper" hardcore and heavy metal music.  The way in which "Dimebag" Darrell creates the albums' 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 album, Vulgar Display Of Power.

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