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Pantera: The Complete Studio Albums: 1990 - 2000

Game-changing legends put their greatest work on wax

Getcha pull, Pantera fans.

Rhino records are celebrating all things Pantera with a new box set featuring the band’s final five studio albums – Cowboys From Hell (1990), Vulgar Display Of Power (1992), Far Beyond Driven (1994), The Great Southern Trendkill (1996) and Reinventing The Steel (2000). Available in CD and limited coloured vinyl formats, only the latter offers any measure of bonus material, and scant booty at that – a seven-inch featuring Piss and Avoid The Light, from the Dracula 2000 soundtrack. Conspicuously bereft of any remastering, rarities or collectibles, the only thing new here is the availability in vinyl format.

Putting aside the borderline-rhetorical question regarding the need for new copies of old albums, it’s no understatement to assert that these five records represent the salvation of US heavy metal. At the dawn of the 90s, Seattle’s grungy, flannel-swaddled hordes had unleashed devastation on a defenceless hair-metal nation, and making things worse, Metallica had seemingly cashed in their chips with a mainstream-friendly jock-rock collection called the Black Album. US metal was losing relevance at a frightening clip.

Pantera had spent much of the 80s stumbling through an unfocused string of self-released pop-metal albums until 1990, when Cowboys From Hell set a seismic shift in motion. It was here that Pantera tapped into something far more aggressive, more inventive and heavier than anything they had ever conjured – a storm of rubbery grooves powered by drummer Vinnie Paul’s behind-the-beat attack dovetailing into the almighty swing of Rex Brown’s rumbling basslines. But it would be Dimebag Darrell Abbott’s razor-sharp riffage that would steal the show, casting himself as a modern-day Billy Gibbons playing at the speed of Eddie Van Halen. Phil Anselmo’s vocals and his scorched-earth lyricism sounded a clarion call that a new era had arrived. Metal fans across the globe went apeshit and by the time Nirvana’s Nevermind dropped in the fall of 1991, Pantera were slaying over half a million fans in Moscow. They were not only grunge-proof, they had just plugged a Metallica-sized hole in the heavy metal landscape.

Double-platinum-selling Vulgar Display Of Power in 1992 accelerated their meteoric ascent, propelled by arena-shaking beatdowns like Walk and Mouth For War, and yet while many consider Vulgar… to be Pantera’s masterpiece, Far Beyond Driven would debut at number one on the Billboard charts. The final two albums, The Great Southern Trendkill and Reinventing The Steel, saw the Texas metallers mixing up tempos and stripping down their attack, but neither would have the panoptic effect as the prior three. Far from disposable however, these final two albums cemented the iconic Pantera sound in metal’s pantheon. Certainly all five albums are required listening, and yet with an abundance of Pantera compilations and greatest hits packages already available (Rhino are also separately issuing a new nine-track greatest hits compilation called History Of Hostility), this new box set is for vinyl junkies and newbies only. The music, however, remains timeless.

PISS DIDN’T SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY UNTIL YOU RE-RELEASED VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER. WHAT TOOK SO LONG?

“I guess it was just sitting around because it didn’t make the record. It started as just this riff that I brought in one day for the verses and the pre-chorus and Dimebag had this other riff for the beginning of it, and then we actually used that later on down the line. To hear that song now sounds kind of brand new.”

HOW DID THE MASSIVE COWBOYS FROM HELL TOUR IMPACT YOUR SONGWRITING?

“We’d just done 250 dates in the US supporting anybody and everybody, and then we did a headlining tour from everywhere from Tijuana to the tip of fucking Maine, and the hunger was in us so much that everything just flowed out. A lot of stuff that came out of different soundchecks and stuff, like Walk, you can now hear at every goddamn major sports complex.”

NOW PEOPLE CALL THE PANTERA SOUND ‘GROOVE METAL’. HOW DID YOU CREATE THAT VIBE IN THE STUDIO?

“We were microscopic, getting everything as tight as we possibly could. Sometimes I would lay the bass down over Darrell’s guitars and others times, he would go in and I’d put the bass over last. Sometimes I would literally just take out everything except his guitar tracks and play along with them. We never played with a click track or anything like that. That’s how laborious we were. We put everything underneath the microscope.”