"Vulgar Display of Power"
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die + 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
Depending on who you ask, Pantera has either five or nine albums. Proponents of the five-album-theory argue that Pantera truly began with "Cowboys From Hell" in 1990. The four they ignore were from the era in which Pantera sold itself as a glam-metal band with little success during the '80s. "Cowboys" was new vocalist Phil Anselmo's debut, but "Vulgar Display of Power" is the album that marked the band's high-point.
It's unfortunate that the group opened with single "Mouth For War." That song was great, but the second track, "A New Level" serves as a mantra for the record. Anselmo, an angry vocalist who often smashes himself in the face with the microphone on stage, roars about the band's "new level of confidence." The group's new, heavier style surely brought out some adrenaline, but thanks to the singles that emerged on "Vulgar," the band had to be confident with its place on the charts as well.
The three singles from the album demonstrate what would come to be known as "groove metal," an ambiguous genre. The term is (basically) defined as "metal with groove." This seems to suggest that Pantera was the first nu-metal band, so I'd prefer to associate guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott's heavy riffs with the sludge metal scene. His solos however, demonstrate more boogie than what was found in thrash, making them worthy of a term such as "groove metal."
Regardless of classification, there is no doubt that the appeal of Pantera is centered around Abbott. He could do everything as a guitarist. Fast, slow, lead, rhythm; he had to play it all because he was the only guitarist in the band, a rarity among metal outfits. "Mouth for War" and "This Love," both singles, deliver a sampler of what he could do. "Love," described as a ballad by some, shifts from eerie picking during the verses, to a blunt, hammering style Anselmo would later describe as "ass-stomp," to a bluesy solo.
"Walk" is Pantera's most recognizable riff, which is somewhat appropriate and sad at the same time. It's appropriate because Abbott does the most with less; his best riffs are simple ones. That being said, "Walk's" repeated hammer-on is almost too simple. "Mouth For War" is more interesting in my mind, but "Walk" is commanding in its presence. The song is almost as notable for its solo, which shows that Abbott hasn't completely forgotten what he learned during the band's term as a glam group. His playing can be as fleet as it can be blunt.
Abbott's onstage murder in 2004 revealed his influence on the world of metal, as fans and bands poured forth in tributes. In my mind, he is one of the best riff composers in history (up there with Iommi, Page and Hetfield), and "Vulgar Display of Power" is a showcase of this ability, from quick thrash to heavy grooves. The band's follow-up album, "Far Beyond Driven," features a better collection of singles, but as a whole can't live up to this collection of beautifully angry songs.
INTERESTING FACT: Abbott won the spot of guitarist in Megadeth during the mid-80's, but Dave Mustaine wouldn't take on Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, Dimebag's brother, so the brothers returned to their original project. I've said it a dozen times: The rest is history.