Twenty years ago, grunge was in its heyday. It was ridiculously uncool to be a metal band, but there was still one band that could buck the grunge trend and ignite the passion in metal fans the world over: Pantera.
Pantera – Far Beyond Driven 20th Anniversary Edition OUT NOW Rhino Records
When you become the biggest heavy metal band on the planet, how do you stay at that level? You become stronger than all, that’s how. After achieving worldwide success with ‘Cowboys From Hell’ and the unstoppable ‘Vulgar Display of Power’, Pantera were at the top of their game and twenty years ago this month, they stepped up to the plate and unleashed the beast that was ‘Far Beyond Driven’. ‘Strength Beyond Strength’. An opening sentiment that sets the bar for the rest of the album, the song is a thrashing tour de force that doesn’t let up until the colossal beatdown in the mid section. We see from the off that Pantera had no intention of bowing to any external pressure and turned the volume up beyond 11 on this one with help from producer Terry Date. ‘Becoming’ is a masterclass in double bass rolls from Vinnie Paul, with Dimebag using the whammy pedal to full effect and the crunch of ‘5 Minutes Alone’ stomps a mudhole in all before it with it’s constant fist-pumping riffs and air-raid siren solo. Dancefloor anthem ‘I’m Broken’ is another world-beater, utilising the ultimate groove riff and a massive chorus to maximum effect. The fact that these songs are so heavy yet instantly stick in your head is a testament to the song writing and connection between the band members sonically, despite the ever growing personal differences that eventually tore the band apart. Things take a slight turn on ‘Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills’, an ode to Ted Nugent that is nothing more than howling noise, while ‘Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks’ slowly burns into life before clobbering the listener from ear to ear in the verses. The chorus again howls and as seen throughout the album, Phil Anselmo’s vocals and lyrics took a much darker path on 'Far Beyond Driven' than their previous material. Next, Kerry King’s favourite Pantera song, ‘Slaughtered’ chugs it’s way into life and the full power of Dimebag and Vinnie Paul’s intuition for the direction of a song are displayed perfectly here. ’25 Years’ oozes the Southern style that became synonymous with Pantera, as does ‘Shedding Skin’, climaxing in a classically unwieldy solo from Dime. ‘Use My Third Arm’ is another full speed assault that makes full use of the chug once again, with Vinnie and Rex keeping the underbelly of the song pounding along while Phil and Dimebag throw their respective vocals and guitars every which way until another massive riff cuts through the insanity. ‘Throes of Rejection’ is the final original song on ‘Far Beyond Driven’, with a haunting vocal performance from Phil and chaotic soloing before a dizzying beatdown fades into black. A calming rendition of the classic Black Sabbath track ‘Planet Caravan’ brings the album to a close and it’s almost needed after the 53 minutes of sheer heavy that comes before it. Bands these days might play faster, drop the guitars lower and growl deeper, but ‘Far Beyond Driven’ surpasses them all in the weight of the music and the impact that it had. Few bands infused so much groove into such a heavy sound and few bands managed to make it to Number 1 while doing so. After the album is finished, we’re far from done on this twentieth anniversary release. In addition, you get an entire live set of Pantera at their strongest, straight from the 1994 Monsters of Rock at our very own Castle Donington. You can still feel the power from the performance, from the opening blast of ‘Use My Third Arm’, through the huge ‘Walk’ and ‘Dom/Hollow’ combo, to the unstoppable ‘Strength Beyond Strength’ and classics ‘Fucking Hostile’, ‘This Love’ and ‘Mouth For War’, finishing off with the ultimate metal anthem, ‘Cowboys From Hell’. Dominance floods through every second of the set and if you’re a Pantera fan, this is worth the asking price alone. Any discerning metal fan will more than likely have Pantera’s back catalogue as firm favourites in their collection already, but if not, ‘Cowboys From Hell’, ‘Vulgar display of Power’ and of course, ‘Far Beyond Driven’ are the perfect places to start. Twenty years on, this release still sounds unforgivingly heavy and urgent. Forever, stronger than all. 9/10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDKXQFgTfXw
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