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Welcome to another “Album by Album Challenge.” For those that are new here, the “Album by Album Challenge” is where I take a band’s entire discography and listen to every album in order of release from front to back. With my unforgiving and well-aged ear, I call it how I hear it. In some cases, I find that what I once thought was good is actually pretty crappy and sometimes crap manages to age into something pretty kick ass. And in some cases, face melting is still just good ol’ face melting.

This time around I am visiting the Pantera discography. The first time I ever heard Pantera was back in 1990. Cowboys From Hell was an album unlike anything I had ever heard and I was so pumped on this band. My love for this band was short lived though as I felt completely lost on them after the release of their album Far Beyond Driven. Now, 20 something years later I’ve decided to jump into their catalog to try and find just where and why the connection with this band was broken and lost. This was a very interesting (and thank God short) album challenge but it did reveal some pretty interesting things for me along the way. Don’t hate me folks! Don’t hate me.

Metal Magic
Release Date: June 10, 1983
The Good: I’ll Be Alright, Biggest Part of Me,
The Bad: Ride My Rocket, Tell Me If You Want It, Latest Lover, Widowmaker, Nothing On But The Radio, Sad Lover, Rock Out!
The Indifferent:

The keyboards, the drum machine, the vocals, the lyrics. Good grief! It’s no wonder the mighty Pantera wanted to bury and forget this. This is some absolutely hilarious stuff. I mean, how can you take anyone serious who has a song called “Ride My Rocket”? “I’ll Be Alright” was actually pretty cool tune as it totally had this early Diamondhead thing going on and “Biggest Part of Me” totally sounded like a Scorpions tune. These songs made the “good” category and I use that term VERY loosely. It’s not doubt that the singer was the weak link and he is as flat as an old bike tire.

Diamond Darrell really seems to be just really tapping into his guitar skills and seems to really favor that NWOBHM sound more than anything. The NWOBHM sound that these guys have lies more in the more melodic almost mellow side of that spectrum. The only thing is that these songs are just so piss poorly written. It’s downright painful to hear such shitty songs but ya now what? Every band needs to start somewhere right?

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Projects in the Jungle
Release Date: July 27, 1984
The Good: Out For Blood, In Over My Head, Projects In The Jungle, Killers,
The Bad: It’s All Over, Blue Lite Turnin’ Red, Like Fire, Heavy Metal Rules, Heartbeat Away, Takin’ My Life
The Indifferent:

Ok. Projects in the Jungle is a really weird album. This time around the mighty Diamond Darrell and company come at us with a more fierce Judas Priest sound only to, once again, fail pretty miserably. The singer this time around in all honesty sounds much better than on the previous album but again, the songs are just pretty horrible. “Out for Blood” is actually a cool tune that sounds like Priest but “In Over My Head” could be a long lost Y&T song. I actually kinda dug this song. The real “LOL” moment is Diamond Darrell’s attempt at doing his own Eddie Van Halen “Eruption” thing with “Blue Lite Turnin’ Read.” He was really tryin’ to get his pull on this but missed totally.

The title track is actually another pretty cool track on here that again points right back to Judas Priest as a big influence here. “Heavy Metal Rules” is something I’d expect to hear from Saxon and is just flat out embarrassing. “Heartbeat Away” is another attempt at a Scorpions/Def Leppard like ballad and once again falling flat. I could go on and on but in all honesty this album shows some improvement in skill and slightly in songwriting. Slightly.

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I Am the Night
Release Date: August 16, 1985
The Good: I Am The Night, Onward We Rock, Valhalla,
The Bad: Hot N’ Heavy, Daughters of the Queen, Down Below, Come-On Eyes, Right On The Edge, Forever Tonight,
The Indifferent:

When this album started out, I really had to double take and check to make sure this wasn’t a fucking Def Leppard album. Holy shot. “Hot N’ Heavy”? Fucking hilarious. So many electronic drums. This was the “electronic drum” age but oh man how funny it is to hear this shit from the mighty Pantera. The title track for this album was a pretty cool lil ditty but for real? With song titles like “I Am The Night”, “Hot N’ Heavy”, “Onward We Rock” you’d think you were about to listen to a lost Saxon album or something. “Daughters of the Queen” is absolutely hilarious as it sounds like the one of the worst Dokken songs that never existed while “Onward We Rock” totally, once again pulled hard from the influence of Judas Priest. Closing the album out with the god awful Dokken like ballad “Forever Tonight” with those horrible falsetto harmonies just had me laughing my ass off. Absolutely panterrible.

I Am The Night shows absolutely ZERO growth here as a band. At this point Pantera was a band trapped and boxed in by their own limitations. The singer did seem to be improved from album to album and the band got tighter for sure but there is little to no artistic growth. You can hear that they had it in them but there was something that was keeping them from fully breaking out of the corner that they had backed themselves into. I can totally see why people and Pantera just totally throw this era away and try hard to forget it. I mean, if I wrote a song called “Come-On Eyes” I think I’d want to forget it as well.

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Power Metal
Release Date: June 24, 1988
The Good: Rock the World, Power Metal, Proud to Be Loud, Down Below, Death Trap, Hard Ride, Burnnn!,
The Bad: We’ll Meet Again, Over and Out, P.S.T.”88″
The Indifferent:

Ok, so here go. The metalmorphosis (yes, I said metalmorphosis) has begun. The addition of Phil Anselmo on vocals I have to say definitely took this band to a more professional level but the songwriting, oh my, the songwriting. Pantera still had this kind of NWOBHM cheese thing going on with songs like “Rock The World”, “Power Metal”, and “Proud to Be Loud” to just name a few. I did really like this re-worked version of “Down Below” which proved to me that sometimes just changing singers can really take a song into a whole new direction. “Hard Ride” is totally Turbo era Judas Priest but I really dig this song even as ridiculous as it is.

Power Metal is the first glimpse that we have the band Pantera as we would know them for the rest of their career. The songs on this album are so ridiculously awesome though. Phil Anselmo could well have been one of heavy metals greatest modern singers at this point as he was really blowing my mind. His range, his depth, and the fire in his voice sets the pace of what was to come. Pantera really captured that vibe of the old school in a much better way than on previous efforts but this time around I can really hear them starting to break out of that corner. They’re really trying and they’re nearly out of that corner at this point.

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Cowboys From Hell
Release Date: July 24, 1990
The Good: Cowboys From Hell, Primal Concrete Sledge, Psycho Holiday, Heresy, Cemetery Gates, Domination, Shattered, Medicine Man, The Sleep, The Art of Shredding
The Bad:
The Indifferent:

It’s amazing what two years can do for a band like Pantera. It’s almost like these guys put out Power Metal, hit the road, played with a bunch of fucking heavy fucking bands, went back to Texas and refined their sound to create something unlike I had ever heard before. When I first heard this album in 1990 I was so confused but blown away. Right out the gates the title track still blows me away. What a groove. It’s totally a thrash version of “Wanted Dead or Alive.” “Primal Concrete Sledge” was always a live staple of these guys back in the day and I still find it to be such a uniquely cool track.

The “classics” like “Cemetery Gates”, the title track, and “Psycho Holiday” still hold up well and I still like them. Phil Anselmo fucking owns shit big time on this album. What a fucking stellar vocal performance from this guy. I’m also quite surprised at how much I found myself liking songs that I remembered not liking so much back in the day. “Shattered”, “Clash With Reality” and “Message In Blood” really stood out strong and I really dug the hell out of these songs. “The Sleep” is a song I never gave much attention to but what a weird fucking song. Kinda reminds me of a metal version of old Rocka Rolla era Judas Priest. All in all, this album is solid front to back. What a great treat it was to revisit this album.

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Vulgar Display of Power
Release Date: February 10, 1992
The Good: Mouth for War, A New Level, Walk, Fucking Hostile, Live In A Hole, By Demons Be Driven, Hollow
The Bad:
The Indifferent: This Love, Rise, No Good (Attack The Radical), Regular People (Conceit),

This album is without a doubt a step in a whole new direction into a path that would carry Pantera for the rest of their career. When this album was released in ’92, I remember the minute “Mouth For War” came on being so pumped by its heaviness and gritty anger. As a whole, I really loved this album back in the day but in all honesty, I hear it way differently 20+ years later. For VDOP, Pantera shed their power metal/Judas Priest elements with only hints of it remaining on “Hollow” which plays more like a continuation of “Cemetery Gates.” With that being said, there are still a handful of great songs such as “Mouth For War”, “Walk”, and “By Demons be Driven.” Even the totally asinine “Fucking Hostile” still sounds pretty fucking rad.

One of the things that bugs me is that Vulgar Display of Power is pretty plain to see that this album is pretty much the birth of bro metal. This album musically is such a growth for the band but lyrically it all became about pounding faces in and kicking ass and just over all aggression and anger. The melodic powerful vocals of Phil Anselmo have been replaced by agro screaming that would unfortunate influence one of the most brotastic bands of all time: Five Finger Death Punch. Even as good as the “good” songs are on this album, I just find it really hard to listen to. As much as I thought that Cowboys from Hell would be dated and this album would stand stronger, it turned out to be the other way around without a doubt.

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Far Beyond Driven
Release Date: March 22, 1994
The Good: Five Minutes Alone, I’m Broken,
The Bad: Strength Beyond Strength, Becoming, Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills, Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks, Slaughtered, 25 Years, Shedding Skin, Use My Third Arm, Throes of Rejection
The Indifferent:

So much screaming. Sooooo much screaming. Pantera really shed the skin of their former selves and became this aggressive, angry entity that I just couldn’t and still can’t connect with anymore. I remember when this album came out thinking that I just didn’t like this direction that they were heading. Right out the gates with “Strength Beyond Strength” I could feel the tension rise and I just couldn’t get behind this. This was the kind of metal that the kids who used to beat me up in school listened to. Even songs like, “Becoming” and “Slaughtered” felt like songs that were geared to the meathead mentality. I can see why so many people liked this band but the reason that I liked this but this was definitely not the band I liked so much.

The majority of this album is just completely unlistenable for me. I just couldn’t get behind this material at all. The album does have elements of Pantera that I loved like the groove laden “Five Minutes Alone” and “I’m Broken.” Those songs very well could’ve been on Far Beyond Driven so I really did dig those songs quite a bit. Their cover of the Black Sabbath classic “Planet Caravan” is without a doubt my favorite moment on this album as it really shows what a great, talented group they really were. Phil was such a great vocalist and to hear him just shredding his voice like he did bugged the fuck out of me. This was just the Pantera that I didn’t like at all and this was the last album I purchased by them.

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The Great Southern Trendkill
Release Date: May 7, 1996
The Good:
The Bad: The Great Southern Trendkill, War Nerve, Drag The Waters, 10s, 13 Steps To Nowhere, Suicide Note Pt. II, Living Through Me (Hells’ Wrath), The Underground In America, (Reprise) Sandblasted Skin
The Indifferent: Suicide Note Pt. I, Floods,

Ok, I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of flak for this but my god what a shitty fucking album. At this point it sounds as if Pantera was just happy being the most “extreme” band that they could be and just hashed out aggressive, agro, screaming bullshit for all their fans to just lap up and call “brilliant.” I will never understand that. Don’t get me wrong, I totally love some of the heavier things in life like some Sepultura, Exodus and other old school thrash and the like but this just doesn’t sound good to my ears. The riffs just sound rehashed and unexciting and I just want to strangle Phil Anselmo.

I barely made it through this album. I had to take at least 4 breaks from it just to get some fucking air. This album is just not good and I’m dreading Reinventing the Steel. Hell, at least I have one album left and I’ll be done with this.

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Reinventing the Steel
Release Date: March 14, 2000
The Good: Revolution Is My Name, It Makes Them Disappear, I’ll Cast A Shadow
The Bad: Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit, Uplift
The Indifferent: Hellbound, Goddamn Electric, You’ve Got To Belong To It, Death Rattle, We’ll Grind That Axe For A Long Time,

So I have to say that this album totally caught me off guard. When “Hellbound” first kicked in I found myself really kind of digging it but then all of the sudden it just kind of drifted out of the stratosphere and I just didn’t dig where it went. In all honesty, while I didn’t love the majority of this album I have to say that musically I really did enjoy this one. It wasn’t unlistenable to me like Trendkill was and at times it almost had them going back to the Vulgar album with that kind of groove oriented tunes. Phil also didn’t seem to be screaming like he did on the previous couple of albums. His voice sounds really strong here and I actually kind of dug his sound.

The songs that I listed as good I really did find them to be good but again, this isn’t my favorite Pantera by a long shot. I have to say that I think Cowboys From Hell marked the end of the band that I truly loved as Pantera. Pantera grew into a whole other kind of band that appealed to an audience that grasped onto what it was they were doing. I’d be curious to hear if there are any other Pantera fans out there that felt a bit dusted starting with the Vulgar album because that’s about where it all started to end for me. Reinventing the Steel was surprisingly not a bad album and it makes me wonder if I say that only because the previous couple were so bad. Now I want to re-listen to Vulgar and see if I have a new appreciation for it. Who knows?

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About Don de Leaumont

Don (aka. The Brainfart) has been a heavy metal fan since hearing it for the first time in 1983. Don is also repsonsible for all of the typos, shitty grammar, and kick ass content on this site. Don likes cheap beer, whiskey, Coca Cola Icees, going to shows, and hanging with his kick ass wife, two cats and dog. He originally wanted to name his dog Shandi but his wife said, “No fucking way.”

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