The cover-up of Pantera’s early glam-metal albums is one of hard rock’s best in-jokes. The band grows belligerent at their mere mention, all but denying the records’ existence amid threats and obscenities. (As the albums were released on a label owned by the Abbott brothers — later known as guitarist Diamond, later Dimebag, Darrell and drummer Vinnie Paul — they’ve been easy to suppress, although bootleg CDs do seem to be available.) The first three, which feature original singer/guitarist Terry Lee Glaze, got the Texas quartet started in the realm of pouffy hair and ridiculous rock, praying to Kiss and Aerosmith in exclamatory songs like “Rock Out!,” “Heavy Metal Rules!” and “Onward We Rock!” Singer Philip Anselmo arrived in time for Power Metal, the record which contains “Proud to Be Loud” and Darrell’s only recorded Pantera vocal, on “P*S*T*88,” a song also known as “Pussy Tight.”
The only connection to those bleached career roots discernible on Cowboys From Hell is the group’s publishing company (Power Metal Music) and the incongruous antique saloon photograph on the cover; what’s inside the record is brain-rattling. Pantera’s “powergroove” style relies not on all-out speed, but on a persistent bottom- heavy rhythm. The quartet plays punky heavy metal as vicious and menacing as it was meant to be; “Cemetery Gates” (not the Smiths song) and the anthemic title track soon became the mosh pit’s state of the art. No wonder the band buried its past in a shallow grave and moved on.
The seemingly perpetual tour that followed Cowboys From Hell made for a long wait between albums, but it was time well spent. All swagger and brutality (you thought “Fucking Hostile” was perhaps a lullaby?), Vulgar Display of Power is one of the boldest signatures ever stamped on hard rock. The guitar and bass stay so close in the groove they cross like high-tension wires; Anselmo’s bellicose roar grows ever more frighteningly believable. His best work is often in the margins of the songs, growling “Is there no standard anymore?” (“Walk”) and “I’d kill myself for you; I’d kill you for myself” (“This Love”) as a precursor to the chorus’ embittered refrain.
Far Beyond Driven, Pantera’s next set of odes to sociopathy, doesn’t quite take the stylistic leap forward of the previous two, but it is a formidable slab of music nonetheless. The only refinements to the quartet’s style are the abrupt industrial squeals with which Darrell punctuates his riffs and an even-larger Terry Date-produced wall of sound. A musical embodiment of blind, blunt rage, Pantera is the zen of ugly rock noise.
Driven Downunder Tour ’94 Souvenir Collection is a snazzy Australian set containing a special booklet and CDs of Far Beyond Driven (with a bonus track, “The Badge”), a live EP (Alive and Hostile) and a Japanese EP of Vulgar Display‘s “Walk.”
Anselmo’s Down, which began as a drunken jam session with guitarist Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, drummer Jimmy Brower of Eye Hate God and guitarist Kirk Windstein and bassist Todd Strange of Crowbar, evolved into more of an official side project when tapes of the session began circulating through the metal underground with Grateful Dead-like efficiency. Nola is an influenced- by-bands-influenced-by-Black Sabbath romp that lacks the channeled aggression of Pantera, but swings a lot more, thanks to the lazy snare slap Brower drops in just behind the beat. Not essential, but a pleasant diversion.
Other than new bassist Rex Brown, Down II (subtitled, unsubtly, A Bustle in Your Hedgerow…) is more of the same, only with increased doses of energy and hard-rock accomplishment, plus a measure of overt regionalism (conceptually, that is: there’s no Delta blues in “Ghosts Along the Mississippi” or zydeco in “New Orleans Is a Dying Whore”) reflecting the city in which it was recorded. The playing and production are very cool, and Anselmo sounds like he’s really into being Down.