CLASSIC ALBUMS REVISITED: Pantera’s “Reinventing The Steel” Turns 20

What happens when a band hits maturity? It’s bound to happen to all the bands you love. It’s definitely hard for some fans to accept when their favorite band, was once new and youthful have become the elder statesmen of the scene. Some bands also struggle to come to terms with aging and changing. Others try and recapture their earlier sounds, while others strive to evolve. This is what happened to Pantera twenty years ago when they created their album Reinventing The Steel (East/West).

While many people’s favorites The Great Southern Trendkill (East/West).was an exercise in pure brutality and pushing the limits of the bands’ collective talents, the new album was different. Their ascent to the top of the modern metal heap at the time had brought them a slew of new fans. In the four years between releases, the band had another top ten album with GSTK, toured the world countless times, released the excellent Official Live:101 Proof album, played the main stage at 1997 Ozzfest, headlined huge European festivals such as Dynamo and Donnington, opened for the Black Sabbath Reunion tour in arenas, graduated to their own arena and larger venue tours, and released their third classic home video. That is a lifetime of memories for some bands. They partied hard and lived and loved harder as people, which comes with success. All these things cemented their credibility in the pantheon of greats at the time with Metallica and seated them ahead of upstarts such as Slipknot and System of a Down.

Reinventing the Steel is truly Y2K generation album. In terms of the music, following in the early footsteps of Metallica, Pantera stived t continue to change and make fresh sounding albums that sounded like themselves, but didn’t copy previous albums. Brothers Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul and Rex Brown, architects of the band write fresh songs that were heavy but had a more traditional Thrash Metal and even Heavy Metal sounds. They still kept their assassin-level grooves and even injected some funkiness to the mix too. The brothers co-produced the album too, their first for Pantera, along with previous engineer Sterling Winfield. This had a definite effect on the sound of the record. Philip Anselmo, going through his own personal travails, had lost some of that youthfulness to his sound, was now bringing a hybrid of his other vocal styles to Down and the upcoming Superjoint album. He was not as extreme as TGST, but actually really melodic and tuneful in a way that he hadn’t really attempted since Cowboys from Hell ten years prior. Lyrically, the album is grown and mature, even when it is being self-referential. It’s the sound of a band reaching self-actualization of their greatness, and who could argue with this after the arc they had been on in the 1990s?

In the era of long players and double albums, at just over forty-five minutes, the album is full of bangers, no ballads, no interludes or overly long tracks. From the opening notes of ‘Hellbound’ the band announced their intentions to make an uncompromising record. Tons of riffs, slippery grooves, Dime’s trademark solos, Rex’s weighty bass, and Phil’s versatility made it an enjoyable on repeat listens. One of the hallmarks of the Pantera sound was these sick chromatic riffs more in the realm of Technical Death Metal that Dime used to bring, and the drums from brother Vinnie were punishing and dry, a perfect match. Rex’s basslines were also inventive and killer. Most of the tracks have an upbeat, thrash tempo that fits the fans of their early -to mid-1990s peak album style perfectly. The groove in the chorus of ‘Goddamn Electric’ is massive as anything they have ever done. Nice job snagging Kerry King for a Slayer-style solo in the outro, during a song about being a metalhead. So meta, before it was cool to be meta! Further tracks such as Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit’, ‘You’ve Got To Belong To It’, and the fan-favorite ‘Death Rattle’, had a grind and youthful energy to it. The single ‘Revolution Is My Name’, has a great groove and swagger. The hilarious video for the song is the only one to really display the bands’ trademark sense of humor too. Later album tracks such as the evil-sounding ‘It Makes Them Disappear’, and the closing ‘I’ll Cast a Shadow’ hint at where the band was going next musically.

Of course, at the time we didn’t know this was to be the final Pantera album. No one had a crystal ball and only those in the inner circle of the band would know they starting to fracture as a team. During the RIS sessions, the band recorded their final two songs released while all the members were alive, ‘Immortally Insane’ for the Heavy Metal 2000 soundtrack and the amazing Avoid the Light from the hideously bad Dracula 3000 movie soundtrack. Performing on tour in Japan at Beast Fest 2001, after the attacks of 9/11 canceled the Tattoo the Earth European tour, the band would never perform together again. They would split with Phil moving on to Superjoint and back to Down and other bands, and the brothers formed Damageplan. With Dime being tragically murdered a few years later, and now Vinny passed away, we have lost the chance to get this great band back as it was. Still, this album is a fine final chapter for the band and a worthy successor to their earlier output. Crank it up today in honor of Dime and Vinny!

KEITH CHACHKES