It’s the mid-nineties and while the economy is flourishing, our president gets cool points for playing the sax on television and we have Super Metroid, we still found the need to complain. And of all the things to moan about during that decade, one of the silliest is to decry the lack of decent metal. Did we all suddenly forget that Pantera dropped possibly the heaviest release to debut atop the Billboard Top 200 in Far Beyond Driven (Eastwest)?
But let’s put that stat – or the fact that said album remained on the charts for 29 weeks – aside for a second. See, while the nineties didn’t have the same abundance of releases from the established heavy metal guard of the eighties the underground and international scene were radiantly on fire. Grunge may have been ruling radio, but beneath the surface, we had albums like Neurosis’ Enemy of the Sun, Crowbar’s Broken Glass, In Flames’ The Jester Race, Cannibal Corpse’s Tomb of the Mutilated and Exhorder’s The Law ready to be plucked at local CD shops. And I get it, those classics weren’t exactly gelling with American mainstream tastes or MTV like Nu-metal would at the tail end of the decade, but that makes Pantera and Far Beyond Driven in particular so important.
It carried the same big dick energy of those underground bruisers, yet it managed to smash its way into the public consciousness without flannel, novelty piercings or expensive music videos. And there was no magic bullet or changing up of the sound either, Far Beyond Driven just seemed to want to build on the faultless foundation of its punishing predecessor Vulgar Display of Power. So again, equal parts thrash, hardcore and sludge were tossed into a cement mixer under the watchful eye of returning producer Terry Date. The results were another fifty some minutes of mostly mid-tempo liver shots and mind-melting leads from Dimebag Darrell.
Some may have been concerned that Pantera wouldn’t be able to produce another batch of hits as they did with Vulgar, but I beg to differ. ‘Strength Beyond Strength’ kicks the doors off the LP with hardcore punk tempos which rapidly morph into a molasses-thick second half. That’s without saying anything of the trio of groove-heavy bangers that quickly follow in ‘Becoming,’ ‘5 Minutes Alone,’ and ‘Broken.’ I may be skeptical of Groove Metal being a real subgenre but fuck me if these songs don’t make a strong argument for me being full of shit. Then we have my favorite track on the album, ‘Slaughtered.’ The syncopation between Dimebag’s staccato guitar riffs and Vinnie Paul’s kick drums laid the blueprint for future destroyers like Devildriver and Lamb of God. And to round it all up we end with a rather classy cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’ that reminds us that Pantera could be equally as effective even when stripped of the electric fury.
Now I leave it to you to argue amongst yourselves if Far Beyond Driven is better than Vulgar Display of Power or if it’s as great as I spun it. Whatever the conclusion, you can’t deny it being one of the most important metal releases ever. Oh, and the nineties ruled!