While starting out as a glam metal band, Pantera would reinvent themselves with 1990’s Cowboys From Hell. The band eventually became one of the biggest metal bands of the '90s. The Texas foursome influenced countless bands while showing that metal music still had some steam left in it, even with grunge music sweeping airwaves nationwide. 1994’s Far Beyond Driven would top the Billboard charts, a feat that seemed impossible for any metal band to do during the mid '90s. Led by eccentric frontman Phil Anselmo and the guitar wizardry of “Dimebag” Darrell, Pantera left a permanent mark that won’t go away any time soon.
The first Pantera album where the band finally carved their own direction, Cowboys From Hell would showcase a different side of Pantera, one that aimed towards a groove metal sound. The title track, the epic ballad “Cemetery Gates,” the thrash monster “Domination,” and the bass-heavy “The Art Of Shredding” are just a few of the tracks that left an impact on the unassuming listener. Cowboys From Hell was Pantera’s masterpiece, showcasing the band at a musical level that they arguably never reached again.
While Cowboys From Hell had phenomenal songs, Vulgar Display Of Power had “Walk,” which to some, is the be-all end-all Pantera song. While that idea has been debated for years, there is no doubting the sheer aggression that Pantera let out on Vulgar Display Of Power. Anselmo dropped his clean vocals, for the most part; in its place, a harsh bark that suffocated the listener with its power and intensity. “Hollow” is an underrated ballad in the band’s catalog, and the last strong clean vocal performance by Anselmo, before drugs and alcohol took their toll.
While the band hated to admit it, Cowboys From Hell was not their first album. Before that revolutionary release, Pantera was a straight-forward glam metal band. Power Metal showed the band leaning towards a heavy/speed metal hybrid, with new vocalist Phil Anselmo’s showcasing his wide range. His vocals were quite different than what most people heard from him in the later albums from Pantera; Anselmo took an entirely clean approach, with a high-pitch tone and falsettos that would make Rob Halford blush. The songs themselves weren’t anything special, but Anselmo’s vocal performance is the best of his career, and Darrell’s guitar playing was fantastic as usual.
With Far Beyond Driven, Pantera would slow the pace down considerably, down-tuning the guitars, and aiming for a more extreme sound. The band keeps the tempo mid-paced, with the exception of a selected number of faster tunes, including “Becoming” and “Slaughtered.” Anselmo’s lyrics got more personal, and his vocals, while suiting the music quite well, showed signs of weakness at certain moments. The inclusion of a cover of the Black Sabbath song “Planet Caravan” was both intriguing and perplexing at the same time.
The last decent Pantera album, The Great Southern Trendkill sacrificed melody for brutality, leading to mixed results. The band began to fall apart around this time, with Phil Anselmo’s drug usage getting the better of him. The lyrics described in stark detail Anselmo losing his battle with substance abuse, especially with “10’s,” “Suicide Note,” and “Living Through Me (Hell’s Wrath).” Pantera does experiment a bit with their sound, utilizing acoustic guitar and electronic effects on “Suicide Note Pt.1.” “Floods” is considered one of the band’s memorable songs, with Darrell’s solo getting much acclaim in the guitar community.