Texan troublemakers Pantera were a true juggernaut that kept the heavy-metal flag flying throughout the Nineties, influencing virtually every riffing and roaring band to follow after they burst on to the scene with their major-label debut, 1990’s revelatory Cowboys From Hell. It’s easy to forget that the band were already finely honed veterans at the time, having self-released four hair-metal-leaning albums: 1983’s Metal Magic, 1984’s Projects in the Jungle, 1985’s I Am the Night and 1988’s Power Metal. But it was with Cowboys that they truly came into their own and kicked off a string of five classic LPs, capped by their 2000 swan song Reinventing the Steel. So how do those classics rank up? We took a crack at it. If you disagree, sound off on The Pit Facebook page.
1. Vulgar Display of Power
From rip-roaring album opener “Mouth for War” to the final fading notes of “Hollow,” Vulgar Display of Power is an absolute masterpiece. All killer, no filler, as they say, packed with some of the finest anthems metal has to offer. Just try not to headbang along to “Walk” or scream along to “Fucking Hostile.” A new level of confidence and power, indeed.
2. Far Beyond Driven
It’s up for debate, but a good case could be made that Pantera’s 1994 opus still stands as the heaviest album to ever debut at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Crushers like “Becoming,” I’m Broken,” “5 Minutes Alone” and “Slaughtered” hit impossibly hard even 20-plus years later, while the Texan firebrands’ trippy cover of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” provides the perfect cool-down to the album’s unrelenting pummeling.
3. Cowboys From Hell
While their major-label debut bears vestiges of the band’s hair-metal past, it also marks the moment when Pantera truly became Pantera. “Domination” has the breakdown to end all breakdowns, “Cemetery Gates” is the power ballad to top all power ballads, while “Cowboys From Hell” serves as the group’s mission statement and calling card. “We’re taking over this town,” snarls Philip Anselmo, and they did.
4. Reinventing the Steel
Pantera were in a celebratory and self-referential mood when they made what would prove to be the band’s swan song. Proud cuts like “We’ll Grind that Axe for a Long Time,” “I’ll Cast a Shadow” and “Revolution Is My Name” see the band pounding their chests and singing their own praises, while “Goddamn Electric” hails their heroes Slayer and Black Sabbath as well as the spirit of heavy metal at large. Packed with riffs, bravado and party-hard vibes, it was fine and fitting way for Pantera to go out.
5. The Great Southern Trendkill
Dark and shambolic, Pantera’s The Great Southern Trendkill caught the band fractured and wounded, with Anselmo recording his vocals in Trent Reznor’s New Orleans studio separate from the rest of the band in Texas. The result was the Cowboys From Hell’s most extreme album, a harsh, sometimes unpleasant listen punctuated by the telling one-two punch of “Suicide Note Pt. I” and “Pt. II.”