The Great Southern Trendkill
In six short years, Pantera had become one of the biggest names in modern metal. Considering their existence came at a time when metal was no longer seen as fashionable, their success was made all the more impressive considering they had once been a glam-minded hair metal band. Yet for most of the non-Texas world, they had appeared out of nowhere with Cowboys From Hell, their 1990 major label debut—a modestly received record that showed great promise and set the stage for their powerhouse breakthrough album, 1992s Vulgar Display of Power. With it—and 1994 follow-up Far Beyond Driven—they were the kings of the genre.
Yet all was not well within the band. Tensions started to rise between frontman Phil Anselmo and the rest of the band, especially brothers Vinnie and Dimebag Darrell Abbott. Anselmo—who resided in New Orleans—was descending into drug addiction and didn’t feel much like coming to Dallas. Instead, he recorded his vocals at Trent Reznor’s Nothing studio, while the band put together the basic tracks back home. It wasn’t an ideal situation; one could have expected that the material might not be as strong or as cohesive as previous releases—the early versions of “Drag The Water” and “Floods” do have a vocal/instrumental imbalance that feels quite awkward. Yet the band persevered, and personal compromises were made for the sake of the band. Had one simply followed the story of the album’s creation, one would have been right to not expect anything of high calibre.
The Great Southern Trendkill, however, doesn’t show one jot of weakness. The finished album was and is one of the most intense metal albums of the decade; it was certainly a rawer and more aggressive album than any previous Pantera record—and that’s saying a lot. Anselmo doesn’t so much sing as he does hiss; like the venomous snake on the album cover, he is powerful, potent, and deadly. He’s also pointedly lashing out the world, with lyrics that target fake friends, critics, and enemies (“Drag The Water”), suicide (“Suicide Note”), vengeance (“Floods”), and unapologetic, unchecked rage (“War Nerve”). Anselmo was interested in two burgeoning musical genres—rap-rock and grindcore—and it shows; the songs rage, the band slams down with intensity, and yet there’s an undeniable groove, especially on the title track and “War Nerve.” From beginning to end, The Great Southern Trendkill is relentless. It’s not a mistake or studio trickery, as the second disc’s alternate version of the album attests; even though the early takes are occasionally awkward and rough, it’s obvious that in spite of the problems during the creative process, Pantera was going to release something quite mighty upon the world.
At the time, in spite of The Great Southern Trendkill’s overt anger and aggression and rage, one couldn’t fight a nagging feeling that this was the band’s last gasp. Time would prove those suspicions right; though a good but seemingly perfunctory live album followed, the band’s final record, Reinventing The Steel, felt by-the-numbers; its intensity, forced. It wasn’t a surprise that the band split up not too long after its release. Sadly, the split would become permanent on December 8, 2004, when Dimebag Darrell was murdered onstage as he performed with his new band, Damageplan. Sadly, Pantera ended on a low note, but The Great Southern Trendkill was and is the band’s most intense and compelling release, and it’s that legacy that lives on, in spite of all that came after.