Feb 212012

Thanks to an article at FULL METAL ATTORNEY, I discovered that today is the 20th anniversary of Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power. I agree that it’s an anniversary worth remembering, and not because it reminds me how fucking ancient I am.

Speaking of which, yes, I was alive and a partially functioning adult when Vulgar Display of Power was released. However, I was not then a metalhead. In fact, although I tolerated a bit of Pantera more than the vast majority of what I thought of as heavy metal back in 1992, I wasn’t a fan. I was still listening to punk and getting into grunge with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, and I brushed off Pantera as knuckle-dragging, simple-minded, cock-swinging mediocrity. There, I said it.

As the years have passed, and I’ve become more knuckle-dragging, simple-minded, and cock-swinging, I’ve come to appreciate Pantera more, though I’m still not a Dime worshipper or a Pantera addict. As for Vulgar Display of Power, it does seem to represent what was best and worst in Pantera’s music, though I’m not sure that makes much sense.

The Full Metal Attorney makes some provocative assertions about the album that I thought might generate some discussion here at NCS. He recognizes that almost as many metalheads despise the album as love it — perceiving it as something that was responsible for “ushering in nu metal, and the bad groove metal of the late 90’s” and blaming it for “the tough-guy posturing of metalcore bands like Hatebreed or hard rock bands like Drowning Pool.” He then goes on to respond to the criticism, arguing that it’s one of the most influential metal albums of all time; that it was one of the heaviest albums released up to that point; that it was an adrenaline rush loaded with dynamism and great songwriting; and that it made its mark in part because it’s not what people expected.

So I’m wondering what you folks think about the album and about Full Metal Attorney’s discussion of it — which is worth reading in full here. Comments about Pantera in general would also be welcome, especially from people who (unlike me)  were really affected by the band’s music (either positively or negatively) when it was current.



  1. Thanks for the great write-up. Cock-swinging isn’t normally my thing (I prefer nude cock-flapping, where you rapidly move your hips so that your genitals slap up and down, creating a wonderfully alluring sound that drives women wild) but this record is the one Pantera album that has sentimental value to me, considering I was in high school when I picked it up.

    • Nude cock-flapping: why isn’t this on YouTube yet? I’ve spent my whole adult life (or at least the part of it that preceded my blog obsession) trying to figure out how to drive women wild (other than how to drive them wild with rage, which seems really easy for me to do, even when I’m not trying), and yet I never thought of this technique. Still, I have a funny feeling that my wife would neither be driven wild nor even amused. Maybe if I play some Pantera while I’m doing it . . .

  2. The most important thing about this record IMO is that it really marked Pantera’s shift from the more glammy style to just being fucking nuts. It was hard as fuck, but their songs were songlike (in the traditional pop sense), as opposed to the more epic style of older Metallica or Death or whatever else was extreme by then. So, even if you couldn’t quite handle obituary, you could hang w Pantera. They definitely pushed it, but it remained accessible.
    As far as what the records responsible for…
    You could pretty much say that anything that ever comes out that is “great'” is going to be responsible for dozens of clones, ultimately resulting in shit. It’s just what happens.
    You should never, ever apologize for who you are. What’s worse than a knuckle-dragger? A knuckle-dragger that wants to be folk, or emo, or hiphop, or whatever else he/she is not. I digress…

    • About my knuckle-dragger comment: I admit that in the early 90s, I was still most likely brainwashed by years in the punk scene to view metal as a lower form of life, and by that I mean lower than the scum you’d find floating on the top of a stagnant pond. I’d say it was an elitist point of view, but it’s still hard for me to view punks as elitists. Of course, I eventually got over this point of view about metal — thank godz.

  3. I’m not really into Pantera or much of the genre they inspired. But as a general rule I think it’s unfair to really blame a band because they had legions of shitty followers who dumbed down or repackaged their sound. From Pantera to At the Gates to whoever, when you do something new that’s popular theres always going to be that next wave that misses what made the original special in the first place. Being mad at Pantera because Drowning Pool happened ain’t fair.

  4. Apologies to everyone and anyone who likes this band and this album, but Im going to be “That Guy” right now…call me an elitist or what-have-you. I hate this album..hate this band..hate the fucking tough guy posturing they did (whether they are responsible for other bands doing it or not), and I hate the whole fucking groove metal genre they started.

    I will give Dimebag credit for being an amazing guitarist, but about the only time this band ever got interesting for me, musically, was when he would break into a solo.

    Im sorry FMA, but this wasnt one of the heaviest metal albums released at the time. You could argue this was one of the easier albums to acquire that played heavy music and Id buy that, but Death, Possessed, Morbid Angel, Autopsy, Deicide, and Cannibal Corpse were already making albums whose aggression blow this thing out of the water.

    • I’ll have to disagree with you on that. Your list of bands focused on horror and shock. Pantera was pure aggression. There is a difference. Yes the riffs were heavy as hell and the vocals were guttural and brutal from CC and Decide and the like but those bands were also underground. I believe what FMA is referring to is the fact that Pantera was more mainstream and compared to what Megadeth, Metallica, Testament, and Slayer were churning out, Vulgar was a kick in the teeth in 1992.

      • Not really sure what the lyrical content would have to do with anything. If Cannibal Corpse was singing about taking home puppies and kittens to their children it dosnt make the riffs on Eaten Back to Life any less pummeling. Now, theres no real way to measure aggressiveness in music, so ultimately this just comes down to a difference of opinion but as far as Im concerned Pantera cant hang with any of those bands when it comes to heavy

        I took the fact that those bands were underground into account in my comment when I said it was an easier album to acquire, but this comment is straight from the article “because at the time this was one of the heaviest records ever released”. Again, I dont think thats actually true, but heavy is an ambiguous term and everyone has a different definition for what that means.

        • Heaviness doesn’t have anything to do with what you guys are talking about. See this: http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-is-heavy.html. Heaviness is that physical feeling the sound gives you . . . it’s tough to define. (Chris Reifert knows what I’m trying to say here. When he did the Call & Response for Decibel last year, he complained that the Enslaved song wasn’t heavy.) Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone is as heavy as it gets, and it’s not aggressive at all. So as far as the sound of the recorded music, none of those you mention come close to Vulgar.

          That said, I get why you don’t like the tough-guy parts of it. I think that’s what “Walk” embodies the most, and maybe that’s why I don’t like that song. I kind of get why people hate it, but I think most of that is retrospective hate (just like the hate on At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul). It comes to represent so many things you hate, and then it’s impossible to ignore them when you hear good music that happens to have some elements that have been copied by shitty bands. I’m probably guilty of it myself in some cases, just like I’m probably guilty of not liking it when a band I like changes directions in a way I don’t like, because it doesn’t meet my expectations.

          • I probably wasn’t entirely clear about why Vulgar is heavier than those. As long as we start with the baseline understanding that heaviness is that physical, reverberating, low-end feeling, then I think we can discuss the issue. But Vulgar is heavier than those albums not because of the band or the music or the way it was played, but also because of the production. The recording is heavier. I mean, you put Pantera and Suffocation circa 1992 in the same room with equipment of comparable volume, and Suffocation is going to be heavier. But on record? Pantera would destroy them, at least until Souls to Deny.

            • I like your definition of heavy. To be honest, I thought that was already well established….

              Without commenting on Pantera (my only knowledge of them is that jocks would listen to it in high school and I did not like them), I think there’s some cross over in people’s definitions between heavy and brutal.

              To me, doom is heavy and death metal is brutal. Some bands are both heavy and brutal. Some bands just like to have sex with little ponies.

              • Agreed on “heavy” and “brutal.” (The Urban Dictionary entry mentioned in my article clearly confused the two.) I don’t think jocks are wrong about everything though. There are awesome jocks, too. In college I started lifting weights with two of them, who had quit the football team because of “bullshit” that was going on in that area. There’s that group of hardcore weight-lifters who love metal, and they get a bad reputation as being stupid, but I find that’s not the case at all. My brother-in-law, too, is a big-time weightlifter (as in, he dead lifts over 700 pounds) but he’s a PhD and loves Electric Wizard.

                • You are totally right about “jocks”. One of the smartest kids in my school was also the top athlete.

                  But when I was in high school, I was also kind of a pretentious dick, so that colored my perception. I’m all for exercise, though I don’t do it enough. I still kinda hate team sports though.

                • Your brother sounds like quite a guy! My experience with serious weightlifters is simlar. I’ve found them (mostly) to be interesting, bright people with an eccentric array of interests. I don’t really think of them as jocks, though. I think of them more as a different breed of nerds. “Nerd”, btw, is not a pejorative term in my lexicon. I think most metalheads are nerds. I also am a nerd.

                • Also, whenever anyone mentioned weightlifting and metal in the same discussion, I now always think of this first:


            • Youre saying that a thicker low end, which is partially a result of better production pulling the sound into the fore makes the album heavier. If you put it in that context, yeah the album holds up a bit better. Im sticking with my guns here though, as I dont think its an overly impressive showing of heaviness even based on that criteria. Its definitely not some huge jump over the early death metal bands.

              To me this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrMrF_k_fMo does not have a heavier low end than this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4Ig_fhJ5r4

              This is all my personal opinion though, and I know other people may well disagree

              • ..and just to clarify, Ive always hated this style of metal. I dont care if its the best Pantera album or the worst Machine Head. I find it completely uninteresting..if I want to listen to thrash metal, I’ll listen to thrash metal, not some boring, simplified version of thrash metal

            • I also think this definition of “heavy” is useful. It’s a big reason why I’ve recently started to get into post-rock, sludge, and stoner metal more than before: That gut-busting, physical low end.

  5. Never got into Pantera. Of course in the early 90s I was getting into black metal so it seemed pretty tame by comparison.

    • I can understand that. I had never even heard of black metal until 2001, and had no idea what it was until about 2005/6 (before that I was under the impression Mercyful Fate and Venom were black metal, because I had read that somewhere). Didn’t get into it until a couple years later.

  6. I’m listening to it on YouTube for the first time….
    Like early Metallica, it’s by no means bad, but I can’t decide if I *like* it. Ido like the riff in the verse for Mouth of War. The solo is not appealing to me as much though.

    But, I see what Full Metal Attorney means about it being heavy though. Nice and heavy. Stomp! Stomp!

    • I think that’s pretty much my opinion of it too. It’s not BAD. I can appreciate the aggression and riffage. But I can’t shake the mental image I first formed of Pantera from the first song of theirs I heard (‘Cowboys From Hell’) which was “a really angry Bon Jovi”. Maybe if my brain hadn’t made that connection I’d have a different opinion of them now, I dunno.

      • It’s odd, I distinctly remember hearing CFH on ..whatever metal video show used to be on MTV, and being pretty blown away by it at the time. There wasn’t much out in the way of mainstream metal that sounded like that. And what the band understood (and bands like Machinehead got back then as well) is that ‘heavy’ is just as much about the space between notes as the notes themselves. Listen to the last 4 chords before the outro of “This Love” for an example. Contrast in music makes anything you write more impact (mixing fast with slow, vs. speed all the time).

        I also give them credit for getting continually more intense on each album (at least up to Trendkill), which isn’t what you usually see from bands. I dunno… I was lucky enough to see them live on several occasions.. and while I don’t find myself listening to them anymore, there weren’t many that were their peer in the mid 90’s to me.

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