Pantera’s ‘Vulgar Display of Power’ Turns 20
Many metalheads, specifically Pantera fans, will enter into debates and nearly come to blows over which album -- 1990’s ‘Cowboys From Hell’ or 1992’s ‘Vulgar Display of Power’ -- is the superior effort. The fact that this argument exists and is pervasive in headbanger conversation to this day simply means that the band created two landmark, back-to-back genre-defining albums. It's not easy to do, either.
‘VDOP,’ which takes its name from a line Regan spews in 'The Exorcist,' celebrates its 20th anniversary today (Feb. 25, 2012) and there are plenty of opinions about it. This just happens to be mine. As a matter of a taste, it is in fact my favorite of all the Pantera albums. For a particularly rough two-year period, from late 2009 to 2011, I listened to 'Mouth for War' every single morning on my way to work and felt empowered by it. It was the spark plug that ignited each day.
What makes 'Vulgar' so crucial is how the band build upon an already solid foundation. Who doesn't want to top what they've already done? That energy is felt in every note.
The band had established itself via Dimebag Darrell’s signature grooves on ‘CFH.’ All you need to do is crank ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ or that last minute of 'Domination.' If that didn't get blood, adrenaline and testosterone coursing through your veins, nothing could. But those so-deep-they-reach-marrow grooves were perfected on 'Vulgar' classics like ‘Walk,’ 'F---ing Hostile' and ‘Mouth for War.’
Philip Anselmo proved he could sing on ‘CFH.’ The high notes are hit on ‘Cemetery Gates.’ But his signature, drill sergeant, somewhat militaristic bark, one that oozed confidence without ever devolving into meatheaded, thanks to lyrics like “I’ve moved mountains with less / When I channel my hate to productive / I don’t find it hard to impress,” became the voice of the metal generation at this point. It's also what opened the band up to a wider audience, which included frat boys, hardcore moshers and girls.
Pantera weren’t writing eight-minutes-and-counting thrash epics. They left that to the Metallicas, Megadeths, Slayers and Anthraxes of the world. They were generating anthems plentifully, and melody and maelstrom were able to live side by side. One never gave way to the other. Sacrifices were not made. Because, let’s face it, did Dimebag, Phil or the rhythm section of Vinnie Paul and Rex Brown seem like the compromising types when it came to their music? Not even.
Everything about the album is smartly constructed, but not forced. From the running order and the sequence of the songs, 'Vulgar Display of Power' feels like a complete piece of art.
The ante was infinitely upped. While 'Cowboys From Hell' made its points in a fast, angry way, 'Vulgar' was Rottweiler-mean and angrier. But rather than spew rhetoric, there was emotional heft behind what Anselmo said. It was satisfying in a primal way, on both a purely physical level as well as mental one. Even Pantera's version of power ballad like 'This Love' impacted like a wrecking ball to the gut.
And let's face it. Dimebag's riff from 'Walk' is one of the most recognizable ever laid down. You don't have to be a metalhead to be familiar with it. For a riff to cross over into the mainstream consciousness like that means it is special and took on a life of its own. That's no small feat and should not be dismissed or weakly regarded. Walk on home, boy, if you think otherwise. It remains the most poignant piece of the late, great Dimebag's legacy.
Pantera not only demanded re-spect (picture it stated in the same cadence Anselmo uses on 'Walk') with 'Vulgar Display of Power.' They earned it, proving that they were, to borrow a phrase from 'Strength Beyond Strength' which opens 'Far Beyond Driven, the album that followed it, stronger than all.
Update: A 20th anniversary deluxe edition of 'Vulgar Display of Power' complete with plenty of extras is set to drop on May 15.