Pantera’s end might have been stepped in tragedy, but even that can’t detract from just how mighty they were. At their peak, Dimebag Darrell, Vinnie Paul Abbott, Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown represented the very best of metal. When all the big ’80s thrash pioneers like Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer started lightening up for the mainstream in the ’90s, Pantera went the opposite way, becoming harder, heavier, and darker than ever before. In the process, they became one of the biggest and most influential bands in heavy metal history. Here’s how we rank all nine Pantera albums
9. Projects In The Jungle
Even the most committed Pantera fan would have to concede that the band’s first three outings didn’t showcase them at their best. Of them all, Projects In The Jungle has to be the worst. Metal Magic might have been a cheese-fest, but at least it was fun. Projects In The Jungle, on the other hand, is just a hard slog. The songs are a little more mature than those on the band’s debut, but they’re almost uniformly weak. Even the occasional attempt to sound edgy falls flat on its face. Unless you want to punish your ears, this is one to skip.
8. Metal Magic
Comparing Pantera’s debut effort to their later work is like comparing chalk and cheese… literally. Overblown, cliched (and that’s just the album cover), Metal Music is the sonic equivalent of Easy Cheese. But weirdly, it’s so bad, it’s good. Well, not good exactly, but at least enjoyable. If you’re looking for a chuckle, this is the one Pantera album that’s good for some belly laughs. Just don’t expect much by way of either metal or magic.
7. I Am The Night
Rounding off Pantera’s ‘glam’ era is I Am The Night. In fairness, there’s very little to choose between this, Metal Magic and Projects In The Jungle. All three are likely to leave fans of the band’s later albums dazed and confused, and not in a good way. But when push comes to shove, 1985’s I Am The Night is just a little better than its predecessors. The musicianship is more advanced, the vocals are less cringeworthy, and there are a few decent songs if you dig around enough. As givememetal.com notes, it’s also heavier than the band’s previous output, which on tracks like Onward We Rock and Right on the Edge, is no bad thing at all. It’s still a far cry from essential listening though.
6. Reinventing The Steel
Pantera’s final studio album came as something of a blow. Fans desperate for the band to recapture some of their past magic and go out with a bang were left instead with a swansong that felt tired and patchy. It’s heavy, for sure, but it lacks the energy and freshness to carry the weight. Considering the internal tensions happening in the band at the time, the lackluster quality of Reinventing The Steel is maybe understandable – Dimebag and Vinny were both up for experimenting, but the increasingly drug-addled Anselmo’s obsession with death metal threw a spanner in the works. Either way, it’s not a comfortable listen, and even excellent tracks like Goddamn Electric, Revolution Is My Name, and I’ll Cast A Shadow aren’t enough to save it.
5. Power Metal
By the time Pantera came to release Power Metal in 1988, singer Terry Glaze had gone and Phil Anselmo had stepped into his shoes. It’s easy to pan the album’s glam metal sound, but as Kerrang says, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. Compared to the band’s previous efforts, Power Metal was a major leap forward. Their signature sound is still light-years in front of them, but listen hard enough to Dimebag’s riffing and Anselmo’s tone, and you can already hear the first faint rumblings on the horizon. If you’re a fan of old-school metal, it’s a must-listen.
4. Far Beyond Driven
The early 1990s were productive years for Pantera. In 1994, they released Far Beyond Driven, their third album in just four years. It’s not quite as good as the other two (although considering one of those is Vulgar Display Of Power, that’s probably to be expected), but it’s still essential listening. The success of Vulgar Display Of Power opened the window to the mainstream, and Far Beyond Driven smashed through it headfirst. Commercially, this was their peak, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and becoming their fastest-selling album of all time. And yet…. good though it is, and killer though some of the tracks are, it’s by no means a perfect album. As Louder Sound notes, in the likes of Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills and their inclusion of a cover of Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan, there are hints that the band might be running out of ideas. It would take a few more years for the cracks to show, but breathe deep enough, and the first whiff of trouble was already in the air.
3. Cowboys From Hell
Cowboys From Hell, Pantera’s fifth album, was where the band got good. Some people have called it their ‘real’ debut. Others have called it their breakthrough. Regardless of what you call it, this is where the band stopped fooling around with glam and started shredding their way into the stratosphere. On tracks like the epic Cemetery Gates, Primal Concrete Sledge, and the title track, the band rips it up like never before. If their previous albums had shown potential, this is where that potential comes into bloom. It didn’t do much in the charts, peaking at a relatively disappointing 117 on the Billboard 200, but by rights, it should have soared to the top.
2. The Great Southern Trendkill
Following as it did in the wake of such groundbreaking albums as Cowboys From Hell, Vulgar Display of Power, and Far Beyond Driven, Pantera’s eighth studio album had a lot to live up to. If the band had stuck to the same brutal formula as before, you couldn’t have blamed them. Instead, they tried something different, resulting in one of the most diverse, explosive albums in their canon. Everything on The Great Southern Trendkill gets turned up to the max, including the rage. Anselmo’s bitter rants against the media, the industry, and pretty much everything else that’s found its way into his eye line aren’t the mark of a man living his best life, but it’s their vitriolic power that makes the album. It’s not an album for everyone, but it’s not designed to be. It’s as approachable as a rattlesnake, and that’s exactly what makes it so epic.
1. Vulgar Display Of Power
If Cowboys From Hell was Pantera’s rebirth, Vulgar Display Of Power was where they came of age. After kicking things off with the epic Mouth For War, the album gets steadily heavier, harder and more brutal as it progresses. Everything is on point – the songwriting is impressive, the riffs are thunderous, and even when they turn down the tempo on tracks like This Love and Hollow, the crushing weight of the sound doesn’t let up for a second. It was as far from commercial as you could get – yet somehow, this was the album that put them on the path to the mainstream. MTV played their videos, radio stations picked up the singles, and over 2 million people in the US bought the album. Pantera had most definitely arrived, and they couldn’t have picked a better album to do it with.