Vulgar Display of Power: A Retro Music Review
1992 was a great and interesting year. Hurricane Andrew hit Florida and was a big deal because no one had ever seen anything like Katrina yet and China got its first McDonalds. Among all of this amazing crap one of the greatest heavy metal albums ever made was released. Pantera released Vulgar Display of Power to an audience hungry for power metal and became the album that defined their sound. Vulgar remains the album most fans refer to when fondly remembering this amazing band. And before you start to argue that their first album “Cowboys from Hell” defined them you are wrong on both fronts. Their first album was “Projects in the Jungle” and Cowboys still flirted with melody.
Pantera created a new and unique sound on the record and it influences rock music today. Their subsequent releases really never reached the same dynamic heights as Vulgar, though they are still much better than any of the pretenders around them at the time. Phil Anselmo abandoned singing altogether here and instead targets the listener as an enemy combatant and starts throwing punches. His vocals mirror the overall hostility present in the rest of the album .
The album balances groove with thrash in a way that had not been done before and may have not been done again. Dimebag is amazing as always and Vinnie proves once again he is one of the best in the business. The surprise comes from Phil Anslemo and Rex Brown who fit into the mix perfectly and augment the rock god brothers as opposed to simply cheering them on. Pantera becomes a single unit, a machine designed to create the heaviest music possible and it works. It is easy to be heavy to the point where the wall of sound is no longer music but just dissonant noise. The magic is walking the line as close as you can get without crossing over into non-music. The latter is Vulgar Display of Power.
The music is best in show but the lyrics go off the rails a lot. This isn’t enough to diminish the power of the songs, but they could have elevated them even higher and this is a missed opportunity. The use of profanity seems more for shock value than any real expression and when read without the music most of the lyrics are boring. This is not the case on A New Level and By Demons Be Driven which weave lyrics into the insanity perfectly.
One thing the boys from Texas may have forgotten to work into the song list was dynamics. The album starts out balls out grind heavy, the middle is just as heavy, and the album end heavy as shit. The album starts out tuned up to 9, then goes to 10, then back down a bit at 9.5. this may have been a creative choice to throw diversity to the wind and just blow the doors off but for the listener taking a trip usually means slowing down and seeing the sites briefly for a bit. Again this isn’t necessarily a negative and may be exactly what the band was going for. If so well done but next time give me a second to see what the hell is going on before you punch me in the face again.