There are some albums in the history of music that are just a cut above the rest. Whether it’s due to the album being launched at the band’s peak, the timing of a release, or a shift in the genre of music. Every band’s goal in this business is to progressively build and hone their sound with each new offering. It is no secret however, that many artists do things better than others, which in turn makes them leaders in music.
Pantera were trendsetters and trend “destroyers.” Arguably the most important heavy metal band of the 1990’s, their sound, prowess and success redefined heavy metal as fans knew it. During a time when artists were changing their sounds and looks, Pantera remained diametrically different. The boys from Texas were just that band at the very top of their game, leading the charge of underground while waving the flag of “no compromise.” Sure, there were ballad-like songs such as “Cemetery Gates” but great songs are great songs. Nothing about them was ever contrived or planned, they just did what they did better than everyone else. Possessing some of the finest musicians in all of music, there was little doubt that they would achieve their eventual success. Pantera personified what true, unadulterated art was all about and reinforced their accolades with Far Beyond Driven. This was the first album by the Texas quartet that would bring them into arenas and amphitheaters across the globe. Heaviness redefined by a band firing on all cylinders.
What was always very apparent about Pantera’s music was their roots in Texas and southern blues. Dimebag Darrell played guitar like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons but with faster tempos, more gain, as well as in the heavy-metal style. I think that this was a large reason the band’s songs were so catchy, so well written. A lot of modern music is based in the blues and some of the catchiest songs are rooted in blues scales and chord progressions. Dime and company just knew how to harness their roots from the south, the blues and traditional heavy metal. Simplicity paired with complexities, the songs on Far Beyond Driven appease the fans while being on a level that even non-metal fans can appreciate. The record challenged critics to give Pantera their due while pleasing fans’ desire for a band that would reign supreme in metal.
Pantera’s first two major label releases Cowboys From Hell (1990) and Vulgar Display of Power (1992) were a stark contrast to the releases of the 1980’s and both records personified the “power groove” metal genre that was defined by drummer Vinnie Paul’s trademark precision beats, Rex Brown’s thunderous Bass grooves, Phil Anselmo’s trademark snarl vocal attack and the brilliance of guitarist Dimebag Darrell. Like a well-oiled machine, the band just kept getting better and better and the growth from Cowboys to Vulgar is undeniable. Pantera were on a 99 degree incline upwards towards the stratosphere of success and Far Beyond was a natural progression, evolution while remaining true to what the band did so well.
The production on the album is absolutely pristine. It is so heavy that the speakers seem to buckle under the weight of the mass of frequencies emanating from them. Veteran producer and Pantera knobs man Terry Date was at the helm to produce the effort but the band itself had long developed their own sound and production techniques. Vinny Paul and Dimebag’s father had taught them a lot about production (since he owned his own studio) and through their experience are a large reason why the band sounded the way they did. Pantera were a band that made the records the way they wanted and brought additional expertise to help round out the efforts. Terry Date was definitely the man to do so. Case in point: the beginning of ‘Slaughtered’ feels like your headphones are about to collapse under the weight of Dimebag’s multi-tracked guitars-it’s insane.
On March 21st, 1994 the opus Far Beyond Driven was released on Eastwest Records and debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Top 200 – the first release in the extreme metal genre to ever do so. There were no watered down tracks, 100 percent no compromise. In true Pantera fashion, the band delivered an extreme record to their fans. Pantera’s popularity was based on their incessant touring for the previous 4 years with no-holds-barred live concerts. The number one spot was achieved by them doing what they did best. Critics, naysayers and everyone else could not deny anything when the Billboard stats were released.
21 years have passed since this album came out and although Pantera has disbanded, their legion of fans still celebrate a legacy that will stand true to the test of time. Far Beyond Driven is perhaps only matched by Pantera’s other releases, since no band has or will ever come close again. Far Beyond Driven was released in a time when record sales were record sales; piracy was only as rampant as tape trading between folks for their favorite records.
Beyond the change in the record business, there just isn’t a band to replace Pantera. In the days where more and more bands are tuning lower, adding more strings on their guitars, writing faster and faster music – nothing seems to capture the magic the four men from Arlington, Texas were able to achieve. 2004’s passing of guitarist Dimebag Darrell would see the possibility of any true Pantera reunion destroyed. There simply isn’t any guitarist who could replace him, or any of the other members for that matter. There is a certain chemistry, a certain magic that cannot replicated. For now though, we celebrate Far Beyond Driven and the legacy it leaves behind. R.I.P. Pantera.
The addition of Black Sabbath‘s ‘Planet Caravan’ cover was an amazing added bonus to the album and showcased the true musical abilities that all four members were capable of. An interesting side note: when Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi was asked about how to play ‘Planet Caravan’ he remarked, “Ask Dimebag, he played it better.” Enough said, go crank Far Beyond Driven right now and celebrate a unique album amazing on so many levels.
My favorite tracks on Far Beyond Driven:
1.) Shedding Skin
3.) Use My Third Arm
4.) Throes of Rejection
What are yours?