With 1990's Cowboys From Hell, Pantera erased a decade of hair metal incompetency and put the heavy metal world on notice. With 1992's Vulgar Display of Power, they became a global heavy metal phenomenon that was impossible for even non-fans to ignore. And with Far Beyond Driven they stormed the very top of the charts and, in doing so, they pretty much had nothing left to prove.

Except to themselves, of course, and that was seemingly motivation enough for the quartet of vocalist Phil Anselmo, guitarist Dimebag Darrell, bassist Rex and drummer Vinnie Paul to feel like reasserting their unwavering metallic vision. Their musically devastating, but even more caustic eighth album, The Great Southern Trendkill, was released May 7, 1996.

Giving absolutely no quarter to the vagaries of ever-changing musical fashions, the album contained songs set to kill or, at the very least, stun upon impact. And it didn't matter whether this brand of sonic blunt force trauma was delivered at blinding speed (as in the title track), via elephantine grooves ("War Nerve," "Living Through Me (Hell's Wrath)," etc.), or even doom-laden foreboding ("10's," "13 Steps to Nowhere").

Even when Pantera seemed to be giving their fans a chance to lick their wounds, as with the musically surprisingly soothing (if lyrically bleak beyond belief) "Suicide Note Pt. I," it was just so they could cleanly decapitate them with the razor-fast apocalypse of "Pt. 2"), before they knew what hit them.

And just as previous Pantera albums had made room for a semi-power ballad, of sorts, like "Cemetery Gates" or "This Love," Trendkill's closest comparison, "Floods," took that formula to an entirely different level of slow-burning desperation, with the ultimate, long-awaited payoff coming at last through one of Dimebag's most revered guitar solos.

All in all, though its messages were as angry and violent as ever, The Great Southern Trendkill handily followed its predecessors' footsteps to mainstream dominance, clawing its way to an impressive No. 4 on the Billboard album chart, and then stubbornly clinging to the Top 200 for four straight months thereafter -- a clear sign that Pantera's musical vision showed no sign of weakening.

Alas, if only the recording of Pantera's latest triumph had been anywhere near as smooth or united an experience. Instead, band relationships were widely rumored to be fraying behind the scenes, reportedly exemplified by Anselmo's insistence on recording his vocal tracks at Trent Reznor's studio, near his New Orleans home, while his three band mates recorded their parts far away in their home base of Dallas, Texas.

Before long, these internal problems would first slow down and then grind Pantera's once unstoppable heavy metal machine to a halt, following 2000's final studio album, Reinventing the Steel. Then came Dimebag Darrell's senseless murder in 2004, not even a decade removed of his former band's career-defining albums.

The Top 50 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time