Why Pantera Doubled Down on ‘Vulgar Display of Power,’ Creating a Blockbuster
As 1992 got under way, only a relatively small number of people had actually heard of Texan heavy metal quartet Pantera. But that would change on Feb. 25, with the release of the aptly named Vulgar Display of Power.
Although this was the band's sixth studio album overall, it was only their second featuring a bold new sound that would revolutionize heavy metal for the '90s and virtually erase all memory of Pantera's rather embarrassing early days as an '80s hair metal band. Pantera's fortunes only started to change for the better after founding band members "Diamond" Darrell Abbott, (guitar), Vinnie Paul (drums) and Rex Brown (bass) recruited new singer Phil Anselmo for 1988's Power Metal and then totally reinvented themselves into a vicious, groove-driven colossus for 1990's major label debut, Cowboys From Hell.
All of a sudden, Pantera were transformed from trend-followers to trend-setters, empowered by the positive critical reception that was finally coming their way, and feeling confident about forging ahead with their new direction. So, after wrapping up the lengthy Cowboys From Hell tour with an appearance at the Moscow Monsters of Rock festival, Pantera turned their attention to recording the all-important follow-up to their career-redefining album. And according to Brown's autobiography, Official Truth, Pantera were also inspired by Metallica's recently unleashed Black Album.
"We thought it sucked," he wrote candidly. "We didn't get the commercial sound of it at all and this made us even more determined to make our next record even heavier than anything we'd attempted before." The bassist also recognized that "when Metallica dropped this big commercial record of theirs, they unwittingly gave us this big, fucking gaping hole in the market to fill. So when we actually walked into the studio to write them," Rex continued, "the songs were just jumping out of us. It all seemed just easy and natural."
With producer Terry Date on hand to capture every ounce of this attitude, songs like "Mouth for War," "Fucking Hostile," and "By Demons Be Driven" would likewise "jump" out of fans' stereo speakers, thanks to Darrell's leviathan riffs, the unbridled fury of Anselmo's vocals and the relentless rhythms laid down by Brown and Paul. Others, like the self-explanatory "A New Level" and the hypnotic "Walk" virtually established the groove metal genre (already previewed on Cowboys From Hell), or, in the case of "This Love" and "Hollow," re-booted the heavy metal power ballad to ever harsher standards.
Describing the recording process in his book, Brown wrote, "Sometimes we'd sit in the studio until four in the morning, just coming up with different ideas. ... Every single track we recorded had that certain something about it in a way that only the most vital albums can boast. When we did 'A New Level,' there were all these weird chromatic chords that we hadn't even tried before, and as it took shape it was like opening a Christmas present that you never thought you'd get in a million years."
Once work on the album was completed, Pantera hit the road with Skid Row on the latter's Slave to the Grind tour. Meanwhile, the album cover was being worked on with a real live model getting punched numerous times for his paycheck, in an effort to mimic a low-quality photo provided by Darrell. The final image perfectly represented the album's title, of course.
And when Vulgar Display of Power arrived in stores, the public and critical response was immediate and enthusiastic. Memorable music videos for "Mouth for War" and "Walk" soon crashed MTV and the band continued their global assault by touring with Megadeth, White Zombie, Soundgarden and others. By the time they concluded the album's promotional cycle, Pantera were one of the biggest metal bands in the world, and their next opus, Far Beyond Driven, would amazingly debut at No. 1 in 1994.
A fair share of this accomplishment should be attributed to the groundbreaking success and excitement generated by Vulgar Display of Power, still generally regarded as Pantera's best and most important album. At least one band member, Rex Brown, seems to agree. As he reminisced in his autobiography, "It might sound like a cliche, but there really was magic at work with what we were doing on Vulgar, and we never again played and got along as well as we did at this time."
Watch the Untold Story of Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power
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