It seems hard to believe but Pantera‘s fourth album on a major label is nigh on a quarter of a century old and it feels right to re-evaluate this often overlooked gem from the self styled ‘Cowboys From Hell’.
The band that made The Great Southern Trendkill were barely recognisable from the same musicians that lent their name to the all time classic Vulgar Display of Power just four years previously; an album that consolidated Pantera’s position as the peoples champions and the saviours of heavy metal! Far Beyond Driven then reached the top of the Billboard Charts in 1994 – a feat unheard of for music as extreme and uncompromising – and, like it or not, Pantera found themselves marketed as the biggest mainstream metal band on the planet.
So, how did they follow it up?
Simple. They released the most challenging, the most brutal, the most emotional and the most fucked-up mainstream metal album in existence!
Pantera were always a band who put forward a united front – four misfits from the deep south who were taking on all comers and for the most part winning – yet when listening back to The Great Southern Trendkill now, it’s even more painfully obvious that there were major problems within the group…..and particularly with Phil Anselmo, and his burgeoning heroin addiction.
This friction was highlighted by the fact that Anselmo recorded his vocals in his home town of New Orleans while the rest of the band recorded their parts in Texas; hardly the behaviour of a band on friendly terms. Perhaps the pressure of following up a Number 1 album was too much? How do you follow up a number 1 album without compromising your integrity? The answer appeared to be that you simply don’t try, instead focusing on recording the most aggressive yet varied album you can muster.
Which leads us on to the music itself.
Beginning with a sound akin to hell being unleashed on earth, the ungodly double-tracked screams of Anselmo and Seth Putnam of Anal Cunt leading a band seemingly firing on all cylinders and calling out the “fakes” and “scenesters” that littered the music business. It still packs a knock-out punch and lines such as “it’s bullshit time again, you’ll save the world within your trend” indicated that Pantera were in no mood for taking prisoners or taking their foot off the gas. “War Nerve” saw the band aiming their considerable spite at the media with Dimebag Darrell unleashing massive riffs that swung like an elephant’s swollen gonads while the downbeat lyrics and staccato riffing of “Drag The Waters” harked back to “Walk” but without the ‘fun’ factor. “Suicide Note Pt II” was harsher still, stripping the skin from your face from a hundred paces. For what was expected to be a mainstream metal album, these songs were almost unapproachable and downright nasty.
However, three songs in particular bucked this trend and they remain amongst the most depressing pieces of music Pantera ever recorded. “10’s” had some uncharacteristic downbeat riffing, with Anselmo sounding like a wounded animal, while the fully acoustic “Suicide Note Pt I” sunk to the pits of despair; a sharp contrast to all that had come before. Finally, the apocalyptic “Floods” had the group summoning forth a biblical downpour to clear away mankind with Dimebag unleashing some of his finest fret work of his career and featuring that outro solo which is still nothing short of orgasmic. A more mainstream triumvirate maybe but still not the kind of music most bands with a previous number 1 album would have dared record.
With The Great Southern Trendkill, Pantera revealed a side to them that had previously been kept relatively well hidden. Yes, their albums were expected to be full of righteous anger and ‘kicking against the pricks’ but with The Great Southern Trendkill they allowed their frailties to fully come to the fore like never before. Where Phil Anselmo had always portrayed himself as some sort of metal Superman, in 1996 he was a drug ravaged wreck laying his soul bare for all to see.
The end result? One of the best and the most downright aggressive mainstream metal albums in existence!