Has there ever been a more fitting front sleeve? The photo shoot of A Vulgar Display of Power‘s cover-art apparently consisted of some lucky extra getting punched around thirty times in the face for $10 a whack. Even after having gazed upon this photo on my iPod screen for what must have been a hundred times I still find it a little hard to look at, which is exactly how it was intended to be.
Calling Pantera ‘tough guy metal’ is much like calling The Smiths miserablists; a superficial assessment that only shows the individual in question’s lack of familiarity with the band they are passing judgement on. Like Metallica’s opus Master of Puppets, at the heart of Vulgar there is complete helplessness mixed in with ultimate empowerment: it paints a picture of a world run by liars and hypocrites, where human weakness will always keep lasting peace out of reach, and the only feasible victory is to rise above it all with your own integrity and self-respect intact. The more brooding cuts such as ‘Live in a Hole’ and ‘Hollow’ show this to be a losing struggle, the latter inspired by the near simultaneous suicide of two of the band’s friends, while ‘Regular People’ and the furious punk rock rant of ‘Fucking Hostile’ brim with triumphant aggression. ‘No Good’ pours scorn on inner city gang bangers and white supremacists alike, and as a blue collar New Orleans native vocalist, Phil Anselmo was doubtless well aquatinted with both.
It was on Vulgar that Pantera finally left behind the Judas Priest imitations of their early work to fully emrace the swaggering groove and carefully measured brutality that was to become their signiture, showcased here particularly on ‘Mouth for War’ and their calling card ‘Walk’. ‘Walk’ is a particularly striking example of the genius of Dimebag Darrel’s guitar playing which combined the soul and imagination of Jimi Hendrix with the showy virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen, all run through the tightly controlled riffing style of 80’s thrash bands like Slayer and Megadeth. Tracks like ‘Rise’ stand up well enough on their own, they are unfortunately signal an approach the band would increasingly take of filling out their albums with songs that sacrificed songwriting ideas for sheer sonic assault.
This deluxe edition also adds the previously unreleased track ‘Piss’ but this basically sounds like an inferior rewrite of Cowboys from Hell highlight ‘Medicine Man’ and adds little to the LP. Overall though, this album is a splendid display of talent.