A Not-So-Vulgar Discussion of Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power
In honor of the recent 20th anniversary reissue of Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power, two music writers sat around a kitchen table and talked about it. One is clearly older than the other one.
Eric Grubbs: When that record came out in 1992, what do you remember, aside from grunge and Nirvana being big?
Darryl Smyers: Oh, I remember laughing about it when it came out because everyone called it groove metal. Even today, I laughed when I read that the album set the stage for Korn, so that means we should deduct three points from it already. I thought - going from Iggy Pop to Black Flag - all good music, whether punk rock or metal, supposedly had a groove to it. But Pantera's early stuff was pretty crappy and I don't think it had a groove to it. The big turnaround was when Phil [Anselmo, vocals] joined the band. By that album, they weren't afraid to do a ballad, and the ballad was a good one. That was '92; I was just coming back to Dallas from living overseas in Korea, so I was kinda late on Nirvana.
Since my wife went to high school with one of the guys in the band, I was like, "Oh no, not Pantera, aren't they some kind of metal cover band from Arlington?" So many little tidbits about the album are funny: It wasn't Dimebag Darrell, it was Diamond Darrell. That was the last album he was credited as Diamond Darrell. Another funny thing I had forgotten about was that the cover photo was some guy they paid $10 to get hit in the face and they had to pay him $300 because it took 30 punches to get the thing right. But I remember hearing the record and liking it more than anything else Pantera had done or since. That was easily the high point for them.
EG: Nirvana definitely opened up a lot of doors for me. I was born in '79, so I was too young to understand Black Flag, but I remember reading in skateboarding magazines about Suicidal Tendencies and The Cult, knowing there were other styles of rock out there, but when I saw the "Walk" video on Headbangers Ball, it showed me that there could be much more aggressive styles of music out there. And I especially remember "Fucking Hostile" being the first song title I knew with a curse word in it. It was like your older brother's rock music, but in a good way. I didn't have an older brother; I had an older sister, but it seemed like guys who were my age who had older brothers were into Pantera. There was a band in Kingwood that covered "Cemetery Gates" and they were very into Vulgar Display of Power. That was my first impression of it. All these years later, I don't think that record has been topped.
DS: Oh, no. That was around the same time that you didn't refer to the band as an Arlington band; it was then a Dallas band after that. The Dallas metal scene has never been the high watermark of metal scenes from across the United States. That's funny you say that about the curse word, because it was the first Pantera album to get the parental advisory sticker. I came to Pantera kinda late. I'm a little older than you, so in '82, I was listening to Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Hüsker Dü, and to me, even as powerful as Vulgar Display of Power sounded, it still sounded more polished than what I was listening to. They sold two million albums. I mean, Black Flag, you just don't sell music unless it's a little slicker than what they did early on. At first when I heard Pantera, and I was getting out of high school, it was kind of a joke. A bunch of Arlington metalheads who were aping Metallica, Slayer, or the bands du jour at the time with that horrible double-bass drumming.
DS: I remember hearing this one and thinking, "Oh, they're gonna be big." Arguably, the biggest Dallas band. You could think Edie Brickell, but of hard music.That might be the biggest single album to come out of our area.
EG: I think between Cowboys from Hell and Vulgar Display of Power, Vulgar is more influential. Cowboys was heavier than their independently-released albums. It was their second record with Phil Anselmo singing very clearly, but then on Vulgar everything is so much heavier. The songs are incredibly pissed off. What I've always appreciated about Pantera is that they didn't distance themselves from where they came from. They didn't move to L.A. to be cool, they stayed where they were, even if it might have been uncool to the rest of the world.
DS: Pantera had a bigger influence internationally. It was interesting talking with Bruce from Rigor Mortis about how the bands didn't like each other until pretty late in their careers.They started appreciating each other's music.
EG: What would you say is Pantera's legacy? I never thought I'd say this, but you listen to more modern metal than I do.
DS: Only because my son is 15. That's a really good question. It's hard to gauge because I don't know. I've talked to a lot of new metal acts that come through - the Avenged Sevenfolds, the Escape the Fates - and I rarely hear them mention Pantera when they talk about bands, even when I corner them about Texas bands they listen to. When that album came out, they were doing festival tours with Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. On their earlier tours, they were with Anthrax and Slayer. So I think when they made that record, it was opening their eyes up to the legacy of metal. It wasn't just a singular look at thrash metal by expanding their sound into groove metal. Music can be powerful without being in your face. I think one of the best things that came out was it was the first time I watched The Exorcist all the way through. When [Linda Blair] says that line in the movie, I was like, "Hey, that's the name of the album!" Any album that gets its title from The Exorcist is OK by me.
EG: I had more of an idea who Pantera was because of their T-shirts, before I heard their music. They have a very striking logo and and an album called Vulgar Display of Power and a cover like that, like a Front 242 shirt or even the "This is Not a Fugazi" shirt. I was just beginning to understand what heavy music was. All these years later, I can tell the difference between metal styles, and I think that record is still really good.
DS: Surprisingly, a lot of the new metal bands throw back old school stuff. They don't really mention Pantera. If they do mention them, it's more a fashion thing: At shows with my son, there will be a lot of kids in Pantera shirts. It's been that long. I mean, the history of the band was a band in turmoil. Changing singers, heroin addiction, the band breaks up, Dimebag gets shot. This reissue will be kind of a closing point.
EG: Since the band will never reunite, their legacy cannot be sullied. It can only be improved.
DS: Yeah, unlike The New Bohemians.