Rhino Delivers a Worthy Reissue of Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power

You don’t hear much about the band Pantera in either the audiophile or even in the vinyl community. Its music and lyrics come across as brash, and thrash metal definitely isn’t the first genre that comes to mind when thinking of records to show off the sonic capabilities of one's stereo equipment.

Nonetheless, when I'm in the mood to spin something heavier on my turntable, I find myself gravitating to Rhino’s 2020 reissue of Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, the group’s second major label effort originally released in 1992. The album deserves consideration in audiophile circles. Hell, it was originally mastered by the legendary Doug Sax.

After shaking their glam metal sound and replacing it with “groove metal”—a new metal subgenre that they were helping to create—Pantera rode a wave of success that began with 1990’s Cowboys From Hell, the group’s breakthrough major label debut.

If you have never before heard Vulgar Display of Power, your first listen will almost instantly show you the groove and the metal that make up the aptly titled subgenre.

Pantera was Phil Anselmo on vocals, and Rex Brown on bass, rounded out with brothers Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul handling guitar and drums respectively.

Between the release of Cowboys… and Vulgar…, Phil, Rex, and the brothers played the 1991 Monsters Of Rock festival with huge acts like Metallica and AC/DC. A mere year and a half earlier the band was playing small clubs in their home state of Texas, and now they were performing in front of crowds that reached 1.6 million!

Speaking of Metallica, they ditched their defining thrash metal sound for one that was more mainstream hard rock. You’re probably familiar with a song from this change in sound that can be heard on the ever so familiar hit “Enter Sandman”. Pantera recognized that market opening and decided to fill in the hole that Metallica had left by creating with Vulgar… an even heavier sounding record than Cowboys…. Pantera delivers on Vulgar Display of Power its best recorded effort while also completing the task of filling Metallica’s shoes. The opening track, “Mouth for War”, sets the tone of the album well with its angry lyrics and crunchy guitars. However, one thing you might notice immediately on this album is the lack of mid-range. Don’t worry- it's not your system or the mastering. Dimebag Darryl actually preferred to “scoop” his midrange, meaning he turned it way down. This is a popular choice among metal guitarists because it creates a drastically different tone that makes the guitar blend more effectively with the drums and bass. Personally, it’s not my favorite choice as I find Dimebag’s guitar playing to be one of the album’s highlights. His playing could have been spotlit even more, instead of at certain points being lost in the mix.

The second track, “A New Level'', really shows off the vulgar (pun intended) lyrical content that can be found throughout this album. Anselmo’s lyrics depict him becoming a new person and getting rid of his old self, by getting on a whole other level of “confidence” and “power”. The drums and bass on this track groove together extremely well and you’re also treated to one of Dimebag’s classic screeching guitar solos.

From there it transitions into “Walk”, one of the band’s biggest hits, Anselmo has since revealed that the lyrical content is focused on how, after the band returned from their first big tour, their friends were saying how they were acting differently. Anselmo’s response was if you have an attitude, take a walk. The song also gives us a nice change in both tempo and time signature from the previous two and features that iconic riff in 12/8 time. It’s obvious why this was the biggest hit from the album, and I would argue it shows off “groove metal” better than any of the album’s other tracks.

The fifth track, “This Love”, is my favorite and it’s the first on the album that shows off Pantera’s balladry. The song’s opening features the brothers creating a haunting, yet soft sound. Coming out of the intensity of “F***ing Hostile”, the dramatic transition gives me chills without fail and shows off a side of the band I wished they embraced more. The chorus of the song gets heavier, with Vinnie Paul hammering away at the skins while Rex and Dimebag play staccato passages that match Anselmo’s vocal delivery.

While I understand Pantera set out to create a heavy album, I wish they would have included on Vulgar Display of Power more songs like “This Love”. But hey, maybe then it would have been called “Sort of” Vulgar Display of Power.

With “Rise”, the album returns to its familiar loud guitars sound and indignant lyrics, but it mellows back down again on “No Good (Attack the Radical)”. “No Good…” features my favorite bass work from Rex, with the four string in the musical forefront. Rex manages some really phenomenal playing throughout the record, but here he shines the most. His tone is super-heavy and he executes his licks with ease. From here we’re nearing the end of the record.

The last three songs before the closer are my least favorite. They offer both lyrically and sonically the least amount of variety. They also sound the most dated, the most obvious example is “Live in A hole” where Dimebag adds to his guitar sound a “talkbox”. I guess they couldn’t totally escape their glam metal roots. I also find Anselmo’s vocal delivery by this point a bit repetitive and on “By Demons Be Driven” borderline annoying.

However, for the closer “Hollow” Pantera again brings the quality back up, delivering a great final track. It’s my second favorite. The lyrical content is as good as you’ll ever get from Anselmo; he delivers a moving piece about a friend of his, who was in a car accident, leaving him in a coma. If asked to recommend but one album track for you to listen to it would be “Hollow”. If you’re not a fan of Anselmo’s vocals, at least listen for Dimebag’s amazing guitar work. His flawless integration of steel guitar shows that behind all the screaming solos and heavy rhythm passages, there is an instrumentalist who can be more than a metal guitarist. This song redeems the sins of the previous three tracks and concludes the album on a high note.

The album’s sound quality is at times a little too compressed and I'm not convinced that “scooping the mids” helps the sonics reach their full potential. The midrange deficit on the guitar in particular produces arecording that often sounds muddy. That being said, the EQ choice creates a “wall of sound” feel that on the bottom end is powerful, and heavy.

Howie Weinberg at The Mastering Lab mastered the high-resolution digital files used to cut lacquers, probably at Memphis Record Pressing, which pressed the records (MRP is now a partnership with GZ Media in the Czech Republic). The quality of the pressing is great, with all the punch you would expect from an album like this, along with a lot of air for the instruments to breathe. Additionally , the vinyl gets rid of the compression issues I found to be very distracting when listening via streaming.

My copy was pretty much free of surface noise, clicks, or pops, which I thought might be attributed to the loud nature of the music that would naturally cover those up. To test that idea, I lowered the stylus at the beginning of “This Love” and with the volume cranked up a bit louder than normal and listening with headphones, checked for defects. To my delight the low noise floor was extremely low and I heard no problems whatsoever.

This record has only been pressed twice as a doublel LP, the first being a 2010 Record Store Day reissue, and the second this one. With its 53 minute runtime it’s vital that this album is pressed on two discs, or sonics are bound to suffer. For this reason I would steer clear of the recent Revolver press of this album and instead seek out one of the two disc Rhino reissues. This release’s hype sticker boasts that the record was cut from the high-definition masters and nothing about this pressing makes me doubt it.

The packaging is an okay gatefold; it’s not bad, but it doesn’t take much inspection to realize it’s not from Stoughton. The four inner gatefold photos showing each band member at a live gig. The records are housed in two printed inner sleeves that on one side duplicate the four gatefold photos with lyrics on the other side. As with all records that come with printed paper inners, I wish they would put spend the few extra pennies and instead house the records in a poly-lined inner, with the printed sleeve spearately inserted. If they did that, my records probably would have been scuff free. The scuffing right out of the package is definitely annoying, but they are inaudible, so I won’t get too upset about it.

Despite my problems with some of the filler, this is still a classic album. I would recommend this reissue to anyone who is remotely into hard rock or metal, or to anyone who was looking for an outstanding cut of a well-recorded metal album. Rhino does an excellent job with this release. Your comments are most welcome!

(Simon Guile is an 18 year old audio and music enthusiast located in central Alberta, Canada. He has been collecting records for four years and is currently finishing up high school. In a few weeks he will have finished the hardest course of his public school career… Calculus.)

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DietChapstick's picture

Nothing against metal or the writer. But I've never been much of a Pantera fan and the racist b.s. that Phil has spouted over the years makes me avoid their music like the plague. Perhaps the writer is too young to remember Phil's widely publicized antics over the years. Oddly enough one of the songs mentioned in the review as the subject of one incident.

Michael Fremer's picture
I'm assuming he is too young to remember. I don't know anything about it myself...
poetryonplastic's picture

Sometimes you have to weigh the importance and influence of a piece of art against the negative qualities of its creators. You don't have to "separate" the art from the artist, but you do have to put all criticisms in perspective. I certainly would not want to spend any quality time with the members of Pantera, but as someone who grew up in the heavy metal scene, that music has reached and impacted more artists than I could name in a single post. The same goes for punk mavericks Bad Brains, who by all accounts were terrible people with terrible views, but I still have to respect their world shaking albums, even if I don't respect them as people. Maybe the solution to this problem is not to blindly celebrate, nor to abandon the music to condemnation, but rather to keep all this stuff in mind and reflect on it as part of our role as listeners/audiences.

thatguy's picture

Well said and I think a bit of perspective can be helpful too.
I'm guessing many that won't listen to specific artists because of things they have said, will play other music on components made in countries where part of the profits go to fund a reality for millions that would seem like a screwed up dystopian movie to us.
It is easy to feel good about reacting to the small things and ignoring the big things but it really doesn't make a lot of sense.

Nathan Zeller's picture

I suppose if you really don't want to support a specific person you can renounce their work, but I'm not one to do that. Too many great musicians were at times ethically questionable. Hell, if we all stop listening to those who once made mistakes, we can kiss The Beatles goodbye (I'm talking about John Lennon, specifically).

Don't take it too seriously, and enjoy the music!

kleinbje's picture

Can you post a link to the hateful things BB's said or did? Phil's Nazism is well documented and depressing as a fan. That being said,I like the art I like. John Lennon didn't exactly revere Jews either.

poetryonplastic's picture

The Bad Brains were unfortunately, more or less religious fundamentalists who were incredibly homophobic and sexist. The most documented example of this was the incident in Austin, TX where they harassed members of Big Boys and MDC and told them they were going to burn in hell and vandalized their house. They also wrote an entire song dedicated to homophobia (1989's Dont Blow Bubbles). That's still not an album I can bring myself to listen to, but I still play their self-titled debut every once an a while. At some point, the music belongs to more than just them, it belongs to the community that it effected and influenced.

SimonGuile's picture

I didn't know about the incidents surrounding Phil and the band... It doesn't stop me from enjoying the music, but I appreciate you letting me know.

DietChapstick's picture

Last incident was in 2016, just 5 years ago. Many less publicized incidents before that. Phil is a racist shithead.

We're not talking about something here that occurred 20,30, or 40+ years ago.

A lot of the responses here are predictable what-about-isms.

xtcfan80's picture

My niece was an aspiring guitarist who loves Pantera/Dimebag Darrell. At 14-16 she often told me "Uncle Chris, I'm gonna be a rock star" At 18 or so she repeated the "I'm gonna be a rock star" comment to me. I let her know that if she was EVER gonna be a Rock Star and didn't have a band and some gigs by 18 it was way too late....Dimebag was a good one...

DemonBox's picture

Great review! Will there be more heavy metal reviews coming?

fdroadrunner's picture

It's great that the record company gave this album the respect it deserves and did such a great job. If I'm being honest, the first time I heard this album, I didn't get it, but bit by bit, it became something that had me coming back for more.
I couldn't count the number of times I've played this album all the way through at full volume while cruising around town. It'll be nice to hear this on something better than a beatup cassette playing through a cheap Kraco car stereo.

SimonGuile's picture

The reissue blows anything else I've heard out of the water, since you love the album I couldn't recommend it enough!

Glotz's picture

It was an honest, informed and audiophile-centric review! He can even remark on 'dated' effects used on the recording. Pretty friggin' awesome 1st offering!

Kudos, brother!

SimonGuile's picture

Thank you! I appreciate the kind words!

SimonGuile's picture

I appreciate the kind words!