Review by Ian Savage
If a week is a long time in politics, twenty years is an aeon in metal music. It’s almost impossible in 2014 to conceive of an album with the brutality and breadth of Far Beyond Driven debuting at the top of America’s Billboard chart – nonetheless, that’s exactly what happened in 1994, making it the first extreme rock LP ever to swipe that hallowed top spot.
A lot was changing in metal back then. Lest we forget, the so-called ‘Big Four’ of thrash were largely in artistic flux after releasing commercially well-received but hardcore-fan-panned albums (Metallica’s ‘Black Album’, Megadeth’s ‘Countdown To Extinction’, Anthrax’s ‘Sound Of White Noise’), while newcomers like Fear Factory and Machine Head were snapping noisily at their heels.
Pantera stepped into the breech with ninja timing. They’d already had two albums to cement their ‘new’ direction, striding away from the glam-metal of their initial incarnation onto a hitherto-untrodden path welding thrash influences to Phil Anselmo’s more hardcore vocal style and stage presence. Where Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display Of Power might represent the ‘Homo erectus’ and ‘Homo neanderthalensis’ stages of the band – primitively powerful and gleefully aggressive, comparatively short on intelligence – Far Beyond Driven is the full evolution, given cleverness to match the speed, guile to temper the ferocity.
Listening to FBD with fresh ears genuinely highlights how much modern metal owes to Pantera. From the full-bore aggression of the intro to ‘Strength Beyond Strength’, it rides on locked-in grooves with a total fearlessness of empty space (‘5 Minutes Alone’), an affinity for weird noises and ambiance (the ‘heavier Tom Waits’-esque ‘Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills’) and a curiosity of the dynamic (‘Shedding Skin’). It also underlines how double-kick-drumming can be used as an effect rather than a kind of endurance challenge: a lesson which many of the new generation of rock bands would do well to take on board.
On top of that, Far Beyond Driven is something of a masterpiece in mixing for atmosphere rather than loudness; where almost any modern single-guitar rock outfit would be terrified of leaving sonic space during an instrumental section, filling it with overdubs or expanded bass parts, Pantera simply didn’t give a fuck. Dimebag Darrell’s solos are almost wholly laid as bare as they would have been at a live show – and where studio embellishments are thrown in (as in ‘Throes Of Rejection’) they only serve to accentuate the lead line, leaving us further mourning the loss of the man’s talent.
The second disc’s live tracks from Monsters of Rock ’94 are a welcome reminder for those of us weathered enough to have seen the band in their prime – a choice selection of cuts from across their recorded output, which whilst only slightly better in recording quality than the 101% Proof live album means that you get decent concert recordings of ‘Mouth For War’, ‘Use My Third Arm’ and ‘Slaughtered’ for no extra cost. For those short-in-the-tooth enough, they’re the closest you’ll get to Pantera in concert – enjoy and absorb.
If you’re a metal fan who somehow missed Far Beyond Driven first time around, or are young enough to have had to Google ‘Big Four’ earlier: put simply, you NEED to buy this album. If you’ve got it already – your call. The second disc is worthy, though by no means essential listening; but hell, it’s also nearly ten years since Dimebag died, why not treat yourself to some of his best work?
9 out of 10 (for new listeners)
6.5 out of 10 (should you already own the original)
Disc One – Original Album Remastered:
- Strength Beyond Strength
- 5 Minutes Alone
- I’m Broken
- Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills
- Hard Lives, Sunken Cheeks
- 25 Years
- Shedding Skin
- Use My Third Arm
- Throes Of Rejection
- Planet Caravan
Disc Two – Far Beyond Bootleg – Live From Donington ‘94:
- Use My Third Arm – Live
- Walk – Live
- Strength Beyond Strength – Live
- Domination Hollow – Live
- Slaughtered – Live
- Fucking Hostile – Live
- This Love – Live
- Mouth For War – Live
- Cowboys From Hell – Live