One week ago today, Pantera’s phenomenally successful album Far Beyond Driven celebrated its 20th birthday. True story: on Tuesday (3/25), I had an exceptionally shitty day at work. I got in my car for the drive home, and decided I wanted to hear something heavy, aggressive, and familiar. I flipped through my Big Black Book o’ Metal CDs, and without even thinking about it, I put in Far Beyond Driven, which I don’t listen to nearly as much as I used to, and which was exactly what I needed. I drove across town (slowly, so as to give myself plenty of time to listen to the whole album), bought a half-pound of pulled pork from Short Stop Food Mart, drove home, ate a half-pound of pulled pork (don’t judge me!), drank a Stella Artois, watched a couple innings of baseball, and began to return to some state of normalcy.
After all that, I got online and the first thing I read was that a 20th Anniversary Edition of Far Beyond Driven had been released that very day. After feeling sorry for myself for getting old, I began to reflect on the impact the album had on the metal scene, on popular culture, and on a certain high school Metalhead (I’ll give you a hint: it’s me). I had plans to watch Rocky III with some friends later that night, so obviously that took priority.
Now here I am, determined to write something at least moderately meaningful about the album that opened the door to extreme metal for me, and I’m at a loss for words. I should point out that I had already gotten into Pantera before Far Beyond Driven came out, having seen the video for “Cowboys From Hell” on Headbanger’s Ball at my cousin Nathan’s house sometime in 1990-91, and of course I owned Vulgar Display of Power, because I was an American teenager in 1992, but neither of those albums is as heavy (or as lyrically disturbing) as Far Beyond Driven. It is at least partially because of FBD that later in 1994 I purchased my first Napalm Death album (Fear, Emptiness, Despair), as well as my first Death album (Individual Thought Patterns).
The impact Far Beyond Driven had on music in the 1990s is undeniable. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 (almost certainly the heaviest album to top that chart), replacing The Sign by ABBA tribute band Ace of Base, and by 1995, every person who discovered metal with Metallica’s “Black Album”, but hadn’t yet jumped on board the train with Vulgar Display was a Pantera fan. It also contained four singles (“I’m Broken”, “Becoming”, “5 Minutes Alone”, and Black Sabbath cover “Planet Caravan”), all of which reached the Top 30 on either the Billboard “Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks” or the UK Singles Chart (or both, in the case of “Planet Caravan”). It has since been certified platinum.
I took this image from rollingstone.com. According to the website, it was taken by Joe Giron. Please don’t sue me, Rolling Stone or Joe Giron. Thank you in advance.
Remember this was at a time when metal was supposed to have been killed off by “grunge” and Green Day/Offspring-style punk rock, but Pantera continued to carry the torch for metal up until the unfortunate rise of nü-metal in the late 90s. They toured relentlessly, bringing an impressive variety of bands on tour with them, including Anthrax, Clutch, Sepultura, White Zombie, Deftones, Biohazard, Skid Row, Type O Negative, and Neurosis (the last two were the opening bands the first and second times I saw Pantera live, Type O on the FBD tour, and Neurosis on the tour for the excellent follow-up, 1996’s The Great Southern Trendkill).
Personal issues among the band members (brought about in part by Phil Anselmo’s well-publicized drug problems) caused the band to fizzle out as the decade came to an end, but they managed to release one final album, 2000’s Reinventing the Steel, which is not their strongest effort, but which is still better than most of the metal that the masses were listening to in 2000 (I’m looking at you, Disturbed!). A lot of snooty metal fans will try to diminish Pantera’s contributions to heavy metal, but those people are buttholes. Even if you don’t like the sounds they made, you can’t deny the importance of their albums. Pantera has been a gateway drug for a lot of people who might otherwise be listening to Vampire Weekend or Kanye West or some bullshit like that.
I got off topic there. Sorry about that. Far Beyond Driven is a fucking great album. I’m not one of those guys who busts a nut over Dimebag Darrell’s (RIP) guitar work, but the dude could obviously play. Critics like to point out the fact that a lot of his riffs are simple, which is true, but to me, it’s more about what he laid over the riffs – all manner of squeals and squalls, all feedback-y and dirty-sounding – and his soloing was pretty rad. He was no Yngwie Malmsteen or anything, but I’d rather listen to a couple of squirrels fucking than listen to that pompous guitar wanker, anyway – Dimebag played with feeling, and that means every bit as much as technique, as far as I’m concerned. Vinnie Paul’s drumming was as tight as his facial hair is groomed (seriously, could the guy possibly look more like a strip club owner?), and while it’s not super-audible in the mix, Rex Brown’s bass definitely helped bulk up and sustain the bottom end (maybe it was turned up a bit for the remaster, but I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet).
More than anything, though, it’s Anselmo’s vocal work that made me aware that music could be heavier than what I was used to listening to. His lyrics on Far Beyond Driven are deeply personal, and they are delivered with a fury that dares you to deny them. Standout tracks for me include “Slaughtered”, album opener “Strength Beyond Strength”, “Use My Third Arm”, and the super-weird, super-creepy, super-fucked-up “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills”.
It’s clear to me that the maker of this video is a bonafide genius.
Album closer “Planet Caravan” is also awesome, and after the non-stop screaming, squealing, hollering headfuck that precedes it, it also serves a nice reminder that Anselmo is capable of singing when he wants to (see also “Cemetery Gates” and “This Love”). It has made an appearance on Stay Heavy before.
In conclusion, you should listen to Far Beyond Driven. If you ignore my advice, you only have yourself to blame. Also, if you’d like to purchase the 20th Anniversary Edition for me, I wouldn’t be angry with you.
Stay heavy, comrades.