If you had asked me a decade ago who the heaviest band in metal was, I would have unequivocally said Pantera. Even today, there is no other music that came before or after that translates as physically as Pantera.
There have been bands with badass rhythm sections. Bands that could crush you with their guitar playing. Bands where the singer was smashing you about the face with his vocals. But no other band put all this together the way Pantera did with Cowboys from Hell, and it only lasted two more albums. Vulgar Display of Power is, in my mind, the ultimate heavy heavy metal album. There is no respite. There are moments when the tempo slows, the assault lessens, but that's only so the next boot to your stomach hurts that much more. Far Beyond Driven has the same energy as Vulgar ... but the songs just aren't as catchy. By the time The Great Southern Trendkill came out, you could tell that the guys weren't gelling together like they used to. The energy wasn't there. The power and precision was gone.
I guess that's the fate of any highly volatile substance. You can only keep that stuff stable and focused for so long. After a while, it loses its stability and can explode or implode. Or lose its potency. And, over time, all those things happened to Pantera.
No single member lost their individual potency. It could be argued that Phil's drug problems caused him to lose focus, but we see ample evidence that he was able to put out good tunes with bands like Down. And the rest of the crew were still musically viable, putting out good stuff under the banner of Damageplan. The problem is that the ingredients just didn't work well together anymore.
But there was a short time -- a short six years -- where the heaviest band ever made the heaviest metal ever. Go crank up Vulgar Display of Power now and put it on the yardstick against any other metal band out there. You tell me I'm wrong. You try and tell me of a band that had the energy, the pain, the pride and the shame that Pantera had. The truth is that you can't. They don't exist.
However, in the last decade another band has come out that I consider awfully close to being the heaviest band in metal. For some of the same reasons as Pantera but with a completely different feel, Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society is right up there as another crushingly heavy band.
The thing with BLS is that instrumentally, all the magic is there. Zakk Wylde is certainly in the same class of guitarist as Dimebag Darrell was and Wylde has surrounded himself with other musicians who are pushing the same dose of liquid fire he is. The issue is that Zakk is no Phil Anselmo on the vox. This isn't a bad thing, but where Phil melded with the music, pushed it, was pulled by it and made us feel his pain and anguish through it, Zakk just tells us his stories.
Zakk's vox are window dressings for the music, not an integral part of it. With Phil, you can't imagine another singer doing what he did with Pantera. It wouldn't be the same. With BLS, you can imagine any number of guys fronting the band and doing as good, if not a better job.
And then there's the feeling the music gives you. Where Pantera translates into a boot to the head, Black Label translates into an alcohol-fueled joyride into the unknown. Remember all those times as a teen you got drunk and got into fights, or jumped into the mosh pit, or did some kind of stupid thing in the back or your friend's truck while you were driving down the interstate? These things you'd never do sober. Well, that BLS. It's fun as hell. It removes our inhibitions and takes us on a six-string led ride into our drunken youth.
That pounding you hear. Man, you won't have to worry about that until the morning. For now, just enjoy the ride.
And that's how we kick off Heavy Metal Week, baby. Try and touch the heavy ... Ooh, was it too hot, too hard, too heavy? Ooh, more tomorrow.