Pantera - _Reinventing the Steel_
by: Paul Schwarz (
Before I review _RtS_, I wanted to use the occasion of this review to say a few things that have been on my mind. It may surprise you to find that the CoC staff was almost put to the vote as to whether I should even be -allowed- to review _Reinventing the Steel_. All, including myself, agreed that Pantera didn't need the exposure, that most readers of CoC would likely have had the opportunity to read a review of _Reinventing the Steel_, and that none would need informing that a new Pantera album was out. But is CoC merely a forum for exposure? Isn't it a forum for sincere critical analysis of music? I opt for the latter. That is why we're free of advertising, isn't it? So we can say what we think, -whatever- it is? However much the chest-beating "true" underground may proclaim the unimportance of Pantera to their musical lives -- either because they sincerely don't like them or are just too fucking underground to listen to an album that sells over three hundred thousand, let alone a million --, it still seems undeniable that it is the popular face of metal like Pantera or even recent Metallica (it's sad, but true...) that gets much of the younger generation started on "extreme music"; we all have our own opinions, but I don't think Oasis or Britney Spears draw people into the metal or extreme music underground. I was listening to metal's popular mid-nineties output (Pantera, Fear Factory, Machine Head et al) for nearly two years before I started seriously swaying to the vocal incomprehensibilities, blastbeats and general musical extremities of Carcass and Entombed, and thus further into the genre broadly labelled "extreme music". It's not simply a natural process that someone gets into more underground bands; it does depend on personal taste, but being exposed to the music and the whole "scene" is key. It wasn't that I'd heard of all the underground bands I love now but just hadn't checked them out; I didn't know that Immolation existed, I didn't know that Morbid Angel existed, ditto Celtic Frost, Darkthrone and hundreds of others I now know and love. Granted, the fact that bands like Pantera -do- get people started on metal doesn't mean that we should leave them without criticism (hence this review...), or that they are the best at what they do, but forgetting "worthiness", the reality is that Pantera -are- one of the bands who have the platform to draw people into the genre or metal. I can't change that, and not critically assessing Pantera won't change that either. Ignoring Pantera and thus not trying to put popular and underground music on the same level for critical assessment, amounts to the underground -- despite its oft-professed belief to be musically "better" -- not making itself available to those outside of it, and not wishing to have itself judged one-on-one against popular releases. That constitutes pointless pride: to me, it's all assessable as heavy music. I don't think we should just be telling people who like underground metal about the scene they know; I think the music I listen to is -good-, that's why I listen to it, that's why I review it, and that is also why I want to expose people outside of it to it and see if they bite. Most people can probably tell you if they like Oasis or Britney Spears because they've heard them and can see interviews with them on TV. Go ask someone if they like Immolation or Morbid Angel and the response you're most likely to get is "I've never heard them". So, to sum up why I am reviewing _Reinventing the Steel_: 1) to give you, the CoC reader, an honest opinion on it as a piece of music; 2) to show anyone reading who -hasn't- heard of the smaller bands we at CoC love -and- hate, that liking Pantera doesn't make them "unworthy" to read CoC and that Pantera are not in a league of their own musically or critically: either in a good way, or a bad way. One thing I would say is that if you think Fear Factory is as heavy as it can get, or that no-one rocks it live like Machine Head, or that Pantera made the greatest thrash album ever with _Vulgar Display of Power_, then please do me a favour and check out some of the "underground" (though I really mean the semi-underground: labels like Relapse, Metal Blade or Nuclear Blast are not what we traditionally think of as "underground"), 'cause I think you'll change some of your opinions if you hear some of the bands who are out there; I certainly did. Unfortunately, Pantera haven't come up with the goods. I can't say the same thing back to CoC's Pantera naysayers; _Reinventing the Steel_ is just the album to make me doubt how worthy Pantera ultimately are of their influential position. I really do feel a bit cheated simply by the title of this album, for it suggests quite the antithesis of the truth about where Pantera have taken their sound: nowhere. There really is no "reinvention", as far as I can see, on _Reinventing the Steel_; it is Pantera at the flattest I can recall them. Its songwriting is more quality-consistent than on _Vulgar Display of Power_, is more stylistically predictable than on _The Great Southern Trendkill_, and is far more controlled (or tame...?) than on _Far Beyond Driven_, but no song gets to as high a level as the high-point(s) of any one of their four previous albums in the nineties, and as a whole _RtS_ is lacking in impact, something which has always been key as an enhancing factor for Pantera's albums. _RtS_ is most convincing in its lyrical focus which, though hard to tag with a single term, can be characterised by how universally, in my opinion, it will appeal to "metal kids" -- that may be a mildly patronising tag for a group, but I do think we all know what it means. The lyrics to "Goddamn Electric" brilliantly speak with the voice of exuberant youth, or just the metal party goer: "Your trust is in whiskey, weed and Black Sabbath, it's Goddamn Electric". This lyrical focus on honesty, and the accordingly honest delivery, allows Pantera to retain the credibility they would have undoubtedly have lost if they'd taken a Manowar-a-la-_Fighting the World_ turn to shameless self-glorification and use of cheap religious imagery (which I love on _Fighting the World_, but let's face it, only Manowar can pull off convincingly). However, the end result of the four year wait from _TGST_ has not resulted in an album that is either terribly memorable, varied or extreme. It's a shame, but hey, there's always next time -- and if Phil stops getting drunk at every show I hear of, maybe they'll still be worth seeing live as well.
(article published 12/8/2000)