Like Sepultura, Anthrax, and, most notably, Metallica before it, Pantera has managed to kick its speed addiction. Granted, this New Orleans-based quartet’s tunes were almost always more Sabbath than Slayer in pacing, riffs, and structure, but there were at least a few selections on each of its previous albums that would give headbangers whiplash if they tried to keep up with the racing drumbeats. The aptly named Reinventing the Steel shows Pantera revamping its arsenal and abandoning its barrage of battering body blows in favor of one or two uppercuts per song.
Of course, Pantera isn’t overly concerned with comparisons to its past, as it makes abundantly clear on the album’s finest track, “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit.” Reliving old reviews is a useless tool of confusion, singer Phil Anselmo snarls against a clobbering backdrop that features clicking drums and steroid-enhanced Zeppelin riffs. The band’s priorities become clear on “Goddamn Electric” when Anselmo shouts, Your trust is in whiskey, weed, and Slayer before clearing the way for a solo by Slayer’s own Kerry King. Drugs and “alcohol extremities” appear regularly in the lyrics, while choppy blues metal is the musical norm.
Although it’s tempting to brand Pantera a big, dumb rock band, given its subject matter and the sheer brutality of its guitar attack, the song constructions are actually dizzyingly complex, with intricate bridges leading in and out of choruses, winding intros, and complete midsong changes of direction. Sadly lacking is the low-key vulnerability that Pantera flashed twice on its previous album The Great Southern Trendkill and earlier with its classic “Cemetery Gates,” but then again, the majority of the group’s followers didn’t join the fan club because they were blown away by these glimpses of singer-songwriter subtlety. They want to hear booming percussion, intense punch-and-squeal guitar interaction, and Anselmo screaming lines such as like deadly snakes, death rattle shakes. Pantera still delivers all of these components with earache-inducing volume. It has simply traded speed for muscle, and as those struck with baseball fever can attest, home-run hitters outdraw stolen-base specialists.