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From The Vaults #44 | Pantera ‘The Great Southern Trendkill’


I’ve wanted to write this for years.

It’s one of those things you put off though, because there always seems to be a better time.

And, naturally, it’s a biggie. It’s an important album.

It was important when I was sixteen. So, in a bit, I’m going to write this from the point of view of when I was sixteen.

Firstly though: the weird thing is, you already know the conclusion right at the start. Some of their finest ever material; some of the undeniably shittest; true emotional paydirt; and that, tellingly, it winds up as many metallers favourite Pantera album.

But what exactly is it about it, that more than two decades later we can reach into and take out again?

Many albums take some illuminating, or some explanation, some peeling back of the onion’s layers.

Probably every single one of us reading this though knows each and every note and cadence of this album, forward and backward.

So I’m not the person to do that.

There’s no history lesson here either, save that they were all a bit pissed off with each other and recorded in rival camps, and that, remarkably for such a seminal album, no-marks like Seth Putnam were somehow involved.

What has always made me wonder about Trendkill though is where the band were at as people and as a unit in their hearts and minds that could have made them craft the darker songs.

I remember so vividly the rank confusion when I first spun this – I’ll spare you the usual ‘day of release’ talk, but I’d be amazed if it wasn’t.

Bottom line is that even an absorbed teenager could call out ‘Trendkill’ at first blush for some of its less forgivable moments. Of which there were many.

The chief callouts being: ‘that’s a rehash’; ‘Phil’s sounds wick there’ and ‘that song’s just shit’.

But check yourself: that same absorbed teenager could be moved (was) to the fathomless depths of the soul by ‘Suicide Note’.

What I’m trying to do with this ramble is to take myself back to exactly when I first heard it, and not the years of interpretation since.

So let’s get back to being sixteen.

Side One

On a sunny day in 1996, dossing around town and sticking it in the walkman out of the shop, I remember being impressed by the opening title track. Weaned on Peak Dime soloing, even I knew that the guitar in this one was special, by dint of its very difference.

As Phil says, its ‘Suthin Styyyyyle’ before that monster lick that beds down for the chorus effected solo.

Then that end section, with the wee lap steel whistle leading in to to the starry, reverbed, clippy harmonic overtones? Obvious genius.

Genius.

‘War Nerve’ and ‘Drag The Waters’ though.

Spare me.

The first is laborious, with bad beats and the shadow of ‘5 Minutes Alone’ looming rather largely over it, somehow. And that ridiculous spoken slowdown, with its ungainly re-arrival back to the riff.

And even as a kid I knew how shit the second was. It’s just shit: a low rent re-hash of past glories done less than half as well.

But all of this is worth sitting through to prepare for ’10s’ properly.

Now, obviously bands like Alice In Chains and others had plumbed the depths of massive personal suffering in grunge and metal for years by this point.

There just remains something horrifically dark about ’10s’ (‘disguested with my cheapness‘) that’s emblematic of why this album is so rich, molasses rich, and so important.

Few bands will ever write a song like it.

The solo bleeds with emotion, every bit as much as the more widely lauded ‘Floods’. The warm, sticky, Texan atmosphere is shot through it; Dime plays it like a sweaty guitar hack alone in the blues bar with only the ceiling fan for company.

And the almost impossible sweetness of those high notes as they sing, played with an uncustomarily tight vibrato, before it ends – you just knew Dime was saying something more here, giving us a deeper insight, and a much more personal admission.

‘Like life itself’.

I remember, if I’m right, ’13 Steps To Nowhere’ being the end of the first side of the tape. There’s a strange darkness to its back section that again speaks to the mental ill health of the band at the time.

Side Two

Even now when ‘Suicide Note Part 1’ comes on, I feel a pang at that reversed tape stuff. It is so, so winsome, even before those dark, tobacco coloured American twangs get anywhere near it.

I remember how it cut through right to all those quaint teenage feelings of alienation and heartache, with the particularly sarcastic ‘how smart are you to read this?‘ seeming to me especially vicious in the context.

I also remember, from many scans of the lyric sheet, as we did in those days, that ‘It’s a damn shame’ was unfinished on record, but was supposed to be followed by ‘but who’s to blame?’ on the sheet. A meaningless vignette, but these things stick in your memory.

Then Part Two. I needn’t describe the potency of it. It was on fucking point no matter what black metal or whatever you’d graduated into. It still is.

‘Hells Wrath’ couldn’t hope to follow it up, and doesn’t.

Floods

Again, all was mere precursor to ‘Floods’.

Rather than go about this the usual way (that solo), I’d like to remark on what else made it so very, very special.

The chorus pedal on that thin steel string providing the most ghoulish melody for all of its sections. It’s picked like a skeleton on a lute.

The lyrics. I’m still not really sure what it’s about, save Man being Bad at stuff (‘Then throughout the night, they were raped and executed – like what actually is that about?’) before a great cleansing.

And those bizarre chords – for Pantera anyway – before the ‘cold hearted world’ lyric – a strange, supernatural jangle.

But what really hit home was evilness of the misplacing of ‘Die, die, die’, which by degrees got ever more out of time. It was just sort of chilling for no real reason.

I know I’m trying to go back to how I felt when I heard this as a kid, but it bears saying: somewhat remarkably, I write these thoughts in the middle of a thunderstorm in Greece, where the rain is now deluging outside the window.

You almost couldn’t make it up, and Pathetic Fallacy is competing heavily right now with bathetic irony. But basically I had to clock that I never remembered all the hammy heavy metal thunder sounds before.

Truly. I’d forgotten they were part of it, apart from the trickling rain at the end.

Nonetheless, only an idiot couldn’t be moved by the feeling of clarity and fresh air as ‘Floods’ storm clears. Few bands have done this kind of tension and release better.

Dime wrote the end section in 1988, and indeed taken in isolation, it could easily be a Van Halen inspired vamp from a happier ditty. My own ear suggests its played with fingers, Mark Knopfler style, rather than pick – it has a that softness. Again, unsurpassable.

Thank goodness ‘The Underground In America’ is a rock song after it.

And then there’s the gammy fake fadeout in ‘Sandblasted Skin’. How neat.

What It All Means

No idea.

But compare it with the one just a year before it: the incomparable ‘Far Beyond Driven’.

It is so much warmer, less conformist, arguably more ‘them’ – at least the ‘them’ at that stage of their life and career.

I always remember R.E.M. saying that ‘Automatic For The People’ was the real alternative music at a point when ‘Alternative’ was so far beyond saturated (see what I did there) into the mainstream as to be null.

At the time I thought “yeah right”. But of course, they were, yes, right.

I feel sort of the same about ‘Trendkill’. It’s homely sounding, in a way – of Texas, rather than Athens, Georgia – an album truly from Pantera’s own back barn.

For all the deep musical meaning in this album, of which there is much, it has to also be said however that there isn’t one single song, bar ‘Floods’, you’d want to hear from them at a gig.

Not in comparison to the rest of their discography to that point, whose almost every song could be said to jostle for a position on their setlist.

I did end up seeing Pantera once – and I’m pretty sure they did play Suicide Note Part 2, though my memory is that it wasn’t preceded by Part 1.

It wasn’t how I would have wanted to hear it, given how much my younger self had invested in that particular track.

The whole gig was a squealy, flabby mess, which didn’t really matter because I was blocked and at a Pantera show, and that was alright by me, but still.

A Final Word

I play Trendkill the odd time nowadays – not so much, given how rubbish too many of its tracks really are – but savour the timeless ones.

And the impression I had then is still the impression I have now.

Its that the overall mood and gist of the album is much more important than its collection of tracks.

But, for some reason, because of its inherent tonal and sonic gamble and its consequential dicey-ness, it’s just an incredibly important piece of work.

And so I thought, twenty one years ago this month.

True, you know.

Earl Grey ::: 24/05/18

(If you liked this – remember our Dimebag obituary from the time.)



46 Comments
  1. Not so sure it’s littered with rubbish tracks?

  2. Och it is though.

  3. Chris Robinson Says:

    Great piece but I’ll disagree, for me this is the complete Pantera record.

  4. Stood the test of time way better than their other stuff. The level of bile on this album would put most albums of the time to shame. Apparently the band hated each other at the time. There is some awful tracks on there, but some classics too.

  5. I couldn’t in all heart agree with ‘complete’ Pantera. There’s no way this album is that, important as it is.

    What was the ratio of fluff to brilliance on the first three?

    Significantly less than this.

  6. Snatchgrabber Says:

    War Nerve and Hells Wrath are absolute belters though

  7. Might throw this in the car tomorrow. Can’t remember when I last heard it. The only song I remember thinking was scutter was Drag the Waters as it was too reminiscent of Mouth for War. The production on Trendkill is unreal; it’s so fucking harsh. And the balance between the dark introspective songs and the all out chaos is quite perfect.

  8. John Kimble Says:

    fantastic piece, and brings me back to the very same reactions I had as a sixteen year old, buying this in HMV Cork, probably after school, and rushing home only to be slightly underwhelmed by the whole experience. Def with the Earl on this, it has some of their strongest moments but also plenty of forgettable, throwaway stuff. Wouldn’t call it complete by any means.

  9. king Hostile Says:

    I find it hard to say a Pantera album is crap. Thankful for the body of work that exists.

    This album was extreme when main stream metal bands had gone “rock” it was dark and a path for some to the underground. Show me one of the big four members wearing a Darkthrone shirt or bringing Morbid Angel on tour.

    As to the quality of tracks the worst pantera track ever is a good friend and a bottle of pills. Not on this album I know.

    This album for me is the over the cliff album. Flashes of light in total darkness. The death bell tolling as a colossal band nose dived. Just after it peaked.

    I like drag the waters, I like the darkness and heavy riffing and appreciate each of the rhythm tracks individual identities. Same but different. The lead work is wow!!! Really think as a band some of their best stuff is on this. Then some of their best stuff is on all their albums. We can talk about Reinventing the steel another time.

    As players they were on top of their game. This album has a great sound. Some super crushing riffs. Did it grab me like Vulgar did No. It caught my curiosity and made me want to write heavy tunes that sounded like it!

    It’s a lot of things. Yep it’s the where are these lads at. What the hell was that. That’s class. What the….
    Play that again!

    They were a force of nature on the tour for this album. They embarrassed their peers with drive, enthusiasm and reminded them that creativity they needed a rethink. To get over themselves.

    I’m still listening to it regularly. Never stopped.

    Great album.

  10. That was, a badly written article. Thoughts there in were grand, but run-on sentences, spelling errors, not great.

  11. Fintan Stack Says:

    Pantera never released a bad record? Reinventing The Steel is Shit lad, there’s no dressing that one up. The tension worked for Trendkill but on Steel it seemed like they got the job done as quickly as possible.

    Trendkill is Pantera’s finest hour for me, the aggressive material musically and lyrically is absolutely caustic. I remember them saying before the release that it would be a record of “Peaks and Valleys”. Obviously Phil’s mental state is in question here and that really adds to the procedings. When I seen Seth Putnam’s name on the credits I didn’t know what to expect but that opening scream (Which most people credit to Anselmo) sets the tone!

    “What was the ratio of fluff to brilliance on the first three”

    Hmmm. Not so sure about that chief.

    Cowboys never aged well for me, it’s a rarity that I ever put it on now. Wrong side of cheesey.

    Vulgar Display kind of suffers from the Metallica Black Album Syndrome in that it’s simply been overplayed. We’ve all lost count of the amount of times we’ve heard Walk etc in a dingy rock bar or other. Sometimes this ain’t a problem but as in the case of the Black album there’s no real depth to tracks like Walk and Enter Sandman, Iconic, Well Written – yes but not something you’ll listen to for 20 years or more.

    For me, Far Beyond Driven is where things really got interesting but there’s a record that genuinely falls flat because of filler. Great potential there and the music/lyics stepped it up several notches in the aggression stakes. Written and recorded in six weeks though? It shows, tinny production and too many bollocks tracks that don’t really go anywhere. For every Slaughtered there’s a Hard Lines or Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills etc.

    Here’s my ranking for Pantera’s records based on a complex critique and calculation;

    The Great Southern Trendkill 89%
    Vulgar Display Of Power 80%
    Cowboys From Hell 71%
    Far Beyond Driven 70%
    Reinventing The Steel 43%

  12. greaterfool Says:

    Probably the one album of theirs I liked for more than a few months, the others were just too harsh and unwavering. This and Cowboys were good.

  13. Jesus_Phish Says:

    The only songs on Trendkill that I’d class as filler would be 13 Steps, Underground and maybe Living Through Me. I guess Sandblast but that always seemed like it was just meant to be a callback and a cap off to the whole album in a way most final songs on albums aren’t.

  14. Circlepit Says:

    Nice to see this album bright out of the vaults. Whilst I agree that some of the tracks are weaker I can’t bring myself to say they are filler. It’s a great great album but nothing tops Far Beyind Driven. That album is a monster.
    I remember seeing Phil and Vinnie Paul bring interviewed on the headbangers ball on super rock of the likes. It was around the time of trendkilk being released. It seemed like 2 people from 2 different bands. The same as they would seem today if they were side by side.

  15. Wiseblood Says:

    Good album for the vault section. Oddly War Nerve and Live Through Me are the highlight songs off the album for me. Shows how tastes can differ though. Drag The Waters can fuck off though.

    Pantera rarely get a listen off me these days but there is no denying they were a great force back in the day.

  16. Black Shepherd Says:

    Gotta say it’s by far my favourite Pantera album too, followed by Cowboys. But yeah, there are some totally forgettable moments on it too.

  17. I’m with Fintan Stack here.

    Cowboys didn’t age so well and “B” side was always all fillers (bar The Art Of Shredding perhaps). “A” side is all great

    Vulgar is just overplayed. some fillers there too imo, “B” side again – No Good, Living In A Hole, Regular People. Hollow is fantastic tho

    Far Beyond – I liked that one but it was always only the first four tracks and then kinda boring fillers right until the end where was Planet Caravan

    Trendkill was different beast tho. so aggressive from the get go. — The Unearth guys told me a story Terry Date told them years ago when they recorded an album with him that Dimebag and Vinnie wished Trendkill was more mainstream rock album in Van Halen kinda way and that they were shocked when they heard Phil’s all aggressive, rarely sung vocals and all. Try to listen to the album, esp. the melodic parts, without Phil’s vocals (the title track for example) and try to imagine how it would sound with less aggressive, melodic tone. Reportedly the brothers were so bummed when the vocal tracks came in from Reznor’s studio so I guess they had to up the aggressive side of the guitars and production to make it more suitable to the all screaming vocals.

    anyway, there are some fillers on Trendkill but the album has better flow. as mentioned in the review, 10’s, Suicide Note I and Floods are timeless. Drag The Waters was cool but not so much a filler i think. again some fillers on “B” side (Living Through Me, The Underground In America) but those fillers were nothing compared to Reinventing The Steel, which was not reinventing anything if you ask me. it was more like Rehashing everything. it might be also my and my different taste tho; at the time The Steel came out i was already deep in Tiamat, Anathema, Katatonia, Ulver, doom/gothic/black metal scene in general. but i remember i gave it a listen and wasn’t impressed at all

    nowadays i revisit Trendkill most often because it has better flow as an album and probably the biggest variety in light/shade aspects

  18. Slagging Pantera is one of my hobbies, but the solo on ‘Floods’ is fucking incredible.

    The fella himself says:

    ‘That particular solo was thought-out in a more orchestrated fashion than some of the others I play where I just start ripping right off the bat. The thing that really makes the ‘Floods’ solo come across like it does is [bassist] Rex’s playing behind it. He’s using his fingers and he plays a whole bunch of cool licks and shit in there. He definitely adds to the vibe and feel of my lead because I’m playing off his part a lot—it was a great foundation for me to build on, man.’

  19. Though familiar with their discography, I was never mad on Pantera, but do feel this record is their finest, by managing to really capture that southern grittiness that feels somewhat contrived or plastic on their other releases. It’s staggering lyrically, too.

  20. Barrytron Says:

    I get that nobody needs to hear “Walk” anymore but Drag the Waters is such a catchy tune. Don’t know how you could call it crap. One of those riffs you should have thought of yourself, but you didn’t.

  21. The chorus of Drag the Waters ruins it as it sounds too much like Mouth for War.

    Tiamat, I disagree about Vulgar. The second side is the best and the three songs you mentioned are among the best ones on it!

  22. Chris Robinson Says:

    He was talking about the second side of Cowboys ye plonker.

  23. ‘Vulgar is just overplayed. some fillers there too imo, “B” side again – No Good, Living In A Hole, Regular People. Hollow is fantastic tho’

    Indeed, plonker.

  24. Chris Robinson Says:

    “Cowboys didn’t age so well and “B” side was always all fillers (bar The Art Of Shredding perhaps”

    Vs “Some fillers” on B side of vulgar.

    Open your eyes and read you plonker bastard.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Cowboys is a fucking masterpiece and Vulgar a brilliant. Think you all need your hearing checked. I bought Trendkill when it came out and my cassette is immaculate. It was good but I preferred them when they were a bunch of boisterous upstarts. The later albums are good but the early stuff just has a great life-affirming vine to it. The songs are catchy as hell too.

  26. Chris Robinson Says:

    Vulgar a brilliant? Me thinks mr anonymous has crushed a can too many off his bonce.

  27. Haha I wrote that. Just listening again to the album. 10’s stands out as a real highlight, nods to Kings X and Alice in Chains. I suppose it could be said this is where they got all dark and moody and grungey but it’s not what I think about when I think about Pantera. Vulgar is a classic..gerourovit!

  28. Such angst, young Mr. Robinson. Congrats on finally reaching puberty.

  29. Have a look at the Vulgar songlist. Nearly every song on there was on their setlist. I prefer the top knot Phil to the later version. The concert in Russia..we used watch that religiously as well the other videos they had out. Trebdkill is definitely cool but I associate it with a particular time when the likes of Roots was out and metal was getting very stagnant. I’d rate NOLA way higher

  30. My Morning Song Says:

    Robyn Doreian, the editor of metal hammer at the time, loved it and I think gave it 5 fists or at least 4

  31. pentagrimes Says:

    Never really been a Pantera fan, and listened to this out of curiosity yesterday after reading this. I can’t say it did anything to change my opinion BUT The last two tracks “The Underground in America”/”Sandblasted” are the most interesting thing I’ve heard by them. Like some weird cross between Meshuggah and Today is the Day or something.

  32. justincredible Says:

    @ Pedro
    There’s a serious whiff of Gruntruck off that song 10’s. If you don’t know them already, try out their 1992 album ‘Push’.
    https://youtu.be/bvI2PH93I30

  33. King Hostile Says:

    ….rate NOLA higher! …. nah man no way. Although “stone the crow” and “losing all” are top notch.

  34. Welshchris Says:

    Never enjoyed this album by them. Thought it was pure shite when it came out.

    Think I was probably moving away from them musically at that point. I’d seen them destroy a few times live then turn into a bit of an embarrassment live (Phil was certainly a total mess) by the time this came out.
    So I think those things def tainted my view of it and the time and I haven’t shaken them. Have tried to spin a few times again over the years and don’t even end up getting through to the end before I change my mind and put something else on.

  35. Chris Robinson Says:

    King Hostile, we’ll done for randomly bringing down into the debate.

  36. King Hostile Says:

    See Pedro’s comments above mine (4 up), but yeah I’ll admit I do have random moments 🙂

  37. Wiseblood Says:

    Gave this a spin after reading the article. The album is still all about Hells Wrath and Suicide Note 1 for me. It’s certainly a far more interesting listen than Reinventing, which I tried to listen to after this, but couldn’t make it through the opening song.

    And while a different animal altogether, Nola does indeed piss all over this.

  38. Chris Robinson, the yes vote is looking like a winner. Your days are numbered.

  39. King Hostile Says:

    Fuck it I will play both later (Nola n trend kill) at excessive volume and see which makes me air guitar more!

    Cue Anselmo impression moment!

    cue rambling……”…tttthhhee god damnnnnn….. son a ‘ack’…..bitch……wweellllll……hhhhheeeelllllll….. yyyyyeeeaahhhhh”

  40. leatherface Says:

    Some people criticizing ‘Reinventing the Steel’ which admittedly is not their best album but it contains ‘Revolution is my name’ which IMO is a belter of a tune, cowbell included.

  41. paulmcloughlin5 Says:

    its a good enough album,floods is the best track,great track, but alot of songs i could live without,its not that they are bad but just not special.i bought this the day it came out i was 21 and did feel a bit let down but not as much as i felt let down by reinventing, to me after cowboys,vulgar,and f.b.d. the awesome ride was over but fuck it was great. RIP DIME.

  42. zombieeaters Says:

    their most enjoyable and extreme album – and it will still sound great in another 20 years. anytime the thought of pantera comes into my head its this album i go to always , gotta love that cover art too.

  43. Anonymous Says:

    Seth Putnam

  44. Anonymous Says:

    Pantera Foods…. Every breath you take…
    Fucking Police had that lick.

    ps. fuck sting

  45. Anonymous Says:

    haha misses the “l”

  46. What can I say – reading this article has got me putting Treadkill back on again.

    No lie that the album does have ‘Peaks & Valleys’!
    Floods is the standout track and is completely led by the Guitar. It was the first track I went to instead of going through album (probably in due part to the article) and I completely lost myself in it!

    I think Drag the Waters does feel like its trying to recreate a song from the past but cant deny the drums throughout the song keep it from falling flat and then layered with the guitar I think its solid. The Abbott brothers held a few songs on this album together – keeping it professional during the bad times of the bands relationships!

    Overall – id agree its not a complete album in flow but what it has is diamonds in the rough and that’s what keeps this album so loved!

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