Pantera’s breakout 1994 masterpiece 'Far Beyond Driven,' is not only one of the best metal albums of the 1990s, it is a hugely influential milestone in rock history. While it wasn’t the first metal album to debut at #1 on Billboard’s album chart (I believe Skid Row’s 'Slave to the Grind' was first in 1991, quickly followed by Metallica’s self-titled album), it was – and still remains! – the heaviest, most uncompromisingly brutal album to ever perch atop the chart. And unlike Metallica and Skid Row and Guns N’ Roses, Pantera did it with absolutely no help from radio or MTV. Even more impressive than that, they did it at a time when metal was supposedly a dead genre. In 1994, grunge and gangsta rap were kings and metal bands, even proven multi-platinum acts, were being dropped by the major labels faster than Vince Vaughn’s movies tank at the box office. 'Far Beyond Driven' was a wakeup call to those labels, the fans and even other bands, a (loud) proclamation that metal will never die, and you didn’t have to sell out in order to sell out arenas.
Twenty years later and the impact of this album is still being felt. Bands such as Lamb of God, Five Finger Death Punch and Hellyeah (featuring Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul) are running with the torch that Pantera proudly carried all throughout the 1990s. Of course, Pantera can only be succeeded and never replaced, so these 20th anniversary reissues are welcome reminders of just how important this band’s legacy continues to be.
Unfortunately, however, these reissues are not behaving like the rebels they are supposed to be, but instead blindly following the Law of Diminishing Returns. 'Cowboys from Hell,' reissued in 2010 (read my review here), is an essential purchase: the remastering job made the album sound exponentially better than the original release (the track “Primal Concrete Sledge” finally sounds as brutal now as it is supposed to) and the bonus material consisted of a live seven-song set from the 1990 Foundations Forum along with the 'Alive and Hostile' EP, recorded live in Moscow in 1991. A deluxe version of CFH was also available, containing a third CD of demo tracks. The original 'Vulgar Display of Power,' released in 1992, sounded much better than its predecessor, no doubt because the recording budget was bigger, but the reissue still managed to produce a noticeable improvement in audio quality (read my review here). It also contained an extra studio track along with a DVD containing a six-song set from a 1992 performance in Italy as well as all three music videos from the album. However, the 'Far Beyond Driven' reissue, released on Tuesday, barely improves upon the original.
First off, by 1994, recording technology had progressed to a point where most CDs, even ones released on indie labels, sounded phenomenal. 'Far Beyond Driven' was no exception, and as a result, there is little to improve on, even two decades later. This new version does sound a little punchier, but is the improvement dramatic enough to warrant purchasing this again (I assume if you’ve read this far, you own the original)? To be blunt: no. As far as bonus material, this time all we get is a second CD entitled 'Far Beyond Bootleg - Live From Donington '94,' which contains Pantera’s set at the 1994 Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donnington in England. Alas, it lives up to its name, as the extremely poor sound is indeed bootleg quality at best. At the very least, Pantera’s contribution to the soundtrack of 1994’s 'The Crow,' a blistering cover of Poison Idea’s “The Badge,” should’ve been included. I can only assume some legal technicality prevented this from happening; otherwise, its omission is inexcusable. I have heard through the grapevine that if you purchase this reissue from Best Buy, they’ll throw in a 20th anniversary t-shirt, but not for free. It’s an extra $12, which isn’t bad at all, but still not enough to justify buying this album again. Hopefully, when 'The Great Southern Trendkill' is inevitably re-released in 2016, Rhino Entertainment puts together a package worthy of your hard-earned money.