Pantera erased a decade of hair metal incompetency with 1990's Cowboys From Hell, putting the heavy metal world on notice. With 1992's Vulgar Display of Power, they became a global heavy metal phenomenon that was impossible for even non-fans to ignore. Then Pantera stormed the very top of the charts with Far Beyond Driven.

They pretty much had nothing left to prove – except to themselves, of course. That was seemingly motivation enough for the quartet of vocalist Phil Anselmo, guitarist Dimebag Darrell, bassist Rex and drummer Vinnie Paul to reassert their unwavering metallic vision. Pantera's musically devastating, but even more caustic eighth album, The Great Southern Trendkill, was released May 7, 1996.

Giving absolutely no quarter to the vagaries of ever-changing musical fashions, the album contained songs set to kill – or, at the very least, stun upon impact. It didn't matter whether this brand of sonic blunt-force trauma was delivered at blinding speed (as in the title track), via elephantine grooves ("War Nerve," "Living Through Me [Hell's Wrath]," etc.), or even doom-laden foreboding ("10's," "13 Steps to Nowhere").

Pantera occasionally gave fans a chance to lick their wounds, as with the musically soothing (if lyrically bleak beyond belief) "Suicide Note Pt. I." But that was just so they could cleanly decapitate them with the razor-fast apocalypse of "Pt. 2," before anybody knew what hit them.

Listen to Pantera Perform 'The Great Southern Trendkill'

Previous Pantera albums made room for a semi-power ballad, of sorts – like "Cemetery Gates" or "This Love." "Floods," The Great Southern Trendkill's closest comparison, took that formula to an entirely different level of slow-burning desperation. The ultimate, long-awaited payoff came at last through one of Dimebag's most revered guitar solos.

Though its messages were as angry and violent as ever, The Great Southern Trendkill handily followed its predecessors' footsteps to mainstream dominance. The album peaked at an impressive No. 4 on the Billboard album chart, and then remained in the Top 200 for four straight months thereafter – a clear sign that Pantera's musical vision showed no sign of weakening.

Unfortunately, sessions for Pantera's latest triumph didn't go anywhere near as smoothly. Band relationships were widely rumored to be fraying behind the scenes, reportedly exemplified by Anselmo's insistence on recording his vocal tracks at Trent Reznor's studio, near his New Orleans home, while his three band mates recorded their parts in their home base of Dallas, Texas.

These internal problems would eventually slow and then grind Pantera's once-unstoppable heavy metal machine to a halt, following 2000's final studio album, Reinventing the Steel. Next came Dimebag Darrell's senseless murder in 2004, not even a decade removed from his former band's career-defining albums.

 

The Top 50 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time