Far Beyond Driven may have been Pantera's fastest selling album upon release, but it's hardly their best. In fact, although it shot straight to the number one spot on the Billboard sales chart in its first week (arguably the most extreme album ever to do so), this incredible feat doesn't so much reflect its own qualities as those of its predecessor, 1992's Vulgar Display of Power. A true landmark by any definition, Vulgar Display had seen the Texan quartet quite literally reinventing the heavy metal wheel in ways not seen since Metallica's rise to fame in the mid-'80s. But when the time came to follow it up, the members of Pantera seemed unsure about how they could possibly top it, so they decided to try and out-heavy themselves, resulting in a less cohesive record which often sacrificed songwriting for outright aggression. Guitarist Dimebag Darrell (recently re-baptized from the far more glam Diamond Darrell) took it upon himself to conjure the heaviest guitar tones imaginable, turning up the volume and dissonance to sometimes painful thresholds with his massive, grinding riffs. As a result, songs like "Becoming," "Shedding Skin," and the particularly vicious "Slaughtered" still stand head and shoulders above most of the heavy metal competition, but only die-hard fans may be able to withstand their systematic sensory bludgeoning long enough to get to the hooks hidden underneath. Indeed, except for wisely chosen first single "I'm Broken," the rest of the material (and especially over-long tracks like "5 Minutes Alone" and "25 Years") generally lacks the iron-fisted discipline and controlled power captured on the band's previous triumphs. Worst of all is probably "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills," which wanders aimlessly in formless feedback and is topped with vocalist Phil Anselmo in gratuitous, stream-of-consciousness mode -- a sketchy proposition at the best of times. In the end, it's probably the band's need to justifying their faithful cover version of Black Sabbath's gentle "Planet Caravan" in the album's liner notes that sheds the most light on their embattled frame of mind at the time. With or without this evidence, however, the bottom line is that Far Beyond Driven doesn't match the hype -- but it sure proved its weight in platinum at the bank.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia