Reinventing Hell: The Best of Pantera

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"Far Beyond the Great Southern Cowboys' Vulgar Hits!," the subtitle to Pantera's best-of reads. Combining the titles of the band's output since 1990 -- and discounting the four albums that came before that -- fully admits what fans and the band have been winking and nudging about since the sea change of Cowboys From Hell. The 1990 album marks the real beginning of Pantera, simply because it records for posterity the moment when the Texas quartet began to truly, consciously kick ass. Best of Pantera further defines that timeline, and marks in blood and spilled booze the band's place in history. Even if it's a little heavy on material from Far Beyond Driven and Reinventing the Steel (these albums get four songs, while others get between one and three), the true zenith of each Pantera album is duly represented, making Best of Pantera the essential testament to the band's destruction of metal's precepts. But since it's chronologically arranged, it's also the perfect introduction for anyone not yet familiar with the Cowboys From Hell. It's difficult to find a way out during the first half's onslaught, where material from Pantera's definitive early-'90s output snaps its jaws around your ankle. Later, after the incredible sludge of "Drag the Waters," it's time for some live material, as well as a fun run through "Cat Scratch Fever," Ted Nugent's classic cock rock nugget that plays right into Pantera's famously bawdy lifestyle. (The track originally appeared on the Detroit Rock City soundtrack.) Of the latter-day material, what's most apparent is that vocalist Phil Anselmo only became more effective and vengeful with age. On tracks like the grinding "I'll Cast a Shadow," you can just about feel the knife turning in his stomach. The staggering, pounding instrumentation of the track only makes Anselmo's vocals more visceral. Ending its first greatest-hits package with Reinventing the Steel's highlights restates the band's original purpose -- to make metal its own, no holds barred and no prisoners needed. This mantra is made clear for the benefit of new listeners, and reaffirmed in the hearts and minds of the faithful. Both groups of fans will be happy to find the DVD portion of Best of Pantera, which features videos spanning the band's entire career. [This record was released in Europe as Reinventing Hell: The Best of Pantera with a slightly different playlist.]

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