photo & text by nacrowe
its funny now, but i remember that summer in 1996 when METALLICA's LOAD (ELEKTRA, 1996) was released. people forget now, but those five years between THE BLACK ALBUM (ELEKTRA, 1991) and LOAD were fairly consequential. NIRVANA and ALTERNATIVE ROCK in general had exploded and METAL was feeling a bit tired and antiquated in comparison. forget HAIR METAL, which was effectively exterminated post-1991, for it seemed like huge METAL bands of the past either followed suit and limited their guitar solos and dressed differently (cough, cough, cut their hair) or just broke up altogether. there was just one band it seemed that was flying the flag for METAL at the time: PANTERA.
in NIGERIA when i was in middle school there were a fair amount of older METAL heads from basically everywhere. places like VENEZUELA, LEBANON, GHANA, UNITED KINGDOM, SOUTH AFRICA, etc. it felt like pre-LOAD everyone was split down the middle between PANTERA and METALLICA being the best METAL band on the planet. post-LOAD everyone conceded that METALLICA were effectively over and PANTERA was it by default.
just compare LOAD and THE GREAT SOUTHERN TRENDKILL (EAST WEST, 1996), or rather there is no comparison. it is almost embarrassing.
arguably that claim to being a heavyweight first started with PANTERA's major-label debut album COWBOYS FROM HELL (ATCO, 1990). yes, i know about the self-releases and nobody cares about them. PANTERA effectively began as a cultural entity in 1990 when COWBOYS came out. at the time singer PHIL ANSELMO was very much in his ROB HALFORD phase with the screaming falsetto's on songs like "SHATTERED" and the "THE ART OF SHREDDING." he had yet to discover his the lower octaves of his voice and his own inner HENRY ROLLINS/MIKE MUIR which became his persona and sound thereafter. "CEMETERY GATES" is an orchestrated, epic multi-part standout ballad (and a sly reference to the similarly titled SMITHS song). who knew that ANSELMO was a closet admirer of MORRISSEY? i sure didn't at the time.
the real star of the show however is DIMEBAG DARRELL, or rather DIAMOND DARRELL as he was known then, and his insane guitar work and solos which were both technically proficient and had feel for days. to my ears his grooves are like ZZ TOP on methamphetamines. listening to this album just induces headbanging. it could even be described as danceable. its addictive, contagious and really creeps up on you. case in point are my two favorite tracks "DOMINATION" and "PRIMAL CONCRETE SLEDGE." it absolutely crushes, even by today's standards.
i remember when LOAD came out just how much of a let down it was. what i dont get is how anyone compared THE BLACK ALBUM favorably with COWBOYS FROM HELL, which came out within a year of each other (PANTERA coming out first). in my mind, METALLICA backed out long before 1996. but hope springs eternal i guess.
if you arent familiar with PANTERA, COWBOYS is a great starting point. i'd also point you to VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER (ATCO, 1992) and FAR BEYOND DRIVEN (EAST WEST, 1993) which took their sound to even more extreme heights. seminal records by a seminal band. rest in peace brothers in METAL, DIMEBAG and VINNIE PAUL.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the VICE subsidiary NOISEY which produces content on its YOUTUBE channel dedicated to largely underground aspects of global MUSICAL CULTURE did a deep dive a few years ago with their seven-part series NOLA: LIFE DEATH & HEAVY BLUES FROM THE BAYOU (NOISEY, 2014) into the origins and legacy of SLUDGE METAL and its LOUISIANA origins.
in essence this series investigated specifically that music of DOWN members and proud LOUISIANANS JIMMY BOWER (EYEHATEGOD), KIRK WINDSTEIN (CROWBAR), PEPPER KEENAN (CORROSION OF CONFORMITY), and PHIL ANSELMO (PANTERA, SUPERJOINT RITUAL) as well as members of ACID BATH and GOATWHORE among others. in essence these musicians were heavily influenced by their surroundings. rural living and laid back southern vocal affectations manifested in rhythm tempos that were decidedly relaxed and slower in cadence. this tempo shift is in direct opposition to the concurrent strains of THRASH METAL and DEATH METAL that took place in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. in case you find this a little jarring, its important to consider that JAZZ, another LOUSIANA contribution to the AMERICAN musical tradition, was rooted in the STORYVILLE red light district of NEW ORLEANS where musicians would shift their tempos to the rhythms of a brothel's occupants in lieu of securing a tip.
SLUDGE METAL is a thick, brutal METAL sub-genre which traces its roots to bands like THE MELVINS (from rural WASHINGTON state) and particular BLACK SABBATH (famously from the industrial wasteland of the MIDLANDS in ENGLAND), but it is hard to argue that it found a true home in LOUISIANA. again, interesting to see how landscape, location and even linguistics impact art and music. when you consider that SLUDGE METAL has influenced the likes of the even more extreme and sonically stretched-out explorations of modern DRONE METAL and POST METAL which revel in the nuances and textures of space and distortion, it is intriguing to consider what spices have been added to that gumbo. who knows where its all heading next which is pretty exciting.
in summation, this documentary is well-constructed and worthy of further investigation if you are so inclined.