PANTERA's classic albums ranked, from worst to best | Revolver

PANTERA's classic albums ranked, from worst to best

A critical look at the groove-metal titans' major-label years
pantera 1998 GETTY, Mick Hutson/Redferns
Pantera, Ozzfest 1998
photograph by Mick Hutson/Redferns

Pantera's history is nothing if not complicated. The band was founded in the early Eighties by the teenage Abbott brothers, Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul, who just wanted to shred party-rock anthems like their glam-metal heroes in Van Halen and KISS. Throughout their first decade of existence, the Arlington, Texas, crew flipped through five different vocalists and churned out three less-than-great albums (produced by Dime and Vinnie's father, Jerry Abbott) before fatefully linking up with an enterprising New Orleans boy, Philip Anselmo, in 1986.

Their first with Anselmo, 1988's tellingly titled Power Metal, was ironically also their last with the record's titular style, as they'd sign to the major label Atco Records for 1990's Cowboys From Hell, and totally revamp their sound in a much thrashier, heavier direction. Between then and 2000's Reinventing the Steel, Pantera would establish themselves as one of the greatest and most influential metal bands ever before flaring out spectacularly — only to re-form with a new lineup, featuring Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante playing in the Abbott brothers' place, two decades later.

While there's a dedicated cadre of die-hards who ride for Pantera's much less developed run of self-released 1980s albums, the vast majority of fans treat Cowboys From Hell as their catalog's true (re)starting point. We took the same approach, and ranked all five of the Texas metal titans' classic albums from worst to best below.

5. Reinventing the Steel

Both Philip Anselmo and Rex Brown have cited Reinventing the Steel among their favorite Pantera albums, in large part because it marked a renewed creative spark and sense of brotherhood following the dark times that surrounded The Great Southern Trendkill. And Steel does rock — as heard on roar-along anthems like "Goddamn Electric," "Yesterday Don't Mean Shit" and "Revolution Is My Name."

In total, however, the album sounds like a band trying to re-find themselves and falling just short of the signature sound of their glory days. Too many songs come across like killer works-in-progress, not quite as tight and spit-polished as Pantera's choice cuts. As a result, Reinventing the Steel stands as worthy swan song, but the least of the band's best.

4. The Great Southern Trendkill

The Great Southern Trendkill was forged during Pantera's most chaotic period. Anselmo was abusing heroin, tensions between the band members were enflamed, morale was low, and Vinnie Paul once said, "I don't even know how we finished it." All of that turmoil bled into the album, which is easily Pantera's most abrasive, vengeful and anti-commercial affair.

"Drag the Waters," "Floods," "War Nerve" and the two-part "Suicide Note" are all-timers; unfortunately, other cuts are a less focused and too messy. At its best, Trendkill is Pantera at their angriest and awesome-ist, landing the album in the four spot here, but overall, it lacks the virtuosic flair, machine-like tightness and overall cohesion that made the band's previous three so special.

3. Cowboys From Hell

Pantera pulled off a stunning reinvention with their major-label debut, evolving from their hair-metal roots into an altogether tougher, thrashier new beast. Standouts like "Psycho Holiday," "Heresy," "Clash With Reality" and the tear-jerking power ballad "Cemetery Gates" reimagine the stylings of Metallica, Megadeth and even Judas Priest (this is back when Anselmo still favored high-flying shrieks over guttural hardcore roars) through the band's bluesy, Southern-rock-colored lens.

That said, as masterful as the album is, Cowboys showcases Pantera still mid-transformation. They had yet to truly become the power-groove titans who would redefine heavy metal. The grinding "Primal Concrete Sledge," the ax-to-the-face "Domination" — boasting arguably the greatest breakdown of all time — and the speed-metal boogie of the title track, a chest-pounding statement of intent, forebode even greater things to come.

2. Far Beyond Driven

Pantera did the thing metal bands aren't supposed to do after a mainstream breakthrough — they got heavier and nastier. Ironically, Far Beyond Driven only made them bigger, landing at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sealing Pantera's place as one of metal's most definitive bands. Cuts like "5 Minutes Alone," "I'm Broken" and "Slaughtered" dialed up the band's power-groove formula to redlining extremes, and feature some of Anselmo's most impassioned, brutal vocal takes.

The opening one-two punch of "Strength Beyond Strength" and "Becoming" is a fisticuffs challenge to anyone who came in the door through "Walk" and was expecting more stripped-down stompers. The cover of Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" rules. Back-half cuts like "25 Years" and "Shedding Skin" are underrated gems. If it wasn't for the cringey, spoken-word tell-off "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills" and over-indulgent, seven-minute trudge of "Hard Lines Sunken Cheeks," Far Beyond Driven would be utterly perfect.

1. Vulgar Display of Power

Simply put, Vulgar Display of Power reset the bar for heavy music. Pantera's sixth album — and second major-label release — shook the foundations of the metal world when it hit on February 25th, 1992, thanks to impeccably crushing yet catchy ragers like "Mouth for War," "Walk," "A New Level," "Fucking Hostile" and "This Love," not to forget back-end standouts such as "By Demons Be Driven" and "Hollow."

Making the album all the more impressive, Vulgar arrived amid a stacked year for metallic rock music: Alice in Chains (Dirt), Ministry (Psalm 69), Rage Against the Machine (self-titled), Faith No More (Angel Dust), Megadeth (Countdown to Extinction) and others dropped career-defining albums. Even so, Pantera emerged with possibly the most important heavy-music offering of them all, a genre-defining groove-metal magnum opus that hits just as hard over three decades later.