For an album to stand the test of time, two critical things are needed: good production and great musicianship. It’s safe to say that (Pantera’s third album) “Far Beyond Driven” has both of these things, because, over a decade after its release, it’s as great as it ever was.
First, the production: I’ve never had a problem with the production on any of Pantera’s albums (except for maybe their 1980’s hair metal albums), and “Far Beyond Driven” is no exception. Production can be a bit tricky sometimes; some good metal albums have suffered from a bad production. For instance, take Megadeth’s “So Far, So Good…” album: Megadeth did a great job, musically, (and the album sounded fine in the `80’s) but, over the years, it has become more and more stale sounding. Terry Date, Pantera’s typical lead producer, does a strong, robust job, here. The result is a batch of songs that are extra crunchy and have a harder edge on them.
Next, the musicianship is, as always, top notch. More pummeling drums, puke stained vocals, and propulsive bass lines. But it’s the guitars that, once again, dominate the maelstrom. When you hear the sludgy guitars on “Far Beyond Driven” bob, crunch, grind, start, stop, beep, pound, shriek, thump, groove, ascend, descend, downshift, cascade, soar, run, surge, shake, rattle, and steam roll (and about everything in between), you know it’s just another day at the office for Dimebag Darrell.
“Strength Beyond Strength” has rushing iron riffs, a thumping beat, and good drumming (especially in the beginning). The mid-section is slower, but after that, things pick up where they left off. The middle of this song also has a riff that goes up and down, like it’s running over hills. Did I mention this song also has Phil’s constant howling? Plus, there’s a slow breakdown about halfway through.
“Becoming” has off-kilter guitars, a mini-solo, and fast double bass drumming (which become especially apparent at the end.)
“5 Minutes Alone” is a fan favorite that would have been well suited to be on of the album’s first singles. It’s grinding guitars, staccato vocals, and great chorus make it a fan favorite. And the slow bobbing guitars at the end are tailor made for headbanging.
“I’m Broken,” a single, has a groovy guitars and another pounding beat. Dimebag lays down a great, snowballing solo here, as well.
“Good Friends…” finds Phil making all kinds of weird noises. One moment he’s calmly growling, one moment it sounds like he’s, um…taking a dump, and the next moment he’s whispering, and, finally, it sometimes sounds like he’s coughing! The guitars on this one are usually supple and restrained, but this song is a highlight because of Phil’s abnormal vocals and downright perverted lyrics.
I enjoy how the beat of “Hard Lines” shifts gears. It slows down, then speeds up, then slows, down, then speeds up.
“Slaughtered” has a machine gun intro, more low, gruff singing, and chugging guitars (which chug fast, pause briefly, then chug again).
“25 Years” has a skipping beat, similar to “We’ll Grind that Axe for a Long Time” (from 2000’s “Reinventing the Steel”) and “Shedding Skin” not only has an appetizing title, but also three guitar solos! The first one is, of course, very good, the second (my personal favorite) has two parts to it, and guitar solo number three ascends like a steep mountain.
Finally, “Planet Caravan,” originally done by Black Sabbath, is a good cover but also a good song in its own right (and a great closer!) Its soft percussion (what sounds like-I’m not saying they are, they just sound like-tribal drums) and dreary, spacey vocals give this song a dreamy feel. Pantera give this song their own sound while also remaining true to the original. Pantera several covers (“Hole in the Sky,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Electric Funeral,” and this) and did `em well. I predict that if Pantera had remained a band, they would have turned out a covers album in a couple of years.
So, “Far Beyond Driven” is close to but falls just short of its predecessor, “Vulgar Display of Power” in terms of greatness. This album may not be the standard setting landmark that “Vulgar” was (it’s not as innovative as that album), but the bone crunching riffs and energy that bounces off the walls make almost every song on this album a hit.
Plus, you know it’s got to be great. What other album is as heavy as this and debuted at number one on the charts?