Usually when a band puts together a singles collection, it's a post-career cash in. Not Pantera. Usually when a band puts together a singles collection, several sub-standard covers get jammed onto the album next to boring alternate mixes of the band's originals. Not Pantera.
Nope, this definitely isn't the average singles collection at all. It was released in 1996, near the band's creative peak, and they were still at the top of their game as a live unit too. Instead of being a bunch of ropey covers, it's mostly live tracks with a couple of alternate mixes thrown in. And best of all, this release is six of the band's singles, the full versions in their original state, on six separate discs.
The A-sides are mostly reasonably well done. "I'm Broken" is a staccato stomping headbanger which Pantera used to do so well, while "Five Minutes Alone" continues the band's distinctive tight stop/start sound. "Mouth For War" is Pantera at their very best. There is nothing subtle about the song whatsoever. Phil Anselmo spits out spiteful lyrics, while Vinnie Paul comes to the fore with some powerhouse drumming. "Walk" lurches along drunkenly, oddly one of Pantera's worst songs, but also one of their best loved. Anselmo's vocals are strong, but the rest of the song seems poorly thought through. The uncompromising nature of Pantera's own music made their very faithful cover of Black Sabbath's weed fuelled "Planet Caravan" a highly unexpected addition to `Far Beyond Driven'. Pantera was so taken by the song that it released two versions of the single. Anselmo nailed Ozzy Osbourne's dreamy vocals with apparent ease.
However, in any collection of this nature, it's the B-sides which tell the tale. As expected, there are some dud tracks, but by and large, this is a strong compilation. The studio tracks here are a good cross section of Pantera's material. The vicious "Rise" is powerful, and about as close as Pantera ever came to full on thrash, while in contrast, "Cemetery Gates" is a sensitive yet hard hitting power ballad. Thankfully, it is the full version, and not the criminally edited "radio" version. Also included are the ripping "Slaughtered", "Primal Concrete Sledge" and "By Demons Be Driven", as well as the previously mentioned "Walk" and the ill-conceived "A New Level".
The other cover besides "Planet Caravan" is a rocking romp through Poison Idea's "The Badge", which appeared on `The Crow' soundtrack.
Industrial wizard Jim Thirwell remixed "Walk", but inexplicably, did so very badly. "Walk (Cervical Dub Extended)" is a pretty poor cut up of the song with a few electronic beats added. The same marching tempo has been retained, and some of the effects used are irritating. "Walk (Cervical Edit)" is even worse, basically keeping the song intact but running the vocals through a harmonizer and adding some background noises. However, Justin Broaderick's "By Demons Be Driven (Biochemical Mix)" adds a demonic menace to an already aggressive song, building up the bottom end and emphasising the piledriver beat.
The live tracks are where this collection really shines. The two live tracks, "Cowboys From Hell" and Heresy" backing “Mouth For War" are real gems, in that they come from `Cowboys From Hell' and were recorded in 1990, when the band was finding it's feet as a heavy metal band, leaving behind it’s earlier glam metal stylings. Much of the bluster of later live recordings is missing, but it's obvious the band is giving it everything. The intro to "Heresy" is particularly impressive, with some fine guitar work from Dimebag, and the tempo kicked up a few notches. Both tracks can be compared to versions recorded in 1992, showing a tighter and clearer but no less aggressive sound. Live versions of "Domination" and "Primal Concrete Sledge" came from the legendary 1991 Freedom Concert in Moscow, where in support of AC/DC, Metallica and the Black Crowes, Pantera played to an estimated crowd of more than 500,000 people. The crushing final riff and a ripping Dimebag solo from "Domination" went down a treat live.
This collection is a nice collector’s item, bound in a double sized double gatefold digipak. While it could be seen as a bit of a cash in, there is almost two hours of music here, and it would be very difficult to track down all six singles individually.