HardReviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Penance - Spiritualnatural

Appearing/disappearing doom legends Penance are back again with a bad, non-committal bit of cover art wrapped around - thank the brooding gods - a typically grinding, harrowing Penance record, their best since '94's Parallel Corners, which saw the band at its height, recording powerfully for Century Media ('01'a Alpha & Omega was no slouch either). Not crazy about the too loud and too mid snare sound here (and the recording seems to vary in characteristic track to track), but vocalist Brian Balich makes up for any niggling little sound complaints with his looming Eric Wagnerian voice, lending ragged, sleepless, smothering weight to the monstrous chords of Dave Roman and Matt Tuite. Yet again, Penance prove their ability to operate in a vacuum, away from stoner rock clichˇs, sorta the way Slayer deliberately isolates itself (sometimes out of laziness, sometimes out of ego) from the death/thrash scene. Fave track on here is the late-arriving title track, which takes nearly four minutes to work its way through a set of furtive riffs, arriving at a nightmarish textural verse that is wily prog psych metal madness drawn and quartered: brilliant. 'The Innocent' is amazing as well, Balich's mournful vocal melody backed by an eerie guitar part that er, weeps for the innocent. Elsewhere, odd tones are tried (see opening minute), ethereal acoustic respites arrive at the right time and space - there's even bagpipes - and the band generally makes a bunch of good decisions that betray their understanding of creating songs that inevitably will project imposingly live, Penance creating a certain power trio chaos despite their quintet status. But for the love of that guy in the Zep IV gatefold, bring back the old logo.
Rating 8.5

Pantera - The Best Of: Far Beyond The Great Southern Cowboys' Vulgar Hits!

Crap cover, decent booklet, short essay from Don Kaye with too many boring quotes from Dime and Vinnie (you want soundbites - go to Phil, who, week of release, told me he's never even seen a copy), but beyond that, and beyond the fact that this is a hits pack (whatever), the wicked reason for buying this is... a bonus DVD! And on there, you get ten production videos and two live ones. And with that, you can chart the band's refinement of their sound through Phil's hairstyles, culminating in the mountain man hilarity of Revolution Is My Name, where the band succinctly and very entertainingly shows where metalheads come from. Back to the music, another odd foible is the inclusion of three covers, two good ones from Sabbath and one gay one, Cat Scratch Fever, done at the behest of Kiss for the Detroit Rock City movie. But man, there's no question that Pantera blasted big holes in metal, and never turned in a bum album in five (Atco era) tries. So throw this on, reflect on Dime's liver, and reconsider just how bloody good Pantera was for the state of metal throughout a slog of dreary years that hated us.
Rating 8

Hard Reviews Page 3