Some might see an inherent hypocrisy in hating albums like PANTERA’S “Far Beyond Driven”, yet liking the album that followed in “The Great Southern Trendkill”. To an untrained ear in the nuances between Groove and Southern Sludge, such albums tend to run together as being similar exercises in heavy repetition and fancy, blues inspired soloing. In such instances, it is always best to point this album, as it presents the stylistic separation that the latter has from the former in its most obvious form, and most likely had an influence on the direction that PANTERA took a year later.
Many are quick to point out the impressive flock of musicians present here, each bringing their own unique brand of Southern influences to the mix, but what is often missed is these diverse inputs fuse together into a very consistent statement of a blunt, depressed, or otherwise pissed off sentiment. The swampy, mud drenched character of the guitar sound on here that results from Keenan and Windstein teaming up is formidable, if not completely overwhelming. It doesn’t sound in the least bit processed or a slowed down and mechanical half-statement of Speed/Thrash, but lends itself to a free flowing feel not all that far removed from what SABBATH was coming out with on their debut. Naturally the influence of Hard Core that all in congress bring to the table, which is matched by a much more flamboyantly raw vocal performance out of Anselmo than PANTERA’S 92-94 era, makes this much heavier and aggressive than anything that Ozzy or Geezer would try to pull off, even in their respective projects today.
When all is taken into account, “Nola” could be considered the ideal combination of several successful heavier acts within the 90s Metal mainstream. Unfortunately, the songwriting essentially takes one or two really good ideas and simply continues to rehash them for most of the album. For the first 7 songs, the recurring character of 70s Rock influenced mid-tempo grooving really holds its own, particularly during the thudding, bluesy pile driver of a song “Underneath Everything”, which sounds similar to a couple of sections of songs heard on “The Great Southern Trendkill”. But in spite of the consistent quality going on in each song, the album starts to drag considerably and one begins to wonder if the tempo is ever going to pick up. After this, things are brought into something of a more psychedelic with a spacey ballad called “Jail”, which sounds pretty similar to “Planet Caravan”. But after this, the album may as well have skipped over several songs and simply tacked “Bury Me In Smoke”, which is the only other really distinctive and ambitious song on here, to the end.
Suffice to say, although “Nola” definitely qualifies as an all around good work, this album tends to do much better when listened to in pieces. It’s not really something that can be fully enjoyed from start to finish, unless the person in question can do the same with “Vulgar Display Of Power”, which I personally can not. It is definitely superior to any of the material that PANTERA put out after “Cowboys From Hell” and at least challenges some of the material that CROWBAR has offered up both before and after. It could have been a little more ambitious and varied, but it gets the job done and offers a few keepers for anyone who likes most of the bands that this outfit sprang out of.
(Online May 30, 2010)