The fall of PANTERA could have been predicted by anyone keeping an eye on the band for the last few years. Increasingly erratic performances and behavior from singer Philip Anselmo, as well as his predilection for going off and attempting enough side projects to fill a record store, made it clear that the quartet was dividing into two camps. So when Philip ran off to record a new DOWN album — taking bassist Rex Brown with him — and then plunged right into recording and touring with SUPERJOINT RITUAL, it was merely a formality when he announced that he was done with PANTERA. Or that they were done with him. Sadly, Anselmo's story seemed to change daily for a while.While Philip has certainly been busy with projects of varying quality and popularity (SUPERJOINT RITUAL is either routinely praised as a return to old-school thrash or dismissed as junk by the readers of this site, for instance), the seeming dissolution of PANTERA left its founders, the brothers Abbott — otherwise known as guitarist Dimebag Darrell and drummer Vinnie Paul — momentarily up feces river without an outboard motor. No singer, no bassist (with Brown pretty much vanishing after the failure of the second DOWN disc), and no plan. But now they have a plan — DAMAGEPLAN, to be precise. With former HALFORD guitarist Patrick Lachman a surprising choice on lead vocals, and previously unknown Bob Zilla on bass, the boys have roared back with an album that may not always please fans of the latter, ultra-brutal PANTERA efforts, but is probably in some ways truer to their original concept of the heavier PANTERA that first broke through with "Cowboys From Hell" back in 1990. "New Found Power" is a good album, not a great one. This is clearly a metal band and a metal record, but with a heightened approach to melody that may, as suggested earlier, throw some PANTERA fans off but is perfectly acceptable within the context of a still ruggedly heavy sound as this. Lachman is an adequate, resourceful vocalist, but his glaring flaw — and what possibly prevents "New Found Power" from being a killer debut — is that he simply has no personality of his own right now. He's a generic metal vocalist, and even though this is not PANTERA, he's still indirectly following a frontman who had so much personality that half his problem was not knowing what to do with it. There's plenty of solid riffing on "New Found Power", and several songs that do recall vintage PANTERA. "Breathing New Life" has the complex rhythmic turns and precision chugging guitars we all know and love, while Lachman sounds uncannily like Anselmo at moments in the song. "Fuck You" is an unrelenting thrasher enlivened by the unmistakable vocals of SLIPKNOT's Corey Taylor, while "Explode" is another midpaced cruncher that could have come straight off "Cowboys From Hell". "Save Me" gives the first real inkling that the Abbott brothers plan to take this band in different directions. Lachman adopts a more melodic style of singing on the verses here and the song has a moderately catchy chorus that screams "radio" and would never have escaped the rehearsal room during the latter PANTERA years. It's not a bad song nor a toothless one, but it's clearly the most commercial that these players have sounded since before Darrell changed his nickname from Diamond to Dimebag. "Cold Blooded" ushers in the album's latter third, which is the most varied section of the disc. "Blink Of An Eye" is another more melodic, radio-oriented rocker, while "Moment Of Truth" combines a subtle Southern twang with some ZEPPELINesque electric slide. The album's closer, "Soul Bleed", is perhaps the most startling cut of all: nearly all acoustic, it features vocal harmonies from Zakk Wylde that make it sound like nothing less than ALICE IN CHAINS. Oddly, the production sounds a bit thin — Vinnie and Dime's normally dependable sound doesn't come across as thick here as it has in the past. Yet as "New Found Power" comes to a close, it's evident that Vinnie and Dimebag are trying to keep certain elements from the classic PANTERA sound, perhaps bring in some older styles that they abandoned along the way, and make it all sound fresh. That's a daunting challenge, even for seasoned musicians like these boys. While they're not reinventing the steel (ha, ha) on "New Found Power", DAMAGEPLAN churns out solid, straight — if somewhat undercooked — metal that shows these cowboys haven't lost their touch.
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