Pantera's oft-forgotten third album, 1985's I Am the Night, was, like its two predecessors, an Abbott family affair, financed and produced by Diamond Darrell and Vinnie Paul's father, then independently released and therefore doomed to almost certain failure for lack of record company muscle to promote it.
Of course, in retrospect, this proved to be a blessing in disguise, by allowing the young musicians to develop their talents in relative obscurity, while giving the latter-day, much different version of Pantera the singular opportunity of burying the "shameful" evidence of these formative years, when they were, at best, a token '80s heavy metal band.
Obstinate fans still manage to track down pirated copies, though, and those who hear Pantera's first three albums will realize that, come I Am the Night, the quartet had discarded many of its worst glam rock offenses and balanced the rest (including sporadic bits of electronic percussion) with ample doses of both traditional and speed metal.
As a result, I Am the Night alternates numerous fist-pumping heavy metal anthems reminiscent of Judas Priest ("Onward We Rock," "Daughters of the Queen") or Ratt ("Come-On Eyes," "Down on the Edge") with a few supersonic hair metal blasts like "Down Below," "Valhalla," and the title track -- plus just one ballad, "Forever Tonight," which is wisely left for last.
In fact, original vocalist Terry Lee Glaze's screechy yelps and unfathomably puerile lyrics (none dumber than on the otherwise decent opener, "Hot and Heavy") are the only glaring weaknesses shared by all of these tracks, making it even more ironic that it was he who quit the group after this album's release.
And at the opposite end of the qualitative spectrum were Diamond Darrell's often jaw-dropping riffs and solos, holding the songs together with iron-fisted precision, while he continued to expand his guitar-shredding arsenal with the expertly controlled dissonant effects (like impossibly bent strings, squealing harmonics, and dive-bombing runs) that would years later distinguish Pantera's sound from all their competitors.
As with all of Pantera's "forgotten" albums, it is invariably Darrell's playing that makes these growing pains more tolerable, and also helps to make sense of how they became one of the only heavy metal bands in history to grow more commercially successful by becoming more extreme.