HARD RIFF

Pantera – The Full Circle of Metal

Before I go any further, I want to make clear that Pantera is by far my favorite band. I never thought that anyone could top Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Sepultura in my book, but then I heard “Vulgar Display of Power”, and it has been a love affair that’s been going on for almost 30 years. No other band before or since has been able to instigate such a burning passion in me like the “Texas Gods of Metal” did. This article is going to be absolutely bias and subjective, and the reason is that, in my opinion, there has never been a better band to bless the stage in history.

Pantera was the perfect machine. To this day I have never heard a band cover all the bases, be so complete, and deliver raw heavy metal with no compromises whatsoever. There was no influence that could mellow them down, or make them try to patronize the audience. This band was the essence of metal. Dime and Vinnie were arguably the most talented guitar player and drummer in the genre. Phil had incorporated incredible vocal ability with a hardcore punk attitude, and a natural-born Godlike stage presence, and the most underrated bass player in metal, Rex completed the hard-hitting, have-to-move groove ever.

Sure, there are bands, singers, and musicians that are much more technical. Just think of Steve Vai, Yngwie, Dream Theater…but no one has that kind of soul and the balls to go with the virtuosity. No one else can make your whole body want to move and pour out raw strength and energy the way Pantera could.

The only thing anyone could hold against Pantera is that they broke up too soon, and we will never be able to hear something new for the first time or see them together on a stage.

Yes, this is going to be one of those articles; never-ending praise to 4 men from the south of the US who had impacted my life more than thousands of people I knew personally and saw every day. Pantera is a name, an idea that brings me joy and sadness at the same time. Phil, Dime, Vinnie, and Rex have changed my life, and I consider them part of the family.

The story of Pantera can be divided into 2 contrasting periods; before Cowboys from Hell, and after Cowboys from Hell. Let’s take a closer look at their long and, sometimes strange career that ended in bad blood and tragedy.

Pantera – the Beginning

In 1981, two brothers from Arlington Texas decided to channel their love for rock ‘n’ roll and form their own group. Darrel and Vincent Paul Abbott were the sons of Jerry Bob Abbott, a country songwriter and music producer. Before settling with Pantera, the group went through a couple of name changes. The group was named Gemini, then Eternity before they chose to take the name of a car model, which also meant panther in English.

Both of the Abbott brothers were heavily influenced by groups like Kiss, Van Halen, etc. and this is very obvious on their first album “Metal Magic”. In addition to Darrel and Vinnie Paul, the group consisted of rhythm guitar player Terry Glaze, vocalist Donnie Hart, and bass player Tommy D. Bradford. In 1982, Hart left the group, Terry stepped in as the singer and left the entire guitar work to Darrel. Later, that same year, Bradford was replaced by Rex Brown on the bass.

Their beginnings, as well as the first album, are Glam Metal, both in sound and in the band’s appearance. Metal Magic, their debut album, was released on their own record label with the same name as the album and produced by Dime’s and Vinnie’s father Jerry at Pantego Studios in 1983. The album consolidates the strong position of the group as a reference band in the American rock/metal scene. It’s apparent in many songs; “Ride My Rocket” reminiscent of Kiss, “Rock Out” perhaps the fastest song on the album, the good and slightly commercial “Tell Me If You Want It”, clearly carries the spirit of the 80′,s “Biggest Part Of Me” and “Widow Maker “. “Nothing On” is reminiscent of the Twister Sisters.

In 1984 Pantera released “Projects in the Jungle”, their second studio album. Although we can’t say that the album had commercial success there are songs worth pointing out: “Out For Blood”, “Like Fire”, “Over My Head”, “Projects In The Jungle”, powerful “Heavy Metal Rules” and “Killer”.

By now the band is well known locally. They’re supporting heavy, and glam metal groups in the area and gaining a loyal following due to the great live performances. They’re mostly playing in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

In 1985 Pantera released their third studio album “I Am the Night” which sold some 25,000 copies. Songs like “I Am the Night”, “Hot and Heavy”, “Onward We Rock”, “Daughters of the Queen”, and “Valhalla” made a decent impact.

Enter Phil Anselmo

After “I Am the Night”, the vocalist Terry leaves the band, and Pantera goes through several singers before an 18 years-old, New Orleans native Philip H. Anselmo auditioned in 1986. The main reason why Pantera was looking for a new singer is that at the time “the big four” released albums that were to influence the band in a major way (What a great time for music!). Metallica released “Master of Puppets”, Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” came out, as well as “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying” by Megadeth, and “Among the Living” by Anthrax.

In 1988 the band releases their fourth, and by far the heaviest album at that point, “Power Metal”. The album was released by Metal Magic Records, just like the 3 previous. Anselmo’s voice is based more on Halford-style treble than what we’ll hear in later years. “Rock The World” is fast but very Twister Sister, great rhythm guitar work on the title track. “We meet again” is very Judas Priest “, as is the dynamic” Over And Out “and the US-Metal” Down Below “,” Death Trap “,” Burnnnn “and” Pst “are amazing.

Among other things, Dimebag Darrell had auditioned for Megadeth and was chosen, but since the Abbot brothers were indivisible, and went together as a bundle, and since Megadeth was not interested in a new drummer, Darrel gave up and Marty Friedman joined Mustaines’ band.

Cowboys from Hell – The Big Breakthrough

By 1989, Pantera had been turned down many times by major labels. Mark Ross from Atco Records, went to a show to see the band perform, and was so impressed that he exited the venue in mid-concert to phone his label and tell them that they must sign Pantera. That year Pantera started recording their major-label debut at Pantego Studios, having hired Terry Date as producer due to his work on Overkill’s “The Years of Decay” which was another album that affected Pantera’s style in a significant way.

On July 24, 1990, Pantera released their fifth album – “Cowboys From Hell”. This is what most people deem the official beginning of the real Pantera, the moment in time when Pantera became Pantera. Not that the previous body of work should be disregarded, but this is clearly the moment that the band had found their true style and expression, and nothing would ever be the same. Pantera’s journey to becoming legends had started with a bang.

A very hard and heavy sound and definitely more extreme than the first albums with Thrash influences, combined with more hardcore riffs, mark a clean cut from the band’s glam past.

Obviously, the number of supporters grows and the band’s new musical fold is definitely taking over the audience. The success brought Pantera a world tour with Exodus and Judas Priest.

In addition to Anselmo’s distinctly different voice, Dimebag’s riffs are killer. The change is extreme and unsettling: effects, stopped riffs, lightning-fast solos, distortions…There are hits like “Primal Concrete Sledge” with its repetitive and devastating guitar riff, the amazing “Domination”, “Psycho Holiday” with the well-known cuts by Vinnie Paul (the song is about alcohol, vice, and paranoia) and the reflective ” Heresy “with a great performance by Vinnie Paul and Rex Brown in the rhythm section. And, of course, then there are the title track and “Cemetery Gates”. The ballad would go on and become one of their biggest hits, a legendary piece of art, a testimonial to Phil’s vocal virtuosity and the band’s talent and skill. For me personally, Cemetery Gates is the perfect ‘package’ that shows the grit and fury of Dimebag’s guitar work, but also how much emotion and soul he had.

The band began touring in 1991 and would go on for almost two years. During this time Pantera would go on and open for bands like Judas Priest, Sepultura, Exodus, Suicidal Tendencies, Morbid Angel, and Prong among others. In September 1991, they got a huge chance to show the world who they are, and they absolutely killed it. They were called to play in ”Monsters in Moscow” alongside AC/DC and Metallica in front of a shitload of people (there are many different estimates of how many people attended the concert, but we can all safely agree that it was more than 500K).

Their new style was paying off. They were now sure, more than ever that they had found their true sound, and never looked back. I was 14 at the time and I had recorded a couple of videos featured on MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball” on a VHS cassette, that I would play over and over again daily. Cemetery Gates and Cowboys from Hell were just mind-blowing to me.

Although I don’t think that you can stick a specific genre label to Pantera, especially if you look at the body of work as a whole, there is no denying that one of the most prominent elements is the groove, thus – groove metal. But remember, Pantera was dubbed a thrash metal band after “Cowboys” came out. In time, though, the fast-pace drumming, so characteristic of thrash, would give way to much slower, but heavier rhythm patterns. The elements that would be there in every album are the heaviness, Dime’s out-of-this-world guitar riffs and shredding, and a distinct southern element – the Blues.

I always thought that the Blues element was obvious, but it turns out many people wouldn’t agree with me. Nevertheless, it’s there. It’s in the scales, the repetitive riffs, the bending of the strings, and in most of Phil’s vocals. That’s why I named this article “The Full Circle of Metal”. Pantera combined elements of heavy metal with the basic music genre that gave birth to rock and all other subsequent ones; the Blues.

Vulgar Display of Power

On February 25, 1992, Pantera released “Vulgar”. I was 16, and I remember very clearly the time and place when and where I heard it for the first time. I was at an underground club in my hometown Belgrade in Serbia (Yes, I went to clubs at 16 🤘). I distinctly remember Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” fading out, and then the clean guitar riff of “This Love” beginning to play. My friend had already heard the album and just looked at me and pointed at his ear, as if to tell me to pay attention and listen closely. I was standing still and listening…trying to articulate what I was feeling listening to this slow and strange song. I couldn’t quite connect it to my idea of what Pantera was. Then the first chorus hit…I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I remember getting goosebumps, and then a rush of adrenaline. By the time the breakdown came, I was mesmerized. I will never forget the first time I fell in love with a girl, my first sex, the birth of my children, and the first time I heard “This Love”.

This was happening in May or June of 1992. That summer was all about going to this open-roof club and metal house parties. I would listen to “Vulgar” every day from the moment I woke up until I went to bed. It was, and still is, the only absolutely perfect album I had ever heard. This is the album that I would always listen to from start to end, never skipping a song.

It was the first half of the nineties and you could hear really great music being released every week, so the competition was tough. At the time I was really hooked on Metallica, Alice in Chains, Rage Against the Machine, and the New York hardcore scene. There was just so much awesome music out there. But, Vulgar was a blend of the best things taken from each world. It was truly heavy, it had phenomenal groove and rhythm, vocals like I never heard before, godlike guitar virtuosity, and a hardcore punk attitude. Vulgar Display of Power is simply the album that was made by my own measure.

And I was not alone. Millions of people all over the world shared my sentiment and Pantera’s popularity just went through the roof. “Vulgar Display Of Power” sees the development of the sound in even harder riffs and an even more vocal timbre. “Walk” and “Fucking Hostile” lead the way, not to mention the brilliant single “This Love” which alternates angry and acoustic parts. But also “Mouth for War” is spectacular in its rhythmic gait, the slower “A New Level”, the aggressive “Rise”, “Regular People” and “By Demons Be Driven”. The opening melodies of “Live In A Hole” and the ballad “Hollow” also show that the band’s variety and not just aggression.

All this combination of things makes “Vulgar Display Of Power” the best-selling Pantera CD to this day.

Pantera goes Far Beyond

Far Beyond Driven, Pantera’s seventh studio album was released on March 22, 1994, and debuted No 1 on the album charts both in the US and Australia. Their first single “I’m Broken” got the band nominated for a Grammy for best metal performance.

No one believed that after “Vulgar” there could be a heavier or more aggressive direction to go to, but the Texas boys proved us wrong. “Far Beyond” was even heavier, more extreme, but still groovy and melodic. Pantera was just the best at what they did, and they were taking the world by its throat.

The album takes off with the insanely savage “Strength Beyond Strength”, followed by “Becoming”. After that, it’s just a rollercoaster going from groove to brutality until you reach the last song “Planet Caravan” – one of the best Black Sabbath covers I have ever heard.

The original album cover was supposed to show a drill going into an anus, but the record label was worried about it having a negative impact on sales and that it would be rejected by stores like Walmart, so the original cover was changed to the cover we all know with the drill through a skull.

“Far Beyond Driven”, unlike “Vulgar” focused on more personal issues. “I’m Broken” is about Phil’s crippling back problems, “25 Years” is about his relationship with his father, “Shedding Skin” is about a relationship coming to an end. In my opinion, Phil is one of the most underrated lyricists in Metal, and “Far Beyond Driven” is a masterfully written story after story, giving deep insight into Phil’s personal turmoil and battles.

This is also the time when Phil started using and abusing prescription painkillers in order to numb the increasing pain in his back. The addiction was starting to rear its ugly head, and this marked the beginning of the distancing between Phil and the rest of the band.

The Great Southern Trendkill and Tensions in the Band

In 1997 “The Great Southern Trendkill” was released, characterized by sick and depressing sounds in a mixture of Thrash, Stoner, and Doom. For example, listen to “War Nerve” and the various “Suicide Note” and “Suicide Note Pt 2”. “10’s” has Doom influences, but there is also aggression and violence like in “Drag The Waters” and “13 Steps To Nowhere” with stripped-down melodies. “The Underground In America” and “Sandblasted Skin” are more complex and darker. Instead, “Floods” is the album’s “ballad”, and it’s hard to categorize under a single genre. Instead, what is really easy to do, is to acknowledge the originality and incredible depth in Dime’s solo. In fact, the solo in “Floods” has become one of the most iconic pieces of rock music in general and is ranked No.15 by Guitar World magazine on their “100 Best Solos of All Time” list.

Phil’s addiction is slowly starting to get the best of him. The lyrics are much darker, depressing, and in hindsight, they seem to be a call for help. Anselmo started being distanced and spending more time away from the band. While Dime, Rex, and Vinnie recorded the album in Dallas, Phil laid down his vocals in New Orleans, at Trent Reznor’s (Nine Inch Nails) studio.

After this recording, however, the first rumors of a breakup between Phil Anselmo and the Abbot brothers began to reverberate.

A short time later, Anselmo was hospitalized in a coma due to a heroin overdose, just an hour after the group’s concert ended in Texas. Phil’s heart had stopped beating, and he had to be brought back to life with a shot of adrenaline by the paramedics before being sent to the hospital.

Vinnie talked about this incident various times. He said that they couldn’t believe that their friend was using heroin. They had a meeting in which Phil apologized to the band and promised to take care of the problem and stay clean, and the penalty for breaking his promise would be being kicked off Pantera.

I personally have a small problem with the way things went down once Phil’s addiction was known to everyone. I understand that like most of us Gen x people were taught, Phil was left to his own devices to “deal with his shit”, but I think that they should all have taken a more constructive, and brotherly approach. Maybe, if they had put aside the band for a while, and focused on finding a way to help Phil, and see it through, then, just maybe, things could have played out in a different way. Although Phil portrays this hard and bad motherfucker image, fighting heroin and methadone addiction is one of the toughest battles a human being could face. I wonder if he just needed his friends to help him out more…Just a thought.

Pantera Going Live – Official Live: 101 Proof

On July 29, 1997. Pantera released their first live album – “Official Live: 101 Proof. It contains 14 live tracks, and 2 new studio recordings: “Where You Come From”, and “I Can’t Hide”.

The track “Dom/Hollow” is a mash-up of the songs “Domination” and “Hollow”, while the track “Hostile” is just the song “Fucking Hostile” with a slightly altered title. “Becoming” ends with the outro from “Throes of Rejection”, and the final track “I’m Broken” closes with the outro from “By Demons be Driven”.

This album is a testimonial of how great Pantera played live, and is a must-have for any true Pantera, or for that matter, heavy metal fan.

It was around this time that Anselmo started participating in various side projects more actively. Necrophagia, Holocausto de la Morte, Eibon are some of the projects he embarked on. Also, Rex, Dime, and Vinnie started their collaboration on their own country metal side-project “Rebel Meets Rebel”.

Pantera – Reinventing the Steel

This is Pantera’s ninth and last studio album. It was released on March 21, 2000, and debuted No. 4 on the Billboard charts. The 2 most significant singles were “Goddam Electric” which featured a Kerry King solo outro, and “Revolution is my Name”, which got Pantera nominated for Grammy’s best metal performance for the fourth time.

In 2001 the band started touring again. They would play alongside Slayer, Static X, Morbid Angel, Skrape, Godsmack, and others. Their European tour was cut short because of the 9-11 attack, and they were left stuck in Dublin, Ireland for a week due to the airports being locked down. On August 28, 2001, Pantera played their last show in Yokohama, Japan. This was the last time the “Texas Cowboys” performed together on a stage. There were plans to release a home video and record the next studio album, but unfortunately, that never happened.

Phil was engaged on many side projects, including Down’s second album; “Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow”, featuring Rex Brown, who will remain the band’s bass player until 2011. Another one of Anselmo’s side-projects would have its debut released that year; Superjoint Ritual released their first studio album – “Use Once and Destroy”.

Vinnie and Dime were getting tired of waiting on Phil, who took a break from Pantera with the explanation that he needed time off. His side projects were proof to the Abbott brothers that Anselmo had put other projects before Pantera, and this didn’t sit well with them.

In November 2003, Vinnie and Dime officially dismantled Pantera when they were sure Phil wasn’t coming back. 2003 would also see the release of Pantera’s Best Of compilation album. The break-up was not on friendly terms and a lot of bad words followed via the press, but I’m not going to get into that.

Damageplan and the Tragedy

Having severed the connection with Phil, Vinnie and Dime formed a metal super-band – Damageplan, with vocalist Pat Lachman, and bass player Bob Zilla. They released their only album “New Found Power” on February 10, 2004.

On December 8, 2004, Damageplan was playing at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. Less than a minute into the first song, a disturbed ex-marine climbed on stage and shot Dimebag killing him instantly. He killed 4 more people and wounded another 2 before being shot and killed by a responding police officer. There were many theories about the reasons why the ex-military committed the murders, but the bottom line is that he was a schizophrenic, and on that day the world was robbed of one of the most significant musicians on the planet. Heavy metal and rock took a horrific blow, and the scar would never heal. In fact, every time I think about Dime’s terrible death, sadness comes over me to this day. There are many of us that feel like we lost a dear and close friend. Such was his impact on the lives of millions of people.

Dimebag’s funeral was something never seen before in the rock world. It was a gathering of the most important and influential people in metal and rock music who all came together to pay their respects and bear witness to the amazing art and life of Darrel “Dimebag” Abbott. Dime was buried in a Kiss casket with Eddie Van Halen’s black and yellow “Eruption” guitar in it. Phil wanted to attend the funeral but was asked by the family and friends not to show up.

Vinnie and Phil wouldn’t speak for years to come. There were talks about a reunion from time to time, but Vinnie Paul was always adamant that there is no Pantera without Dime. Phil and Vinnie would remain estranged.

On May 17, 2007, Dimebag Darrell was included in Hollywood’s RockWalk, a gallery dedicated to the memory of those artists who have contributed with important and lasting traces to the growth and evolution of Rock ‘n’roll.

To remember him, a bronze bust of the guitarist was created for the event which is in the gallery alongside monuments by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Johnny Cash, Van Halen, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, James Brown, Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, and John Lee Hooker.

Furthermore, also in 2007, the second stage of the famous Download Festival was called ‘The Dimebag Darrell Stage’.

The Band after Dimebag

Vinnie Paul formed Hellyeah with members of Mudvayne and Nothingface in 2006. The idea of forming a metal super-group was in the working since the year 2000, and finally, in 2006, the schedules aligned and Hellyeah was born.

On June 22, 2018, Vinnie Paul died in his sleep at the age of 54, and the world lost yet another truly remarkable musician. R.I.P. Vinnie.

Anselmo and Brown reunited with Down and supported Heaven and Hell, Megadeth, and Metallica in the mid-2000s. In November 2018, Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals started playing an entire block of Pantera songs during their tour. The trend continued in 2019, and 2020 until the Covid-19 epidemic hit. I still have tickets for a concert they were supposed to play in Belgrade in June of 2020, and I hope they’ll come on a later date when everything goes back to normal.
Phil is now drug-free and has been for several years.

White Power and the Nazi Salute

In 2016, at Dimebash, an all-star concert in memory of Dimebag Darrell, while he was playing in a club with Damageplan, at the end of “Walk”, Phil made the nazi salute shouting “White Power!” to the crowd.

The video, posted on YouTube, created several controversies, so much so that in the end Anselmo was forced to respond directly in the comments to the video, using the account of his label HouseCore Records: “Ok guys, I take responsibility for this thing, but man, I was kidding … it was a joke between us, because all of us backstage only drank white wine, and so I said ‘White Power’ because it was all about that! Some of you must be less complaining. so many other balls to piss, people with much more serious racist projects. I love everyone … and I hate everyone, and that’s it. No apologies from me. PHA ’16 “.

Following the incident, there were many repercussions that also affected Down. A lot of the band’s scheduled gigs were canceled as a direct response to Phil’s actions.

I was hit and surprised when I watched the video. There was no excuse or explanation that could justify the racially charged outburst in my mind. But, I went ahead and watched a couple of Phil’s interviews in which he addressed the issue. He explained more than once what happened backstage and that he was provoked by someone in the audience calling him a racist. He responded in that way as to say: “You want racist? Here’s racist for you!”. I can’t know for sure if he was telling the truth, but in my opinion, that makes perfect sense when you take into consideration his past. Furthermore, Anselmo explained that he had many people of different racial backgrounds as important characters throughout his entire life and that he never even considered race as a thing when dealing with people.

As I said, I don’t know what the truth is, but I gave him a pass.

The Legacy of Pantera

Pantera started out as a Glam Metal band, with strong New Wave of British Heavy Metal influences. Along the way, they were described as a Thrash Metal, Groove Metal, Power Metal band, etc. The fact is that I don’t think they could be made to fit a single category. Their body of work is so diverse and rich that they are just Pantera.

One thing everyone agrees on is that they have influenced Heavy Metal as a whole in a massive and undeniable way. They were one of the few bands that never compromised their style and sound for anything like many others have done throughout their careers. They’re credited for directly being responsible for influencing the birth of different genres, such as Nu Metal, and Metalcore. Phil’s singing style is prominent in each and every extreme genre there is. Dimebag has influenced most of the metal scene that came after Pantera.

But, their most important legacy is the army of fans that still today, 20 years after their last album was released, carry a passion and love for this one-of-a-kind metal band. They take credit that I can still now, at the age of 43, play their album and feel pumped and happy. I can still put on Cemetery Gates, or Floods and be blown away by Dimes soulful guitar work, or smile when I hear Phil scream and wonder how can a human have such a wide range. These 4 Southern artists have been a huge part of my life. They helped me go through some really tough times and were there to celebrate the good ones, and I am grateful to have been there to witness it all.

Pantera Discography

Studio Albums:

  • Metal Magic (1983)
  • Projects in the Jungle (1984)
  • I Am the Night (1985)
  • Power Metal (1988)
  • Cowboys from Hell (1990)
  • Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
  • Far Beyond Driven (1994)
  • The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)
  • Reinventing the Steel (2000)

Live Albums:

  • Official Live: 101 Proof (1997)

Compilation Albums:

  • Driven Downunder Tour ’94 (1994)
  • The Singles 1991–1996 (1996)
  • The Best of Pantera (2003)
  • 1990–2000: A Decade of Domination (2010)
  • History of Hostility (2015)

Video Albums:

  • Cowboys from Hell: The Videos (1991)
  • Vulgar Video (1993)
  • 3 Watch It Go (1997)
  • 3 Vulgar Videos from Hell (1999)

18 thoughts on “Pantera – The Full Circle of Metal

  1. The best Heavy Metal band, ever! There are many greats, but this one is the best. The concoction of all these talented musicians is magical and powerful. Their unique style can never be matched.

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