Being in a professional rock band is very hard work. It involves sacrifice, countless hours in the studio and on the road, personal and collective evolution and the constant temptations that come with being a rock star. Once a person decides to dedicate his life, time and energy to this profession, they do so knowing that their may be great rewards for their efforts, but there also may be failures and even tragedies along the way. One band that knows these facts all too well is Arlington, Texas based ‘power’ groove rockers Pantera.
Formed in 1981 by brothers Vinnie and Darrell, Pantera was a glam metal outfit originally known as Pantera’s Metal Magic. The band consisted of Vinnie Paul Abbott (drums), “Diamond” Darrell Abbott (guitar), Terry Glaze (guitar), Tommy Bradford (bass) and Donnie Hart (vocals). In 1982, the band shortened their name to Pantera, Hart left band for ethical reasons, moving Glaze to vocals and making Darrell the lone axe-man. Later in the same year Bradford also decided to leave and the band recruited Rex Brown for bass duties. In 1983 Pantera released their independent debut Metal Magic. The album was more akin to KISS and Van Halen, rather than the groove and trash influences the band would implement on later major-label releases. The band would continue to release three more independent glam metal releases: Projects in the Jungle (1984), I Am the Night (1985) and Power Metal (1988).
Before the release of Power Metal, Pantera decided that vocalist Glaze, who had by then changed his name to Terrance Lee, did not fit the new direction they wanted to take creatively. Being heavily influenced by the trash metal releases of 1986 and 1987 by bands such as Metallica and Slayer, Pantera wished to take a heavier approach to their music. Lee and the band parted ways and Pantera went through several replacement vocalists before recruiting New Orleans native Phil Anselmo. Power Metal was the first release featuring Anselmo on vocals, and though it was much heavier than their previous releases, it was still not quite to the groove/trash metal that the band is famous for today. Power Metal represented a shift in the direction the band was taking; a shift so stark that their four independent releases were not included in their official catalogue and are presently considered hard to find collector’s items.
After being repeatedly turned down by major labels, Pantera eventually signed on with Atco Records. On July 24, 1990, Pantera released their major-label debut Cowboys from Hell. The record had a more extreme style, ditching the band’s glam metal influences and creating a mixture of trash metal and groove metal, called “power groove” by the band. Cowboys from Hell peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers charts and went on to sell more than one million copies to date. It was positively received by critics and has been cited as one of the most important and influential albums of the 1990’s, if not of all-time. Allmusic said of Cowboys from Hell: “Pantera’s breakthrough album, Cowboys from Hell, is largely driven by the band’s powerful rhythm section and guitarist Diamond Darrell(s) unbelievably forceful riffing, which skittered around the downbeats to produce unexpected rhythmic phrases and accents, as well as his inventive soloing.” The album would inspire a generation of guitarists who wanted to have the versatile chops and solo acumen that Diamond Darrell possessed.
On February 25, 1992, Pantera released Vulgar Display of Power, the album which saw the accumulation of the band’s sonic metamorphous. Where Cowboys from Hell still contained glam inspired falsetto vocals, Vulgar Display of Power saw the introduction of Anselmo’s hardcore-influenced shouted delivery. The album also featured a heavier guitar sound. The album features some of the band’s most well known songs, such as “This Love”, “Mouth of War” and “Walk”. Vulgar Display of Power was a commercial success for the band, peaking at number 47 on the Billboard 200 and selling more than two million copies to date. The album has received many positive reviews and accolades, including praise for the heavier guitar riffs and deep growling vocals and aggressive lyrics. IGN named the album the eleventh most influential metal album ever on their “Top 25 Metal Albums” list, stating: “This album makes the list because it took heavy metal and made it heavier. It took darkness and made it darker. It took anger and made it angrier. Never before had a band tuned down its guitars and crunched a heavier riff than on this album. “Mouth for War” and “A New Level” and “No Good (Attack the Radical)” stand out on an album where every track is a classic track. Dimebag Darrell was an innovator and a true godsend for heavy metal. One of the most underrated players in the genre. And this may sound corny, but the way the band was able to turn seemingly negative aspects of the genre – hate, anger, violence and despair – into positive thoughts is somewhat akin to De La Soul dropping a positive message into rap.” Around this time Darrell Abbott dropped the “Diamond” moniker in favor of “Dimebag” Darrell.
In March 1994 Pantera released Far Beyond Driven, which debuted number one on the Billboard 200 charts and went on to achieve Platinum certification. The initial success for the record cause a bit of anxiety for Anselmo, as he felt he needed to hide his issues of back pain in order to maintain his tough as nails image. These back pain issues would result in Anselmo’s use of, and subsequent addiction to, heroin in order to alleviate the pain. The album took an even heavier sonic styling compare to the band’s previous release. It settled in on mid-tempo grooves that were mainly facilitated by Dimebag’s detuned, heavy-sludging playing style. Far Beyond Driven featured the singles “Becoming”, “5 Minutes Alone”, “I’m Broken” and the Black Sabbath cover “Planet Caravan”.
In May 1996 Pantera Released The Great Southern Trendkill, which peaked at number four on the Billboard 200 charts and has been certified Platinum by the RIAA. The album featured the classic song “Floods”, which has been ranked the 15th greatest guitar solo of all-time, Dimebag’s highest ranking of three solos to make the list (the other two being his solos from “Cemetery Gates”, ranked 35th, and “Walk”, ranked 57th). The album also featured twelve-string acoustic guitar on the track “Suicide Note pt. 1”. The album is marked by some of the fastest tempos and down-tuned guitars ever recorded.
In March 2000, after years of tension in the band, Pantera released what would be their final album, Reinventing the Steel. The album reached number four on the Billboard 200 chart, but it is the only of the band’s major-label releases as of yet to sell one million copies. Reinventing the Steel features the singles “I’ll Cast a Shadow” and “Revolution Is My Name”. The album’s lyrical themes were based around the band itself, how they see the music industry and their genres and the mark that they will leave.
After the release of Reinventing the Steel, the band continued to have internal dramas that lead to their break-up. While the band had plans to release its next album, Anselmo was preoccupied with is side project Down. While waiting for the vocalist to return to the fold, the remaining band members felt that he would never return, so decided to end Pantera. The Abbott brothers started a new group called Damageplan in 2004. Tragedy struck on December 8, 2004. Damageplan was performing in support of their album at a show at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio when, less than a minute into the first song of their set, mentally unstable Nathan Gale, 25, went onstage and shot and killed Darrell. Gale also killed fan Nathan Bray, 23, club employee Erin Halk, 29, and Pantera security official Jeff “Mayhem” Thompson, 40, and injured longtime Pantera and Damageplan drum technician John “Kat” Brooks and Damageplan tour manager Chris Paluska before being shot dead by Columbus police officer James Niggemayer. Dimebag was buried in a KISS Kasket, originally made for Gene Simmons, with Eddie Van Halen’s black and yellow-striped Charvel electric guitar, known as Bumblebee. Both rock legends have stated that they were glad and honored to contribute and grant Dimebag’s wishes for his memorial services.
The legacy of Pantera is one of great notoriety within the metal community. Though they started as a glam metal band, the band members have repeatedly boasted that they never “sold out”, which many in the metal world wholeheartedly agree. Their helped spark the nu metal and metalcore movements, among many others. And their music, especially Dimebag Darrell’s guitar playing, has inspired and been influential to countless musicians and bands. Simply put, these “Cowboys from Hell” left an endearing mark on the metal world as we know it; and we should give praise and thanks for it.