Pantera was an American heavy metal band from Arlington, Texas. The group was formed in 1981 by the Abbott brothers – drummer Vinnie Paul and guitarist Dimebag Darrell – along with vocalist Terry Glaze. Bassist Rex Brown joined the band the following year, replacing the original unofficial bass guitarist Tommy D. Bradford. Having started as a glam metal band, Pantera released four albums during the 1980s. Looking for a new and heavier sound, Pantera replaced Glaze with Phil Anselmo in late 1986 and released Power Metal in 1988. With its fifth album, 1990’s Cowboys from Hell, Pantera introduced a groove metal sound.
Released on July 24, 1990, and produced by Terry Date and Pantera, Cowboys from Hell was another leap into heavier territory. Pantera showed a more extreme style on this outing, leaving behind its glam metal influences in favor of mid-tempo thrash metal dubbed “power groove” (groove metal) by the band. Although Anselmo still used Rob Halford-influenced vocals, he also adopted a more abrasive delivery. Darrell’s more complex guitar solos and riffs, along with his brother’s faster-paced drumwork were evidence of the band’s extreme transformation. The album marked a critical juncture in the band’s history. Many fans, as well as the band itself, consider it Pantera’s “official” debut. Cowboys included the tracks “Cemetery Gates”, a brooding seven-minute piece that focuses on death and religion, and the thrashing title track, which gave the band members their nickname and asserted their raucous personality and style.
Pantera’s unique “groove” style came to fruition in its breakthrough album Vulgar Display of Power, released on February 25, 1992. On this album, the power metal falsetto vocals were replaced with a hardcore-influenced shouted delivery and heavier guitar sound, which firmly cemented the band’s popularity among mainstream and underground fans alike. Two other singles from the album became two of Pantera’s most notable ballads: “This Love”, a haunting piece about lust and abuse, and “Hollow”, somewhat reminiscent of “Cemetery Gates” from Cowboys.
Far Beyond Driven, released on March 22, 1994, debuted at No. 1 in both United States and Australian album charts. The album’s first single, “I’m Broken”, earned the band’s first Grammy nomination for “Best Metal Performance” in 1995. Driven saw Pantera continue its groove metal approach, while taking an even more extreme direction with its musical style. The album’s original artwork (a drill bit impaling an anus) was banned, so it was re-released with the now familiar skull impaled with a drill bit.
Tensions began to surface among the band members when Anselmo became addicted to heroin in 1995; he almost died from an overdose in 1996. These tensions resulted in the recording sessions for The Great Southern Trendkill (1996) to be held separately. Phil Anselmo recorded the vocals in Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor’s studio in New Orleans while the rest of the band members recorded in Dallas, evidence of the continued distancing between Anselmo and the rest of the band.
In comparison to the band’s previous efforts, there was a heavier emphasis on vocal overdubbing in a somewhat “demonic” fashion. Drug abuse is a recurring theme in Trendkill, as exemplified by tracks such as “Suicide Note Pt. I”, “Suicide Note Pt. II” and “Living Through Me (Hell’s Wrath)”. Another Trendkill single, “Floods”, achieved acclaim largely because of Darrell’s complex guitar solo in the song, which ranked No. 15 on Guitar World magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Solos” of all-time.
Some of the band’s live performances were eventually compiled in its July 29, 1997 release, Official Live: 101 Proof, which included fourteen live tracks and two new studio recordings: “Where You Come From” and “I Can’t Hide”.
The ongoing tension lasted for another seven years, in which only one studio album, Reinventing the Steel (2000), was recorded. Steel debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and included “Revolution Is My Name” and “Goddamn Electric”, the latter of which featured a Kerry King outro solo recorded backstage in one take during Ozzfest in Dallas. “Revolution Is My Name” became the band’s fourth nomination for Best Metal Performance in the 2001 Grammys.
Pantera went on hiatus in 2001, but was disbanded by the Abbott brothers in 2003 amid communication problems and their conclusion that Anselmo would not return to the band. The Abbott brothers went on to form Damageplan, while Anselmo continued work on several side projects, including Down in which Rex Brown joined as well. On December 8, 2004, Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed on stage by a mentally unstable fan during a Damageplan concert in Columbus, Ohio, permanently ending hopes for a reunion.
Style, Influences and Legacy
While being a heavy metal band, Pantera’s style was frequenting between groove metal, thrash metal and alternative metal, and their early material has been described as glam metal. They also have been influential to the development of nu-metal, metalcore and several other movements. They have also been called one of the pioneers of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM). Popmatters has claimed that, “Darrell Abbott’s influence on the entire genre of heavy metal is massive; after Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power, every notable young American metal band since has, in some way or another, copied their guitar style from those records: Korn, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, Hatebreed, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall… the list is endless.”
Despite being a standard glam metal band early in their career, the band members perceive themselves to have had an uncompromising career in which they never “sold out” or gave into trends. This is most noticeably highlighted in the themes and title of The Great Southern Trendkill.
We’ve survived every fucking trend – heavy metal, “grunge metal”, funk metal, rap metal – and we’re still here. We put everyone on notice that we don’t fuck around. Our fans know we’re true right down to the fucking core.
— Phil Anselmo
Similarly, the die-hard attitude of “We’ll Grind That Axe For a Long Time” (from Reinventing the Steel) is, according to Anselmo, “in a way, our motto.”
Aside from their post-glam, thrash metal influences, the band members cite heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath as one of their favorite bands. As a tribute, Pantera has recorded three different covers of Black Sabbath songs (all from the Ozzy Osbourne era). The first was “Planet Caravan”, a slower, quieter song planned for the first Sabbath tribute album, Nativity in Black, which eventually became the final track on Far Beyond Driven. The band performed Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” on the second Nativity in Black. A previously unreleased cover of Sabbath’s “Hole in the Sky” was included on the band’s 2003 compilation album, The Best of Pantera: Far Beyond the Great Southern Cowboys’ Vulgar Hits! Pantera’s affinity for Black Sabbath is also shown through the lyrics, “Your trust is in whiskey and weed and Black Sabbath”, in “Goddamn Electric”. The same song also mentions Slayer, one of the band’s thrash metal influences.
Nominated 4 times for Best Metal Performance –
1995 : I’m Broken
1997 : Suicide Note, Pt. II
1998 : Cemetery Gates (live)
2001 : Revolution Is My Name