By Asmita Goyanka, Batch of 2017
The ‘80s are known for the fall of the Hippie movement, the rise of Michael Jackson and U2, but the one ignored facet of this transitional time is metal music. Metal was never a mainstream genre because of its complex music, extreme head-banging and the ‘evil’ persona it always wore. But the truth is, once you listen to a metal band, you can never stop listening to their music. Pantera taught me this lesson. Pantera is a band which has seen it all – from being ‘glam’ in their early days to having a guitarist with a pink beard. They have had their ups and downs and they have had some of the best stories to tell along the way. Sadly though, one of these stories is also about how they broke up.
This band, with some amazing songs that even a non-metal head would appreciate, started in the early 1980s by the Abbott brothers. Even though their names sounded like they could be hell’s angels, they did in fact try to achieve a certain glamorous and ‘pop’ sort of image. The band was started as ‘Pantera Metal Magic’ which sounded more like a children’s science show than a soon-to-be hallowed music group, with Terry Glaze as their vocalist and Diamond Darell as guitarist.
I think it is safe to say that this was a phase in their career they couldn’t put behind themselves faster. They dropped the ‘metal magic’ from their name pretty quickly, but childish as the band was then, it helped create the true ideology, Pantera became famous for. They were amongst the first few indie metal bands out there – a rare combination – and they self-produced their first four albums. They thought that they did everything right. They had the satanic outfits, the ‘people-friendly and popular’ kind of metal music and they went out there with a ‘screw it, screw all’ philosophy.
Their albums blew. There were lessons learnt in this entire course though. So far, the band had been doing exactly the opposite of what their basic philosophy was. While they had assumed an ‘I don’t care’ kind of personality, their music was hard to be socially acceptable as metal music and hence was failing miserably. This was the point where they completely shed their ‘glam metal’ image. Clearly, the formula to be a metal band wasn’t working and required something new to be brought to the table. This was the point when Pantera completely transformed.
They dropped their pop-music style of metal in favor of thrash metal and hard rock, which eventually evolved into a completely new ‘Pantera genre’ in the coming years.
Pantera dropped all pretentious clothing for jeans and t-shirts because, as Vinnie Abbott remarked, ‘It is us who are going to play the music, not the clothes’. By then, they had already recruited their longest lasting vocalist, Phil Alanemo, whose vocals were more hard-edged than the comparatively juvenile one’s of Terrence Glaze. And Diamond Darell decided to dye his beard pink.
This transformation was long seen coming though, as the band’s tracks had been continuously getting heavier. But the release of their next studio album, ‘Cowboys from Hell’, truly marked Pantera’s arrival.
Most fans consider ‘Cowboys from Hell’ as Pantera’s official debut. This album not only changed Pantera, it changed metal. The tracks from this album were much heavier, but they also incorporated a ‘groove’ element. Alanemo’s deep vocals against Darrell’s intricate yet lethargic guitar riffs truly created the ‘metal magic’. The track, ‘Cemetery Gates’, set the tone of the band’s music. It was the perfect combination of soft singing to screeching vocals, the guitar goes from brooding melancholy to aggressive playing and after a few times of playing the song, your head automatically bobs to the drum beats. Of course, other tracks of the album, such as the title track, reflected similar perfection.
The band extensively toured after ‘Cowboys from Hell’ and soon released their subsequent albums, ‘Vulgar Display of Power’ and ‘Far Beyond Driven’. These two albums displayed the same excellence as ‘Cowboys from Hell’. Tracks such as ‘This Love’ and ‘Hollow’ from ‘Vulgar Display of Power’ and ‘I’m Broken’ from ‘Far Beyond Driven’ were extremely successful. It was at this time that Diamond Darrell became Dimebag Darrell and the drummer Rexx Rockstar adopted his original name Red Brown again.
Unfortunately, the band’s success story was short-lived. As the band slowly achieved greater heights of success, its demise started. Alanemo was not in his pink of health and suffered an eventual drug and alcohol abuse to combat ill-health. This, however, had the opposite effect.
Pantera was slowly withering away and while their next and last studio album ‘Reinventing Steel’ charted blockbuster lists, there was immense stress among the band members. Alanemo was engaged in numerous side projects. The communication between the Abbott brothers and Alanemo had broken and this was when the former chose to formally part ways. The sales of their albums sky-rocketed in the coming year, but there was no going back. Pantera was gone for good, but it didn’t go out without a bang. After the demise of the band, the Abbott brothers started another band called Damageplan. During one of the latter’s concerts, Dimebag Darrell was violently murdered on stage by a fan. The other Abbott put the blame on Alanemo.This was the last of the straws and sealed Pantera’s fate.
The legendary band went out in a legendary manner, albeit a sad one; Kurt Cobain style. It inspired both underground and mainstream fans. It was born with hope, it survived with panache and died with fire. It was Pantera.
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