Opinion: Pantera '2.0'
The 8th December is always a joyous time in our household as it’s my son’s birthday….
However, there is always a tiny tinge of sadness as my mind wanders back 18 years to the dreadful events in the Alrosa Villa Columbus/Ohio, when Daryl ‘Dimebag’ Abbott – best known for being the guitarist in Pantera – was shot and killed on stage during a performance with his then band, Damageplan...
At this time of year, I traditionally have a week or so where I revisit the band's back catalogue and remember their greatness....
....I remember that day vividly….
I was off work sick and I started the day like many others by checking the entertainment news (page 501!) on Ceefax (for those not based in the UK or under 35, Ceefax/Teletext was – a text-based news service you browsed on your TV - THE source of instant information and news in a pre-social media age) where I was greeted by the sad news that several people had been killed by gunman at concert in the States. While obviously upsetting, the news of a mass shooting in the US is depressingly frequent, and therefore many have become desensitised to such acts of violence. However, as the hours passed and more details became available, the horror of what had occurred – and who had been caught up in the carnage - finally began to unfold; Dimebag (along with Jeffrey Mayhem Thompson, Nathan Bray & Erin Halk) had been brutally murdered at the hands of a deranged gunman.
[NB So much has been written about the final years of the band and Dimebag’s murder I won’t bother going into any more detail here...]
The guitarist I had idolized during my teenage years was dead and Pantera’s tumultuous ‘epilogue’ had been brought to a violent, grizzly and abrupt end in the most public of forums.
I will start by saying that the band kept my love for true metal burning during a decade when many new bands were distancing themselves from the excesses of the 80s and many established artists struggled with their identity after the alt scene of the early 90s had turned the scene on its head. However, Pantera forged forward with a look, sound and approach that bucked the trends of the time, all while being incredibly successful and creating some of the most memorable metal songs ever. Furthermore, while many of their contemporaries were softening their sound and going for a more radio friendly approach, Pantera were refreshingly going in the opposite direction... a trajectory that peaked with the ferocious 1996 album, ‘The Great Southern Trendkill’
In addition to their incredible musical output the band also expanded their exposure and profile during this time with a series of home videos that gave fans an insight into the band on the road, their tour antics and their touring crew - which were a huge critical and commercial success. To some, these home videos even eclipsed the musical legacy/output of the band and have been cited by some (even members of CKY) as the precursor to Jackass... These videos had a lasting effect on me and became my adolescent guide to doing stupid drunken stuff!
Anyway, while the band had effectively disbanded 2 years prior following a VERY public press spat between the Abbot Brothers and Phil Anselmo, the events of that night in December 2004 and the far-reaching fall out, put the final death knell on any hopes that the band would ever reform...
(It’s worth noting that in a 2020 podcast Daryl ‘Bobby Tongs’ Arnberger - the band’s camera man - stated that Dimebag’s plan was to reconcile with Anselmo over the then imminent holiday period with the goal to reform the band the following year)
However, this year is different from any previous anniversary of Dime’s death because for the first time in 21 years, Pantera have returned….
While the band is obviously missing both of the founding Abbot brothers (Vinnie sadly died from heart failure in August 2018), a new version of the band has been formed with the desire to bring their legendary riffs and groove to a whole new generation of metal fans who were not luckily enough to see them in their 90s heyday.
For those who have been living under the proverbial rock, the vacant drummer and lead guitarist positions have been filled by Charlie Benante and Zakk Wylde, respectively. With the talented Anthrax drummer and Ozzy guitarist being close personal friends of the band, they were the only real choices to fill vacant roles – especially with Zakk being regularly mentioned in possible reunion discussions.
While, they seem to fit from a persona and skill level perspective, the styles of the two new players – particularly Zakk – differ from that of the beloved and respected Abbott brothers.
While many, if not all bands with such a long career, would have experienced a change in personnel, this would mostly have happened organically over years as the band 'evolves'. However, rarely does a band lose its main song writing core and never in such a horrific manner (in the case of Dime).
Therefore, this is a unique situation that has proven both divisive and emotive and needs to be handled appropriately.
The upcoming tour has been marketed as a tribute/celebration with an obvious reluctance to officially call it a ‘reunion'. Due to its celebratory status, ‘Legacy’ is a word that has been thrown around a lot in the press – and various band members - in the lead up to the inaugural show and the desire to do 'right by the brothers'. While everyone seems to be saying the right things and seemingly doing it the with right level of respect it would be remiss of me not to mention that Vinnie was always VERY quick to shoot down reunion rumours and its quite telling that this tour is only happening now after the death of its biggest detractor. Therefore, while it could be simply seen as a cynical cash grab now that Vinnie is no longer around to put a stop to, I am sure that Zakk and Charlie, would only lend their talents if the tour was done in the best intentions...
Anyway, with that all said I was still excited (and a bit apprehensive) to see where this new iteration leads and waited with bated breath to see the footage of the inaugural show at the Hell and Heaven Festival in Mexico. The second the band hit the stage with the opening salvo of ‘A New Level’ it was instantly apparent that nailing the songs musically was never going to be an issue. Irrespective of what some major publications may have you believe, it seems that Zakk and Charlie have put a lot of time, thought and practice in to learning the songs and bringing the soul/groove of Vinnie and Dime’s performances back to life without completely erasing what makes Charlie and Zakk the brilliant players/performers that they are….
With regards to returning original members, Phil’s vocals are the best they’ve been in years and Rex’s low slung bass playing is as cool and thunderous as ever. With Pantera continuing to have just a single guitarist, his bass lines are even more essential to the band when it comes to its live sound and groove.
That said, while musically they are on point, the performance is a tad underwhelming, now whether that be due to nerves, age or simply a case of simply not finding their groove yet, only time will tell – after all Dime and Vinnie left some big boots to fill.
The setlist is filled with all the expected hits and is reminiscent of later year tours. However, I would love the band to tackle deeper cuts and use this reinvention to try something a bit more daring and really showcase the bands back catalogue; from the majesty of the band’s unsung masterpiece ‘Floods’ (to be honest ANY and ALL “...Trendkill” is good) to their seemingly erased/forgotten, NWOBHM influenced late 80s era.
One thing Zakk does offer over Dime is his decent vocal range – so why not utilise it. Perhaps they can attempt to play some deep cuts from ‘Cowboys from Hell’ with Phil sharing vocal duties with Zakk. The band reintroducing songs like ‘The Sleep’ into their would make the tour even more memorable and special....
Whether this line up makes new music is undecided at this moment in time – even if Charlie has indicated an interest - and if they do then I'm sure this will generate even more discussions regarding the ‘validity’ of this version of the band. However, at least another generation of fans get a chance to see these amazing songs played live and I can’t wait for them to get 6 months more of fine tuning under their belts and destroy Donnington during their, almost guaranteed, Download 2023 appearance.
So, sit back, pour a ‘black tooth’ and enjoy the legendary line up in happier times perform ‘Domination’ during the bands legendary and career defining performance in Moscow in 1991.