Story Behind the Story: Pantera (1992)

I discovered Pantera the way I discovered a lot of metal music in the ’90s, by seeing a video on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. In this case, sandwiched among all the hair metal bands that I dug at the time was Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” which looks like it could have been shot in any metal club in the early ’90s, including the Alrosa Villa which, as everyone knows, is where Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was executed on stage years later.

Between Dime’s wicked guitar playing – which sounded unlike anything else I was listening to at the time – and Phil Anselmo’s street thug posture and vocals, Pantera’s music spoke to me and perhaps I was even sensing at the time that the lipstick-and-leather party bands I was listening to were quickly becoming extinct.

In April ’91, Pantera played the Alrosa opening for Wrathchild America. I don’t know if I knew Pantera at the time but I definitely did not attend this show. A little over a month later (May 25, 1991), Pantera and Wratchild America returned to Columbus, this time upgrading to the Newport Music Hall. I was in my first off-campus apartment at Ohio State and distinctly remember sticking around Columbus a few extra days after my last final so I could check out this show. The crowd wasn’t huge, maybe a few hundred in attendance, and I think Pantera may have closed this show. I have a vague memory of both bands being on stage at one point doing, if memory serves correct, a Skynyrd cover. After the show, I hung around out back of the Newport where I was able to get my picture taken with Phil.

Back in the early ’90s, there was no internet, there were no album leaks. Journalists had to call publicists at record labels to ask for advance copies (at that time, you were more likely to get an advance cassette than CD) and, if lucky, a few days later a yellow, padded envelope would show up with new music. In early ’92, shortly before Vulgar Display of Power was released, Skid Row invited Pantera to open their Slave to the Grind tour despite the fact that nobody had heard any of Pantera’s new material. A few weeks later, an envelope showed up in my mail box, an advance copy of Vulgar Display of Power contained within!

Pantera had announced a week’s worth of headlining dates coinciding with the new album’s release including a February 21 date at a metal club in Cleveland called the Real Flash Gordon’s. These headlining dates were a brief break before Pantera rejoined Skid Row and the band’s publicist was able to hook me up with tickets for the show and an interview with Pantera drummer Vinnie Abbott. The interview was to take place the day of the show and while I lobbied for an in-person interview at the club, I was told it would be a phoner interview which seemed a bit silly considering I’d be calling Vinnie from my mom’s house, 8 miles away from the venue.

I don’t remember much about the interview and reading it now, some 27 years later, it doesn’t seem to be all that remarkable. Maybe it was Vinnie. Maybe it was a young, unseasoned reporter. I got a few usable quotes and mixed them in along with some notes about the show.

Here’s the article that was printed in the college paper, The Independent, that I was writing for at the time of the interview.

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Cowboys From Hell Receive Stinky Review
(The Independent, Feb.26 – March 10, 1992)

At the beginning of the decade, ATCO recording artists Pantera released Cowboys From Hell, one of the hardest, most powerful albums released in 1990. After performing 294 shows and touring with the likes of Prong, Suicidal Tendencies, Wrathchild America and Metallica, Pantera has just released Vulgar Display of Power, an album that is sure to rattle quite a few skulls.

After wrapping up work on Vulgar Display of Power, Skid Row asked Pantera to go on tour with them. And how are Skid Row fans treating Pantera? “It’s been way above our expectations,” drummer Vinnie Paul said in a recent telephone interview. “It just shows the diversity of the audience these days, they’re a lot more in tune with the underground and up-and-coming new stuff.”

Although they are on tour with Skid Row, the band recently took a one-week hiatus to headline smaller clubs where they tested out their new material. This mini-excursion brought them to the Real Flash Gordon’s Night Club in Cleveland on Feb. 21 where Pantera performed to a rabid, sold-out crowd.

Many times during the show, the stage was so crowded that it was impossible to even see any of the band members. I’d say on a Stink Factor (how bad I smelled after the show), this concert received the ultimate rating: one stick of deodorant. The only other concerts I have been to that have drained my energy as much as this one were the Nirvana show at Stache’s and the Nine Inch Nails show at the Newport.

“It’s been fucking awesome, all the headline shows have been sold out,” said Paul, who co-produced the album with Terry Date (Soundgarden, Overkill, Mother Love Bone).

And indeed they should be.

Their patented “power groove” sound is something that sets Pantera apart from the multitude of thrash and death-metal bands.

“It’s got to move you, it makes you want to move when you hear it,” Paul said of Pantera’s latest album. “That’s why it’s kind of a drag when people misconstrue the band and think we’re a thrash band. Yes, we definitely have elements of a thrash band – the aggression and the punkness – but we also have the groove that those bands don’t have. That’s what sets us aside from those other bands.”

The 11-song album is full of the power groove songs that Paul described. Along with very distinctive guitar and bass parts, provided by Diamond Darrell and Rex respectively, and hammering drums, lead singer Philip Anselmo provides many thought-provoking, angry lyrics.

In concert, Anselmo told the crowd that the new song, “Walk”, is about “people who talk shit abut you” and he dedicated the song to a certain thrash band that has been giving Pantera a hard time.

Anselmo’s lyrics have matured since Cowboys From Hell and he deals with many issues that he sees happening around him everyday. For instance, “Rise” deals with the issues of racism while “No Good (Attack the Radical)” is about “close-minded, self-righteousness” according to the band’s press release.

Chances are that you’ll never hear Pantera on the radio, but the band does throw in a few surprises on  Vulgar Display of Power. The songs “This Love” and “Hollow” are both slower, dare I say ballad-type songs, although “This Love” kicks in pretty heavy on the chorus.

“My favorite songs is ‘This Love’ and the reason being is that I really dig the peaks and valleys,” Paul said. “I really like what Phil did vocally and the guitar work is fantastic. Not only is it a melodic song but it also grunges and kicks ass.”

If it were up to me, I’d make everyone in the world who digs heavy metal buy Vulgar Display of Power, it’s clearly one of the best albums released this year. And if Pantera makes it to Columbus, don’t forget to take along your deodorant, you’ll need it.

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Not my best piece of writing but thought it was worth sharing. I have a few strong memories from the show that I didn’t include in the article:

  • To this day, I can’t find the right words to describe the crowd’s insanity. At one point, it looked like a giant wave of zombies were trying to get on the stage, people climbing over those in front of them to the point where Phil finally relented and said (I’m paraphrasing), “Come on up, everybody is welcome but once this song is over, that’s it. Nobody else on stage”. And, sure enough, the stage was overrun with fans for the duration of the song but nobody got on stage after that.
  • I had to throw away the jeans I wore that night. I was right up against the stage which basically was at knee level. As the crowd surged back and forth and fans moshed, I was shoved up against the dirty stage and it ruined my jeans.
  • After the show, the band hung out in the club and in the parking lot. I remember two things Phil said as people were getting autographs and pictures. He was shocked that a majority of the crowd knew all the words to all the new songs. Keep in mind, this was before the internet so the only way people could have heard the songs was if somebody like myself, who had received an advance copy of the music, had made copies and passed them around. I certainly didn’t do that but somebody must have. The other thing I remember Phil saying is that he dreamed of some day headlining an arena gig. “We’d set up on the floor of the arena and have a bunch of half pipes for people to ride the bikes on or skate on. We’d just provide the music and the real show would be all the people doing bike tricks. In fact, I would stand with my back to the crowd so as to not steal any attention away from the real show.”

(Photos taken at the Real Flash Gordon’s)

Two months later, Pantera returned to headline a sold-out Newport Music Hall. For some reason, I didn’t go to that show but my friends did and said the crowd got so rowdy that they tore down the side railing in the venue and were passing it overhead in the mosh pit on the floor. A month after that show, Pantera opened for Skid Row (on the Slave to the Grind tour) at Vets Memorial and one of my friends, a Skid Row fan who had tickets in the first couple of rows, let me sit in his seat during Pantera’s set, knowing that I was a huge fan. Though they returned to Columbus a few more times over the following years, I only saw them once, when they headlined Polaris Amphitheater. Prong opened (I interviewed Prong’s Tommy Victor on the tour bus before the show but don’t think it ever got published anywhere) and it was pretty crazy to see Pantera headlining such a big venue.

Shortly after Dimebag was murdered at the Alrosa, I wrote up a quick remembrance where I shared some of the memories above for the Columbus Alive. If I dig it up, I’ll create a separate post.

I’d highly recommend the 5-part podcast mini-series Vinyl Analysis: Pantera. Dimebag. Alrosa Villa. A Fan’s Journey hosted by QFM’s Arch Madness. I was inspired to share these memories after listening to the podcast.

And, for the record, I still think Vulgar Display of Power is the best metal album of the ’90s!

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