by Tim McMahan
Im trying to
come up with a unique metaphor to describe Panteras music to those whove never
experienced its full-blown, 3-million decibel onslaught. I certainly dont want to
say its "bone-jarring, in-your-face rawk," or "hardcore-tainted
thrash with a touch of Metallica and a dab of 80s hair-metal." That would be
way too cliche.
How about this: Panteras music is like listening to chainsaws
explode over a civil defense siren. Its loud, scary and guaranteed to annoy anyone
over age 30. Vocalist Philip Anselmo sounds like the psycho killer who makes flesh clothes
in Silence of the Lambs. Vinnie Pauls drums are machine guns heard above the screams
of Dimebag Darrells ear-splitting guitar massacre. Rex No-last-names basslines
are the footsteps of god or satan, pounding across a field of burned and broken bodies.
Theres nothing pleasant about Pantera music. It represents noise, fear and death...
with just a touch of Van Halen thrown in.
"It's heavy metal, man," says Vinnie Paul from backstage
of the Worcester Auditorium the day after a sold-out show in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "We
grew up on a healthy dose of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Kiss. Our music does have a
Black Flag punkish edge to it, but to me, its rock and roll."
Paul and the boys have been living on this tour for more than two
years now, beginning with the 96 release of their CD, The Great Southern Trendkill,
and through last summer as part of Ozz-Fest, where they played alongside heroes Ozzy
Osbourne and Black Sabbath, and hype-master Marilyn Manson and Machinehead. This time,
however, theyre headlining the tour that will bring them to Mancuso Hall Feb. 4.
"The fans know to expect nothing but pure, raw musical
assault," Paul says through coughs (apparently, hes fighting off the flu).
"We dont bring any outrageous laser light shows, no exploding dragons or
anything like that. We bring the amps, sound and music and jam. Thats what its
And, yes, the fans will rock, he says, occasionally too much and too
hard. Like during one show last summer in Columbus, Ohio, when Ozzy caught a bug and
couldnt sing. "The fans werent too thrilled about that, so they decided
to destroy the venue," Paul says. "Ozzy didnt let anyone know until the
last minute that he wasnt up for the show. When Phil broke the bad news, the fans
Its no surprise, considering the musics sheer
aggressiveness, which begs listeners to vent their primal urges either by banging their
heads or each other. Take, for example, moshing, a staple at any Pantera show. For the
uninitiated, moshing is a frantic collision of bodies in an area called "the
pit," located in front of the stage. From a safe distance, it looks like total chaos,
a violent tribal ritual gone mad. The moshing begins two seconds after Pantera is
introduced, though Paul says the band doesnt encourage it.
"The fans are going to do their thing," he says. "We
dont want to see anyone get hurt, we want them to look out for each other. The only
people Ive noticed getting hurt are those who have never done it before, or small
people who think theyre going to get in the middle of the pit. Its just common
sense: If you see a bunch of 250-pound guys out there smashing around with each other,
its not a good idea to run out in the middle of it."
Though their bio says theyve only been playing together for
seven years, Paul and an earlier, glam-metal incarnation of the band recorded their first
album way back in 1983, according to the Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock. Pantera
shifted gears in 1990 with the recording of Cowboys from Hell and have been on the road
playing speed-metal ever since. After years of musical abuse, do they ever get tired of it
"Weve been doing this for so long, its a way of
life for us," Paul says. "Its more difficult for me to get comfortable
going home and sleeping in my own bed than it is climbing back on the bus."
With sales in the gold-record range for the live album, Pantera can
enjoy some notoriety, but it cant call itself a huge commercial success. Instead,
the band thrives on a cult of adoring fans. Paul says the band prefers being on the
outside of the industry looking in.
"Were one of the few bands out there thats doing it
the real way," he says. "Record companies are really getting involved to create
these overnight, excessively huge bands, with MTV and radio. I think music in 96 and
97 has been overly saturated and promoted."
Well said, but perhaps Pantera vocalist Philip Anselmo does a better
job of catching the bands spirit during the introduction of "Suicide Note Pt.
2" on their live album:
"I speak my mind I talk about some s***, I f***in tell it
like it is. I dont know if you ever heard about how the philosophy of Pantera goes.
We dont give a flyin f*** about the others, all we care about is our own. And
all Ive been saying for f***in years to all these stupid f***in experts,
you know what the experts are telling you? That heavy music is dead in gone, well,
yall do me a favor, yall turn around and look at each other now, yall
take a look at these motherf***in people here, and obviously somebodys
wantin to hear something that all these f***in experts are tellin you that you
aint supposed to be hearing. This next song is our hit. You wont hear this
next song anywhere but in your goddamn car, at home or on this f***in stage and
thats the way its should be."
Yeah! Rawk On!
This originally appeared in The Reader, January 26 1998
Copyright © 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.