December 8, 2014 6:56 PM   Subscribe

On December 8, a great musical artist’s life tragically ended when he was not yet 40 years old, shot by a murderer who’s euphemistically referred to as "a crazed fan." The world lost one of the giants of heavy metal 10 years ago today.

“Dimebag” Darrell, born Darrell Lance Abbott, died at the cruel age of 38 on December 8, 2004. As the guitarist of Pantera, he pushed the envelope of ultra-heavy rock music, inspired countless guitarists, and was acclaimed by many as the greatest metal guitarist of all time.

Some of Pantera's standouts (IMHO):

"Hollow" starts out disarmingly gentle for a Pantera song, with some beautiful melodies by Darrell, then descends into a more straightforward metal song halfway through. (One line is chilling today: No one knows what's done is done — it’s as if we were dead . . .)

"I'm Broken," which is probably Pantera’s most famous song, was essentially made by Darrell even if he didn't write the lyrics. Both his riffs and his solo in this song are unforgettable. Some of the stretched-out notes of the guitar solo seem to have a playful sense of humor — uncharacteristically for metal. (String quartet version.)

"Mouth for War" — Notice how brilliantly the band starts the song with the pre-chorus riff (instead of a more common choice like the verse or chorus), which lends a special, climactic feeling to the actual pre-chorus ("bones, in traction . . .").

"This Love" melds the quiet and heavy sides of Pantera. Darrell plays a soaring guitar solo with some unexpected key changes.

"Walk" is a good example of why Pantera is called "groove metal" (as opposed to the "thrash metal" of Metallica and Megadeth, for instance). Here's a bluesy cover that's faithful to the spirit of the original while being radically different. Although some have made fun of Pantera's lyrics, a commenter at SongMeanings describes how meaningful the song has been to her:
This is the song that gave me back my confidence and self belief. For the years I was at high school I suffered at the hands of bullies who wripped my confidence to shreds and left me in tatters. They basically chewed me up and spat me back out. This song is about attitude and self belief. I got into the metal scene and found an outlet and music I loved. Far from being the victim, I became the victor, this song was my anthem.
I'm surprised “Shedding Skin” isn’t better known; to me, it’s one of Pantera’s best. But please don’t click that link unless you’re OK with some pretty crude lyrics and brutal music. Starts with a compelling riff; then a disarmingly gentle verse, which flows seamlessly into the heavy chorus. Tempo changes keep things interesting later on: the part where it slows down, in the section right before the guitar solo, is transcendent. The guitar solos (plural) are amazing as usual.

“Cemetery Gates” is an earlier song from Pantera — a classic showcase for Phil Anselmo’s singing and Darrell’s guitar virtuosity. This came out in 1990, and you can tell that it's rooted in the '80s in a way their later work wasn't.

"Planet Caravan" is a haunting cover of Black Sabbath. Pantera was so concerned that this un-heavy song would alienate the fans that the liner notes included a message justifying the decision to include it on Far Beyond Driven. It gives us a rare chance to hear Darrell soloing with a clean tone.

posted by John Cohen (26 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Great post, thanks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:01 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is awesome, thank you!

posted by stoneandstar at 7:17 PM on December 8, 2014

I would rate Max Cavalera higher, but that's like being forced to choose between an Oreo shake or a Peanut Butter shake. Both please!
posted by Brocktoon at 7:53 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

This post is basically the soundtrack of my teenage years. Thanks!

posted by JayG at 8:23 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I spent a good portion of my high school years walking around in a Pantera t-shirt. Thanks for this, great post.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:25 PM on December 8, 2014

Dimebag gives a rare tutorial.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:41 PM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this post. I'm discovered Pantera fairly recently, and never found another band quite like them. I have my favorites from the band, but reading about the non-favorites here made me appreciate them more.
posted by curagea at 8:43 PM on December 8, 2014


Rest In Power, preferably vulgarly displayed
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:56 PM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

I saw them live in 1994 and they were just immense.

Far Beyond Driven was insanely innovative. The string-bending siren solo in Five Minutes Alone and the harmonies in Strength Beyond Strength were like nothing else. Then there's the solo from Domination...

posted by the duck by the oboe at 9:25 PM on December 8, 2014

the duck by the oboe: "I saw them live in 1994 and they were just immense"

My first heavy metal concert of any form. It spoiled me rotten, unfortunately.
posted by vanar sena at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2014

"Metal" such as it's defined has a dual reputation, which is deserved. Some people use it to amplify their anger - they don't last though. Most metalheads, similar to punks, use agressive music as an outlet rather than as an inlet.

I can't be arsed to do anything regarding hair or clothing anymore. I only wear shirts that are easy to wash. But, if you are now or once were a metalhead or a punk you are my friend and can stay a few days where I live with my cat.
posted by vapidave at 10:44 PM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

While the RS article names the other victims, many other reports don't, and some don't even mention that this was a mass shooting and that four people were killed that night:

Darrell Abbott, 38
Erin Halk, 29
Jeff Thompson, 40
Nathan Bray, 23

Halk and Thompson were killed when they tried to stop the shooter. The shooter then reloaded and killed Bray, who were among several people trying to perform CPR on Abbott. At least two others were shot and injured, including drum technician John Brooks who was held hostage when the police arrived.

. . . .
posted by effbot at 12:00 AM on December 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Goddamnit this caught me totally off guard. At first I thought it was another senseless tragedy, but I quickly realized who it was about and didn't feel any better. I was never a huge pantera fan, but always appreciated them, and VDOP in particular.
As effbot said:
posted by lkc at 1:55 AM on December 9, 2014

I never really loved Pantera musically - every once in a while it was what I was in the mood for but generally their style eschewed melody too much for my taste. But I still admired them enormously. And I don't remember ever hearing anyone say anything about Darrell that wasn't basically "he is a great guy that can play guitar like nobody else".

To this day, when I'm bored, my fingers will tap out the opening riff to Cowboys from Hell (the very beginning where it's played in closed position up at the 7th fret).
posted by Wolfdog at 3:52 AM on December 9, 2014

On Friday nights at the college radio station, deft use of the cutoff switch allowed us to play their song "                     Hostile", which didn't get much play on the other stations.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:55 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pantera is one those bands that sets the metalheads apart from the metal part-timers. Sure you could enjoy some of the heavier GNR stuff and listen to Metallica's black album and even dabble in some Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, but if you left the dance floor when F***in' Hostile started playing then you weren't a real metalhead.

posted by Vindaloo at 6:24 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You know those kids who had a Pantera tee shirt for every day of the week? That was my brother.

posted by pxe2000 at 7:57 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had the distinct honor of meeting Dimebag after a show in August of '04. I'm sad to say it was Damageplan and not Pantera, but I came of age and got into metal just as Pantera were winding down. The only new release of theirs I had the pleasure of experiencing as it came out was Reinventing the Steel. Not really a high point since their internal band politics were tearing them apart at the time.

But holy fucking shit. There's this tendency to deify musicians who've died to unholy heights after the fact. A lot of it is really gross and founded in the urge to make a buck of a wonderful person's memory. So you'll hear this overinflated shit about how great a musician was, what a nice guy, what a paragon, etc. etc.

And you know what? Totally true in Dime's case.

We got out of that show before anyone else and saw that the tour bus was basically left alone by the throng, so we idled over there, half drunk and giddy that we might actually get a chance to meet our teen hero.

That wonderful motherfucker took time for each and every kid there. I mean everyone. Vinnie was in the bus with a shitty look on his face the whole time. The only time he bothered to poke his head out was when some groupie wanted her ass signed. Not Dime. He stood there and shot the shit with each and every awestruck fan. This is a guy with so much love in his heart, and it emanated from him. You could see real, genuine, unmitigated adoration for the people that lifted him to his heights as a musician.

I didn't even get a chance to speak. He took one look at me and he just goes, "What's up brother?" And here comes a huge slab of perspiring, whiskey-drenched metalhead to give me the grossest, sweatiest, ronchiest man hug I've ever gotten. No hesitation, no delay. Only love.

I knew from then on that I'd be a metalhead no matter the ebb and flow of my musical curiosities over the years. Any community that could foster such an exemplary human being deserved my undying respect.

Rest in peace, you beautiful bastard.

posted by Ephelump Jockey at 8:12 AM on December 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

Thanks for the post, I'm interested in checking out the links.

I never listened to metal as a kid, so I'm only vaguely familiar with Pantera's music. But I lived in Dallas when Dimebag was shot, and it felt like a cloud was over the whole city that day. I remember every radio station talking about it, even the mainstream stations, and all saying great things about the man. The band was a local institution, and the city took it personally when he died.
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:34 AM on December 9, 2014

Thanks for this post. To say that Vulgar Display of Power blew my mind when it came out would be an understatement.

Somewhere, lost to the sands of time, is my first driver's license photo: my mulleted 17-year-old self in a Pantera T-shirt.

Learning the opening riff to Walk opened some doors for me. I remember thinking "That's all that is? Wow. But it sounds so HUGE!" I think that was the day I learned the importance of groove and leaving a bit of space.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:25 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This still really angers me - I wasn't even a fan - but what a pointless and cruel death that he (and several others that night) suffered.
posted by thelonius at 10:53 AM on December 9, 2014

I have to admit I've always liked Phil's bands better - I'm first and foremost a doom/sludge/stoner guy - even though I know he's an asshole. But Dime undoubtedly changed metal guitar. I don't mean it as a criticism when I say that the metal cliches of the 2000s are things he invented in about '90-'94.

Also, no "Floods?"
posted by atoxyl at 11:04 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's been 10 years already. Such a terrible end, being killed while you're on stage for the fans.

I got thinking about Chuck Schuldiner while reading this thread, so I might as well share this here.
posted by ersatz at 11:16 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also I can't be the only one who first heard the verse riff from "Mouth For War" because it was one of many contemporary metal bits shamelessly lifted for the MIDI soundtrack to the original DOOM.
posted by atoxyl at 12:25 PM on December 9, 2014

Ephelump Jockey: "So you'll hear this overinflated shit about how great a musician was, what a nice guy, what a paragon, etc. etc."

One of my favourite stories came from Sebastian Bach remembering Dimebag:
"Dimebag was also one of the most of the professional persons in the business. Yes he could out drink you under the table and into the gutter, but he also firmly believed that there was a time and a place for everything. We were all doing all sorts of shit back then, but I can remember Dimebag pulling me aside somewhere saying, dude, you 'wake & bake' don't ya? C'mon, I know ya do. I used to do that shit myself. Have a bong right next to the bed, and hit that shit as soon as I fucking woke up. But I learned you cannot do that shit dude! For real! You get a fax or a phone call or something and you are too high to deal with that shit!! That shit is not good dude!!' The fact that he would pull a friend of his aside to try and help them if he thought they needed it was a testament to the fact that Dimebag cared about others. You hear a lot about how much the man loved to party, but I also remember him being strict about putting things in their proper place. Having his shit together at all times was ultimately way more important to Dimebag than just being shitfaced 24/7. The man could not create the music he did or put on the shows he did without being at the top of his game at all times, which Dimebag always was.
The whole thing is worth reading.
posted by vanar sena at 2:36 PM on December 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

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