Visit Revolver's shop to pick up the new Vulgar Display of Power graphic novel and vinyl reissue — both with exclusive cover art — as well as the badass resin statue. Order yours while they last!
For 30 years, Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power has stood as one of heavy metal's greatest albums. But now, for its tricennial celebration, it's also become something else entirely: a graphic novel, and a star-studded one at that. Z2 Comic's new Vulgar adaptation features a murderer's row of famous Pantera fans each creating their own visual interpretation of a different song from the 11-track opus, inspired by the lyrics and music. Contributors include Burton C. Bell (Fear Factory, Ascension of the Watchers), Eric Peterson (Testament), Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die), Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and Life of Agony's Alan Robert, the last of whom created the alternate cover artwork that adorns Revolver's exclusive hardcover edition. We talked to the LOA bassist and visual artist — who is particularly known for his horror-themed coloring book series, The Beauty of Horror — about the story behind the pugilistic piece and his deep connection to Pantera and Vulgar.
WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU HEARD PANTERA'S VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER? WHAT DID YOU THINK?
I was already a Pantera fan by the time Vulgar Display of Power hit record stores in '92, so I remember being really excited for that album to drop. I got hooked on them in 1991 from a Monsters of Rock VHS tape I had. They performed "Primal Concrete Sledge" live in Moscow in front of, like, a gazillion people. It made a big impact on me. I think I bought Vulgar at my local Brooklyn shop Zig Zag Records, where I used to pick up all of my picture discs and stuff like that. When I got home, I immediately cranked it up on my stereo and it shook the windows. As soon as "Mouth for War" kicked in on my speakers, I was absolutely blown the fuck away by the wall of sound and crushing riffs. Terry Date's production was huge and the intensity from the band was just ridiculous. There's so many groundbreaking songs on there, one right after the other ... "Walk," "A New Level," "Fucking Hostile" ... I mean, that album was like a friggin' freight train! I remember being floored by it.
DID YOU EVER SEE THE BAND LIVE IN THAT ERA?
I'm sure I did, but the one concert I distinctly remember seeing them at back then was when our friends Type O Negative opened up for them at Nassau Coliseum. I think it was, like, '94 or '95 and I remember that show specifically because it was the very first time I was backstage at that venue, so it was kind of a big deal for me. As a kid, I had seen so many classic concerts in that place watching the big rock shows from the audience ... you know, everyone from Metallica, Kiss and Ozzy, to Roger Waters and Billy Joel on their early records. So, anyway, the night that Pantera played The Coliseum, I remember that as soon as they took the stage, the fans in the upper decks erupted and completely lost their shit. The stands emptied out onto the general admission floor! They climbed down, hopped over the railings and threw their beers into the air. In the blink of an eye, massive, wild pits broke out everywhere! The place went bananas and it was so awesome to see. Pantera basically took a sterile arena setting and transformed it into a giant sweaty club show. I can't think of many bands that could create that type of atmosphere in an arena, but those guys were the absolute masters of it.
IS VULGAR AN ALBUM THAT YOU STILL GO BACK TO? DOES IT MEAN SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO YOU NOW?
The record sounds just as great to me all these years later, and I've definitely been cranking it a lot lately while drawing this graphic novel cover art and other merchandise I've been working on for the band. Hearing it always brings me back to my childhood in a lot of ways, because back in the day I'd listen to that album constantly on repeat. It's by far my favorite Pantera record ... It was such an amazing time for them. It also means something special to me now, because Life of Agony was able to play with Pantera a few times over the years and get to know the guys and hang out as people. They were always super cool with us and completely down to earth. I'm grateful to have been able to spend some time with Dime and Vinnie, who are so missed by everyone. Most recently, a few years before COVID, I did a horror convention for Beauty of Horror in Massachusetts, and I got a chance to catch up with Philip and it was great to see him.
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU WERE APPROACHED TO CREATE THIS COVER ART?
I was honored, of course! I'm a longtime fan, so what a fantastic opportunity to be a small part of their history. The cool thing was I had already been illustrating the band members for some other Vulgar-era merchandise, like lithographs and other items, so by working closely with their management, I was already pretty familiar with what they liked stylistically. Josh at Z2 and I have kept in touch over the years, always looking for projects to collaborate on, and this one worked out perfectly. Like I said, I'm a huge Pantera fan and I had already been drawing them, and secondly, it was great timing, because I had just finished my latest Beauty of Horror book — I'm up to volume 6 now! — which usually takes many months of my time to draw. The creation of the Pantera cover went really smoothly, too. My sketch got approved right away. They dug the concept I put together of the band smashing through a concrete wall, and I think the whole piece probably took only a few days to complete from start to finish. It was a ton of fun to illustrate, and you should know that lots of Pantera was cranked in the process! I'm grateful to be able to help pay tribute in my small way to the legends that they are.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT COMING UP WITH THE CONCEPT?
Conceptually, they left it pretty open for me, so that was very cool — they gave me a lot of freedom to get creative. They wanted something that was visually tied to the album art in some way, and since Vulgar had that great punch image on the front, I kinda wanted to show where that punch might've come from ... you know, like, who threw the punch? That was the original idea. But, as I started sketching I also wanted to drive home the "power" part of the title ... So that's why I brought in the broken wall and flying rocks elements. And by adding the fiery color scheme to it, the dynamics really popped. I played with light and shadow a lot to find the right balance and contrast.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT GETTING THE ARTWORK RIGHT?
The toughest part is always getting the likenesses just right. Sometimes, if even just a few small lines are slightly off, it can change the way the faces feel. The band members also needed to look the way they looked during that era, so that was top of mind when putting this all together. Along the way, I also changed the perspective of Philip's outstretched fist, so that it really felt like it was jumping off the page. That took some extra time, fine-tuning the exaggerated pose.
AS YOU MENTIONED, YOU RECENTLY ALSO CREATED A DIFFERENT PIECE OF VULGAR 30TH ANNIVERSARY ARTWORK FOR A BUNCH OF PANTERA MERCH. WAS IT AN EXTRA CHALLENGE TO DO SOMETHING DISTINCT FROM THAT?
All of these projects are challenging, but that's what I like about them. I feel like with every piece I illustrate or design, I learn a little more. That experience helps me grow as an artist. It's a very healthy thing. I've been drawing comics professionally since 2009, but long before that, I had worked on merchandise for a lot of bands over the years. Everyone from 3 Doors Down, Shinedown, Type O Negative, Biohazard and, obviously, Life of Agony to, most recently, some artwork for the mighty Black Sabbath! I'm really proud of how the Vulgar Display of Power 30th anniversary lithograph turned out. It took a couple of weeks to really get all the details right on that one, but it was totally worth it. I actually have it framed on my wall, autographed by Philip.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SONG ON VULGAR?
That's a tough one, because I have a few favorites on there. "Walk" definitely has their most iconic and recognizable riff. It's undeniable. There's no way in hell you ain't banging your head to it when that riff comes on. That being said, "This Love" is also way up there for me ... the verses are so melodic and haunting, and when the chorus riff kicks in, it's just great. The dynamics in that song are top notch and Dime's lead is awesome, too. The ending riff is so fucking brutal, it's ridiculous. "Fucking Hostile," "Mouth For War" and "A New Level" are all bangers ... It's hard to narrow it down to just one.