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"That album's one of my favorites — that and Vulgar [Display of Power]," Rex Brown enthused to us in 2005; the record of which he was speaking is Reinventing the Steel, Pantera's swansong and an LP that Brown's former bandmates Phil Anselmo and Vinnie Paul also look back on fondly. By all accounts, the LP marked a renewed creative spark and sense of brotherhood within the group following a long, dark period during which Anselmo's drug abuse fractured the band and marred their onstage performance and offstage relationship with fans.
"I had kind of cleaned my act up," Anselmo said in 2005, reminiscing on Reinventing the Steel. "I had a new fire lit under my ass. Dimebag and I were very close on this one. I showed up for the jam sessions, and I think they were impressed with how I was. I wasn't fucked up all the time. It was breath of fresh air."
"I felt like things had turned a corner," Paul recalled to Revolver. "We kind of wanted to go back and really grab some of those things that people liked the most about Vulgar and Cowboys [From Hell], and Phil's exact words were that he wanted to make a record that was 'more anthemic,' lyrically."
That impulse played out in roar-along anthems such as "Goddamn Electric," "Yesterday Don't Mean Shit" and "Revolution Is My Name," but sadly Reinventing the Steel would prove to be Pantera's last album. The tour in support of the LP was doomed as, first, Anselmo broke two ribs in a freak accident while working at the House of Shock haunted house in New Orleans, and then the 9/11 terrorism attacks led to the cancellation of European dates. The band would never reconvene after that and, following Dimebag's senseless murder in 2004, was done forever. At least they left us with one final great album.
Here, in celebration of that record, are five things you likely don't know about Reinventing the Steel.
1. The members of Pantera each came into the Reinventing the Steel writing sessions with their five favorite songs from past albums for group inspiration
Pantera actively looked back at their best work to date as a jumping-off point for the new album. "We chose our five favorite songs from each album we had done and picked apart what we liked about them," Rex Brown said, looking back on the sessions. "In that regard, Reinventing the Steel was kind of a rebirth for us. Everyone came to the table with what they thought was cool and what they wanted to do." No word, unfortunately, on which songs each guy brought to the table.
2. Kerry King recorded his outro solo to "Goddamn Electric" in an Ozzfest bathroom
"Goddamn Electric" is Pantera's love song to heavy metal, and as such, it gives a much deserved salute to one of the band's own favorite groups via the line, "Your trust is in whiskey and weed and Slayer." "Phil was calling out all these bands that stuck true to their guns," Dimebag explained to Guitar World in 2000. "They're our kind of guys."
So when Darrell found out, just as Pantera were getting ready to record the song, that Slayer would be rolling through Dallas on Ozzfest, he knew he had to get his buddy Kerry King to lay down a solo. "We brought a DA-88, a tape with a rough stereo mix of the whole tune on it, an SM-58 and a mic cord," he recalled. "I caught Kerry before he went onstage. He was warming up, and I said, 'Do you want to play on this tune? We rag on Slayer.'" King agreed and recorded his contribution almost immediately after walking offstage following Slayer's set. "The first thing Kerry played was awesome," Dimebag enthused. "You can hear me at the end of the take yelling, 'Don't touch that! Fuck, that's hot!' He recorded it right there on the spot, backstage at Starplex in Dallas, in a bathroom. Kerry packed his shit up and fuckin' flew somewhere else and jammed some more."
3. Producer Terry Date, who helmed Cowboys From Hell, Vulgar Display of Power, Far Beyond Driven and The Great Southern Trendkill wasn't interested in producing the album — not because he'd lost any love for Pantera, but because his liver couldn't handle it
"I was older than they are, and I just couldn't keep up," Date told Revolver in 2005 of his decision not to man the boards for Reinventing the Steel. "With those guys, the Black Tooth [the band's signature drink — a shot of Crown Royal with a splash of Coke] was a regular ritual. Every 20 minutes or so, you all gotta stand in a circle and down it. As soon as everyone's head went back, I'd throw it over my shoulder. But Darrell would see that, and he'd make me do a double. It was like, 'Take your medicine now, or you're going to be a lot sicker later on!'"
It was just as well that Date bowed out, however, because Dimebag and Vinnie wanted to take the reigns themselves. They did so by coproducing Reinventing the Steel with Sterling Winfield at Darrell's home studio, which he built in 1996 and where The Great Southern Trendkill was also recorded. "It's just a little box," Dime said of the studio to Guitar World. "It was my original dream to buy a house that had an extra barn or something that I could renovate so I could have a room to jam in with friends and with the band. I just wanted to keep my chops up while we had some down time. Vinnie dragged all the live recording gear into my practice room one night. We started doing demos, and they came out pretty good. The next thing I knew, I had my carpenter down there."
Recording at Darrell's house also meant that the band members ended up hanging out a lot more than they might have otherwise, and it helped instill the sense of renewed camaraderie that marked the Reinventing the Steel sessions. "Instead of driving an hour to Dallas to go to a studio and sitting there, trying to get pumped up again after driving, it's so much cooler to have everybody come to my house," Dime enthused. "There was renewed bit of brotherhood," Anselmo recalled to Revolver. "There was a renewed sense of enjoyment with the songwriting. I spent a lot of time at Dimebag's house on the particular run."
4. Unlike on previous albums, Pantera laid down two B-sides during the recording of Reinventing the Steel
Pantera were not ones for B-sides and bonus cuts; the band trimmed the fat assiduously, and as a general rule, if it wasn't good enough for an album, it wasn't worth recording. Darrell underscored this philosophy to Guitar World in 2000 when speaking about Reinventing the Steel: "This album is only 10 songs, but they're all good," he said. "It's not 29, 17 or 15 songs, with just two good songs on it. We're old school. We cut the fat off of everything. There ain't one ounce of fat on this record. It's 10 solid ass-kickers."
That said, the band did uncharacteristically lay down two B-sides: "Avoid the Light," which appeared on the Dracula 2000 soundtrack, and "Immortally Insane," which were released on the "Revolution Is My Name" single as well as on the soundtracks to Heavy Metal 2000 and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
5. Pantera brought out so much pyro on the Reinventing the Steel tour that the flames burned the hairs on Vinnie Paul's arms while he was drumming
As anyone who was lucky enough to catch the band at one of their final shows, the Texan firebrands brought out near-Rammstein levels of pyro on the Reinventing the Steel tour, including a massive steel Pantera backdrop that was set aflame every night. "Vince sits right in the middle of all the hellfire and he gets quite warm, as he will attest to," one of the group's pyro technicians says in the video below, which sees Vinnie Paul giving viewers a tour of the band's incendiary stage setup. And the drummer does indeed attest to the face-melting temperatures on the drum stool, which brought with them some particular risks for the hirsute Paul. "It gets hot enough that the hairs on my arms have been burnt," he revealed.