This story was originally published in 2012.
In 1997, Pantera put out their live album, Official Live: 101 Proof, a crushing testament to their power onstage in their prime. Much of it, according to drummer Vinnie Paul, was recorded during the Far Beyond Driven touring when, he says, "things were still killing" — and the band continued to tour and tour. "They were all pretty much the same way, but Dime especially," longtime Pantera producer Terry Date attests. "It was his No. 1 passion to wake up every day and play live, or play in the studio." For his part, Date wasn't interested in producing 2000's Reinventing the Steel — not because he felt that the band was on its last legs but simply because his liver couldn't take it anymore.
"I'm older than they are, and I just couldn't keep up," the producer says with a laugh. "With those guys, the Black Tooth [the band's signature drink — a shot of Crown Royal with a splash of Coke] is 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 felt it was time to bow out, because Darrell and Vinnie Paul wanted to take the reigns themselves, anyway. Co-produced by the Abbott brothers with Sterling Winfield at Darrell's new home studio, Reinventing the Steel more than lived up to the pulverizing standards set by their previous records as is apparent from standout tracks like "Revolution Is My Name," "Yesterday Don't Mean Shit," and "Goddamn Electric," a tribute to the power of heavy metal itself featuring a guest solo by Slayer's Kerry King. "That album's one of my favorites — that and Vulgar," Rex Brown says. Both Paul and singer Phil Anselmo, too, have much love for Reinventing the Steel, not just because of the quality of the music but also because the experience of making the album was so much more positive than that for Trendkill.
"I felt like things had turned a corner," Paul says, looking back on Reinventing the Steel. "I felt like Phil had discovered some of these demons and maybe had some people around him that wanted to help instead of taking the other direction. We kind of wanted to go back and really grab some of the things that people liked the most about Vulgar and Cowboys, and Phil's exact words were that he wanted to make a record that was 'more anthemic,' lyrically. More stuff that people could sing along to. Dime spent a lot of time in the studio with Phil working with him on his vocal arrangements and melodies."
"I had kind of cleaned my act up," Anselmo says. "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 all fucked up constantly. It was a breath of fresh air. I guess I was dealing with the pain in a better way at the time, and if I was using, it was minimal and very spotty. But there was a renewed bit of brotherhood. There was a renewed sense of enjoyment with the songwriting. I spent a lot of time at Dimebag's house on the particular run. I remember his mother passed away, when we were doing that record, from cancer. I was a pallbearer at the funeral. So it was a bonding thing as well. Somebody's mother passes and it's a big thing. Especially her. She was a big part of their lives, in my life, and in Rex's life. It was a heavy deal. I was there for it. I love that record."
Unfortunately, the good vibes wouldn't last. To the contrary, bad luck seemed to follow Pantera after the album's release. First, the band had to cancel a whole slew of U.S. dates in 2000 after Anselmo broke two ribs in a freak accident when he slipped and fell while working on the House of Shock, the Halloween haunted house he co-founded in New Orleans. Then, right as Pantera were convening in Dublin to begin a European tour, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred. After canceling the tour, the Abbotts retreated to Arlington, and Anselmo began work on the second Down album, Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow, along with Brown, who had joined the band in 1999. "Philip and I had written a whole bunch of stuff for the Down record," Brown says. "We just wanted to get the Down record out and play some shows with it. And I really enjoyed making that record, but I didn't know then what the consequences would be. I didn't know the impact that Down would have on the other two guys. And I never thought in a million years that we wouldn't get back together."
I'LL CAST A SHADOW
Though it would be unfair to blame Pantera's demise directly on Down, it's clear that the project — as well as Anselmo's many other projects, like Superjoint Ritual — became another snowball in the avalanche of bad feeling that eventually overwhelmed the band. Certainly, the lack of direct communication between the Abbotts and Anselmo, who had fallen back into heavy drug-use after the relative clarity of the Reinventing the Steel sessions, also had something to do with it, as did the "he said/they said" salvos that were fired back and forth between the two camps — with Brown caught in the middle — via interviews in magazines including Revolver.
"Really, it was just a complete lack of communication [within Pantera], and the wrong things being said at the wrong time," offers Pantera's manager Kim Zide-Davis. "Philip doesn't have a real understanding that he needs to be careful of who he says what to, and how people can misconstrue what he's saying. It got to the point where I'd come into the office and Phil was out on tour with Down or Superjoint Ritual and had just said something else. Honestly, it was gut-wrenching.
"I spent the better part of the last three years [with Pantera] working with them on and off, trying to keep them from disintegrating. The brothers were ready to go, and so was Rex. But Philip was beyond anybody's control."
"There never was an official breakup of the band," Paul says. "It never officially broke up. When we finished the last tour that we did, in 2001, we really didn't talk to each other for about a year, and then Phil's Superjoint thing is going on full blast, then he gets this Down thing, and he goes out on Ozzfest and people from the crowd are obviously going to yell, 'Pantera!' and he would make all these 'Fuck Pantera' speeches. 'That band is dead.' We're like, Where the fuck did this come from? News to me. That's really how the whole thing started. We tried to reach out to the dude. Dime reached out to the dude several times personally. After about a year and eight months or whatever, me and Dime just said, 'You know what? I guess we don't have a band anymore, man. We better get on start doing something else if we want to keep rock and rolling. I got all these cool new riffs.' And that's how Damageplan came about."
"I remember hearing the news that they were going to start this band Damageplan," Anselmo says. "I thought maybe it was this side thing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Pantera was done for. I remember calling Vince and he kept expressing how upset Dimebag was with me, so I said, 'Fuck, man, I got to call this guy.' Sure enough, he's a little aggravated with me, and I ask him, 'Well, what's up with this Damageplan thing?' And he said, 'Well, that's the direction we're heading, man.' So I said, 'Come on, man. Dude, we can keep Pantera going.' I guess he wasn't having any of it. Can't blame him. In hindsight, I totally understand where they're coming from. I get it, man."
"I regret the things I said," Anselmo admits of his anti-Pantera, anti-Abbott brothers comments onstage and in interviews during that period. "But, dude, I could not even tell you what I said. I have no memory of the Superjoint days. It's all so vague. I was annihilated. I was consumed with pain. I was consumed with what comes with pain, addiction... Methadone, heroin, Soma, Xanax, this huge cocktail of fucking pills. I was an animal, a wounded animal. I was striking out at anyone and, simply put, you know how they say you hurt the ones you love the most? It definitely applies. I hurt my entire family. I hurt my best friends. I hurt my band because I was hurting and what you feel is what you put out. So that's the situation I was in, and, yes, it's a fucking regret."
While Pantera may not have ever officially broken up, with the premature death of Dimebag Darrell so died the band he and his brother had founded. Which doesn't prevent pretty much any Pantera fan from periodically wondering whether Pantera would have reunited if Darrell was still alive.
"That's an impossible question to answer because it won't ever happen," Paul says. "But the bottom line is when we went off and did the Damageplan adventure, we had closed the book on Pantera. We were like, We've given everything we've got to this. If this guy's going to shit on us like this, and this is the kind of respect we get, then we're done with it. We've got millions of fans, they're confused, and they don't know what the fuck's going on. This whole deal is fucking not right, man. Without getting on a complete personal level, there was a lot of fucked-up shit that was done to us. We weren't interested in carrying on. People that are strung out on drugs and that kind of shit leave a fucking trail of destruction. They don't even realize all the fucking hearts they've broken, all the lives they've ruined, all the devastation. Then if they happen to make it at the end of the day and somehow come to and come clear, they expect everyone to give them a big hug and say, 'Man, glad you made it, bro.' Maybe some people can get passed that, but we were pretty burned up with it and had called it a day and moved on."
For his part, Anselmo likes to think that the bandmates could have made amends. "Not to get too into fantasyland," he says, "but if Dimebag was still alive, believe me, I think that after my back surgery [in 2005] and getting better all around, physically, mentally — it all goes hand-in-hand — I think that we would have reunited, for sure. And done many things, tour, new records, the whole thing, but I guess it's just not to be. I think there would have been at least some forgiveness, some understanding, and some healing. I really do."
Brown, too, imagines a similar scenario. "Maybe somewhere down the road, we would've smoothed stuff out — the four of us getting together in a room and beating the shit out of each other or whatever," he says. "We can't do that now. All that we can do now is move on and do the best we can and try to preserve the legacy that we built, and at least keep Dime's musical legacy alive."
Dime's musical legacy does indeed live on. With the exception of the band's self-released, first four records, Pantera's albums are still in print — Cowboys from Hell was remastered and reissued in an elaborate three-disc edition in 2010, and Vulgar has gotten similar re-release treatment in 2012. And unlike so many metal records from the same era — the music still sounds remarkably relevant. That it hasn't dated is certainly a testament to the Pantera's musicianship as well as to the band's heart.
"We won't ever see a guitar player with that kind of creativity and that kind of passion for his instrument for a long, long time, if ever," Date reflects. "There have been very, very few in history, and he was one of them. When you combine that creativity and passion with the way that he communicated with his brother, and the way the rest of them all clicked, the chemistry between them was special. It's so rare to have that combination of all those elements coming together, and I think their legacy is that they did it the way it's supposed to be done. They believed in every single drop of what they did."