After releasing a record as ferocious and uncompromising as their 1992 masterpiece, Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera could have gone one of two ways: tone things down and craft a more accessible album, à la Metallica's "Black Album," or try to go even heavier. But for the band, there really was no choice when it came to making their follow-up, Far Beyond Driven.
"Everybody expected us to write the 'sell-out' record and kind of go the Metallica route, with a more commercial sound," former Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul says. "That made us want to approach it even more from the other side of the spectrum and be even more extreme. That's where the title came from. We had the name before we even started working on the record."
Indeed, Pantera's 1994 release, Far Beyond Driven, is an even more extreme Vulgar Display of Power. "Five Minutes Alone," "Strength Beyond Strength," and "I'm Broken" upped the ante on the muscular fury of the band's earlier songs. Then there were more daring tracks, including "Becoming" with its almost industrial-sounding whammy pedal squeals, and the harrowing, lunging, half-spoken "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills."
The album was destined to be a metal classic, but when it arrived March 22, 1994, Far Beyond Driven came as a shock to the central nervous system of the music scene at large; by the following week, the record had debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, ahead of Bonnie Raitt's new record, Longing in Their Hearts, and Ace of Base's The Sign, which had been at the top the week before. "All of a sudden the media was going, 'Who's this Pantera band?'" Paul recalls.
To celebrate the landmark album, Revolver rounded up the living members of Pantera—Paul, vocalist Phil Anselmo, and bassist Rex Brown—along with producer Terry Date, to discuss why Far Beyond Driven is so uncompromisingly heavy, the pains of its birth, and the tour that followed.
VINNIE PAUL We pushed ourselves on every record, but Vulgar had such a great reaction. It was the record that established Pantera, so we felt like we had to take our music to another level.
PHIL ANSELMO When we were touring Vulgar Display of Power, we knew that Far Beyond Driven had to be a legacy-defining type thing. Everybody was very much on board with going against the grain.
TERRY DATE It was a really lofty goal to make this record heavier and more powerful than Vulgar Display of Power, which was an incredibly heavy record. But they pulled it off without losing their high level of musicality.
PAUL It was a hard record to make because we all pushed each other so much. And then Terry was there to push us even further. I came up with drum parts that I never thought I'd come up with, because it came from this intense pressure. Terry would say, "Come on, gimme something else. Do something that you've never done." And I'd go, "Geez, man. Give me 30 minutes to myself to figure something out." And then I'd come back and try to bang out something completely unique.
REX BROWN We were listening to a lot of different shit just to hear what going on. One day, I went with Terry to a record store. We picked up Nirvana's In Utero, whatever the fuck it's called, and listened to that and went, "Fuck. If that's what everybody's listening to, we don't way any part of that shit, at all." No thank you. Not into it. Heart-shaped boxes and shit. Nope. Can't do it.
ANSELMO Pantera always strived to capture what we were live, and that was hard because we were super-intense onstage. But each record captured that vibe better. We all wanted a sneering ugliness that would make people drop whatever they were doing.
BROWN We had a huge advance for Far Beyond Driven. We could have done the recording in fucking Maui if we wanted—built a house and done anything we wanted. Instead, we spent a long time working with Terry in Nashville and Dallas because it had to be perfect.
PAUL We had done our other records at Pantego Sound Studio, which was my the studio my dad [Jerry Abbott] owned in Texas. He sold that and opened up a place in Nashville. We were still living in Dallas, so we would go to Nashville for two, three weeks at a time. We took three trips and finished in six weeks.
DATE Although we were in a different studio, it was the same gear and the room was set up the same as Pantego. So our recording process didn't change. And, really, the intent and direction of the sound was pretty much the same. The main difference is that we were all living in hotels together instead of them living at home. So everyone was in the same studio room all the time. It was more of a band effort in that respect.
PAUL We were all working together for a common goal, and that included Phil. When we did Far Beyond Driven, that was the last time we were all on the same page. He was really focused and we all banged it out, man.
The first song we recorded was "Planet Caravan." We had planned to put that on the second Nativity in Black Sabbath covers album. We wanted to get it out of the way so we could focus on being heavy all the way through. After we did it, our label had a problem with the other label that was going to put it out so it never made it to Nativity in Black. But we really liked it, so rather than let it go to waste we decided to put it on our own record.
ANSELMO "Planet Caravan" was my choice to do because it was one of my favorite Black Sabbath songs. And if anyone could pull it off and make it sound authentically reproduced in a personal way, I thought we could do it.
BROWN It came from a place of pure inspiration. Vinnie was playing bongos, I played keyboards and fretless bass, and I think that was a perfect demonstration of what we could do diversity-wise.
PAUL The first song that we wrote specifically for Far Beyond Driven was "25 Years." That set the tone for everything and they just kept coming after that.
ANSELMO I turned the band on to the Melvins second record Ozma and I didn't expect them to like it much because it was very obscure and strange sounding. But right away Vinnie Paul spoke up and said, "Man, that's a pretty awesome drum sound." Not that "25 Years" is stylistically close to the Melvins, but it was kind of Pantera's take on what the Melvins were doing at the time. That was the magic of Pantera: We could digest different elements of heavy metal and aggressive music, and when we would regurgitate it back up, it would come out as something fresh.
I was 25 years old and it was a song about my father. As it says in the lyrics, I whipped a chair right at his fuckin' head and he's lucky I didn't hit him with it. My old man expected too much of me. He was a neglectful motherfucker who didn't pay child support and didn't have time to raise a child. And yet, he was dad, and he thought I was supposed to be there for him through thick and thin. Well, I think he got it very, very clear that particular day that I don't judge family through blood. Family is something that you bring into your life and take into your heart.
PAUL We experimented a lot with a lot of different sounds, and one of the most noticeable is that whammy pedal squeal that Dime used all over "Becoming." The minute that he got that pedal, he was in love with the thing and toyed around with it all the time, driving everyone crazy.
DATE Dime and Vinnie sat side by side working on "Becoming" And when he started that riff with the whammy pedal, I just couldn't believe it. I thought it was one of the coolest riffs I ever heard, especially making use of a piece of gear like that. He took a great riff and made it even better with this pedal. Then Vinnie pulled off that crazy kick drum pattern. I was sitting in the control room going, How is he doing that? Vinnie was like, "Oh, its real easy," and he showed me what he was doing with his feet, and it was two completely different patterns. I was blown away that he could do that so naturally.
BROWN Dime was experimenting with that pedal, which could go up four octaves all at once. So I started playing a five-string bass, which nobody was doing at the time. I was getting into these deep lows, and that really brought the bass a little bit more to the forefront.
PAUL My favorite song on Far Beyond Driven is "5 Minutes Alone." We wrote the song after we were opening for Megadeth and some kid in the fifth row was flipping Phil off and the crowd jumped the kid and beat him up and then his dad ended up threatening to sue us.
ANSELMO We were sued massively and many times throughout our career, but this one lawsuit was absolutely bullshit. The kid claimed I jumped off the stage and beat him up. There were no witnesses to this—it was absolutely fake. But still, being a person of interest in a lawsuit, it was going to cost me money to fucking get myself out of this problem. The fact that I didn't do it and nobody could prove anything really incensed me. This kid's idiot father told our manager on the phone, "Honestly, I could care less about the lawsuit. I just want five minutes alone with that Phil Anselmo." All our manager said to him was, "I doubt you do." And he hung up on him.
PAUL We were on fire pretty much the whole time we were making Far Beyond Driven. We were all having a blast and trying new things.
BROWN Take a song like "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills." That was just an experimental thing we came up with in this studio that evolved into a song. It was just a joke, at first. Then Phil came in with these over-the-top lyrics, and it was funny as fuck.
ANSELMO That song is a true story. I fucked your girlfriend last night. While you snored and drooled, I fucked your love. She called me Daddy. And I called her baby when I smacked her ass. I won't reveal who it was about and I hope he doesn't know, but it was real. It was a different kind of song for us. At that point in time in my life, I was really getting into Nick Cave. He's one of the most imaginative, colorful, one-song-after-the-next, fantastic lyrical geniuses out there.
BROWN After a while, we left Nashville because we wanted to be home where it was more comfortable, so we found Dallas Sound Lab, and it turned out perfect. But it still took another six months to finish the record. There was some heavy partying going on.
ANSELMO Dallas Sound Lab was more comfortable and it was close to home. That's where things started to flow really well for me. There was a point during the recording of Far Beyond Driven where that big Pantera party wasn't fun for me anymore. Things were changing. Things were getting darker. Even before the record came out, I started experiencing a lot of chronic pain in my back.
I didn't understand what the fuck was going on until I had a basic X-ray and it looked like there was a mini-explosion in the bottom of my back. I had a tremendous ruptured disc. There was bone-on-bone scraping because there was no more cartilage left, and I was very, very fucking miserable at the height of our career. I was being torn in several different directions. I was happy for the band and our success. But at the same time, I was constantly questioning, "Am I really enjoying this right now, in so much pain, when every waking moment I'm in agony?" The script had flipped. I wasn't this invincible force anymore. For the first time in my life, I was vulnerable. That was a scary feeling and that's what the song "I'm Broken" is about.
BROWN When everyone at the label heard the record, they lost their shit because it was so good, but it took them a few listens. I think they were expecting something on there to be commercial, and of course, nothing was. But then they realized every song on there was killer.
PAUL We had a brutal album and we knew wanted artwork that matched that viciousness. The label presented us with some ideas and we liked Dean Carr's artwork. He did a cover of a drill going right up a dude's ass. We were all like, "Man, this is exactly where we're at. This is metal up your ass! It was a real fuck you to everything." At first, the label was cool with it. Then about three days later, they said, "We can't put this out. It's not gonna fly. We need another album cover. We'll make it a limited edition, but we need another one." We were fuckin' really pissed off. And then Dean started working on another cover with a drill going into someone's head and that was cool, too. It served the same purpose, but the original one definitely was something that grabbed people's attention immediately.
BROWN The week after the record came out, I walked through an airport and saw USA Today and there was an article that read, "Overnight sensations Pantera have a No. 1 record…" I was like, Overnight my fucking ass! Ten years later, you know?
PAUL I don't think we were surprised when the record came in at No. 1 because we had built a loyal fan base and they all went out and bought the record like we knew they would.
ANSELMO The touring was really a mixed bag for me. The pain was intense, but the thrill was still there much of the time, and when the microphone was in hand and I was onstage, that part of it I enjoyed very much. But during this time, I was drinking an entire bottle of Wild Turkey every night before a show to numb the pain I was experiencing.
PAUL When we went on the road, that's when things started going sideways and the wheels started coming off and people didn't know what other people were doing. Phil had his own bus. Things really started turning into what they turned into in the end.
ANSELMO I felt trapped, man. I felt lost even trying to explain to the guys in my band, who were so used to seeing Superman up onstage, that I was not Superman anymore. I was dying up there. I felt like a trapped animal, honestly. I felt cornered and very confused.
PAUL Phil started isolating himself from the rest of us. It got to the point where we wouldn't see each other until about 20 or 30 minutes before show time. You never knew if he was going to be in a shitty mood or a good mood. You just hoped it was good enough to get through the show. That's truly where some of the shows started lacking. They weren't as good as they used to be, and he would start his rants and go on for 20 minutes while we stood around and looked at him, like, What the fuck are you saying to these people, dude? They want to hear us play some songs, let's play some music.
ANSELMO The words that would come out of my mouth were abrasive. I was lashing out at other bands when I really had no business mentioning other bands during a Pantera show. I was going slowly insane throughout the touring of this record, whether it be from pills, alcohol, or both. There was also stress—a lot of mental stress from carrying around the chronic pain along with the addiction.
PAUL We took out our own crazy production pyro, which included this huge flaming Pantera sign. We never skimped out on that stuff because we wanted our fans to have the best show. We made some money, but we sure could have made a lot more without all this shit around us. [Laughs]
ANSELMO It was never about the money for me. It was much more about the music and I have no problem at all saying we achieved what we set out to do with Far Beyond Driven. We felt a liberation to where it was almost like we could do no wrong. And it definitely has stood the test of time.
PAUL Everybody knows what went down with Pantera in the end—all the dirt and all the shit. But when it was great, it was fuckin' great.