'Vulgar Display of Power': 10 Things You Didn't Know About Pantera's Masterwork | Revolver

'Vulgar Display of Power': 10 Things You Didn't Know About Pantera's Masterwork

Undercover cops, crashed cars, Nine Inch Nails worship and more
pantera-phil-1992-by-john_atashian-web-crop.jpg, John Atashian / Getty Images
Phil Anselmo performing with Pantera, April 26, 1992
photograph by John Atashian / Getty Images

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1992 was a stacked year for heavy music. Grunge and alternative were ruling the roost with standout releases from Alice in Chains (Dirt), Ministry (Psalm 69), Rage Against the Machine (self-titled) and Faith No More (Angel Dust) while heavy-metal icons including Megadeth and Iron Maiden dropped fire, too (Countdown to Extinction and Fear of the Dark, respectively). But arguably the year's most important and hard-hitting heavy release was by rising Texas stars Pantera — who unleashed their genre-defining groove-metal magnum opus Vulgar Display of Power.

Pantera's sixth album — and second major-label release after Cowboys From Hell — shook the foundations of the metal world when it hit on February 25th, thanks to crushers like "Mouth for War," "Walk," "A New Level," "Fucking Hostile" and "This Love."

"Vulgar Display of Power was the absolute stripping away of all the bullshit," vocalist Philip Anselmo explained to Revolver, "and letting everything come out emotionally and going for the money riff right off the bat — it truly encapsulated the Pantera sound ..."

Vulgar was both a critical and commercial success. It was their first album to crack the Top 50 on the Billboard 200 (it would spend a total of 79 weeks on the chart), and to date it's their best-selling release (having earned double-platinum status in the U.S.).

Vulgar's sound — Anselmo's dynamic, furious vocals (and emotionally gutting lyrics), Dimebag Darrell's masterful guitar work and the impossibly tight rhythm section of bassist Rex Brown and drummer Vinnie Paul — influenced multiple generations of players, everyone from Slipknot and Lamb of God to Avenged Sevenfold and Power Trip. Judas Priest's Rob Halford praised it as "very, very important record." Zakk Wylde called it "the most brutal thing." Anthrax's Scott Ian marveled at Vulgar's "quantum leap," which Vulgar tourmate Rob Zombie (who also toured with Pantera on their previous Cowboys From Hell cycle) witnessed up close.

"[White Zombie] went out with them again on Vulgar, they had really defined who they were," he told Revolver. "They clicked and just had the magic of the four people together. Rex, Darrell, and Vinnie seemed like they wanted to be Van Halen, and Phil wanted to be Henry Rollins. It was such a weird contrast of stage persona and I think that's why it was so great."

"When you slice it all up," Paul told Revolver"Vulgar was the most cohesive and unified Pantera ever was."

Pantera didn't just achieve new levels of unity on Vulgar Display of Power — they also established themselves as a creative, combustible force of nature. Below, we present 10 things you may not know about their game-changing record, and the circumstances around its creation.

1. Metallica's hard-rock leaning "Black Album" kinda bummed Pantera out — but it also inspired them to write a "masterpiece"
In August 1991, Metallica dropped their behemoth self-titled LP. The record — better known as the "Black Album" — earned them global superstar status, but also left some OG metalhead fans scratching their heads at what seemed like a sell-out musical move from their thrash heroes. Pantera were among the latter. The Texas band was working on the material that would become Vulgar Display of Power when they first heard the Black Album, and Pantera saw Metallica's departure from "total metal" as an opportunity for them to stake a claim for a place among metal's ruling class.

"Around that time, Metallica came out with the Black Album. We listened to it and went, 'Oh, no!'" Brown told Revolver in 2012. "I heard the first single and it didn't sound like Metallica at all. We just went, 'Oh, Jesus Christ. Man, we gotta do something heavier than that. We gotta blow some people's minds!' Now I listen to the Black Album and I think it's fuckin' great, but back then we were young, dumb, and full of cum, and we went, 'Fuck that, let's make a masterpiece!' In terms of heaviness, it seemed to us like the Black Album created a big, huge fucking gap to fill."

"Although it was a great record, Metallica had moved away from being a total metal band," added Paul. "I love those guys, but I remember thinking, 'Wow, we can step up to the plate and move up with the likes of Megadeth and Anthrax …'

2. Brown was so broke during the Vulgar sessions that his main transportation was a bicycle — and he lived on beer and sandwich handouts from the local convenience store
Vulgar was Pantera's second major-label album, after 1990's Cowboys From Hell, and it would eventually become the band's best-selling record. But at the time of its recording, they most definitely weren't flush with cash when they commenced sessions at Pantego Sound — the Pantego, Texas studio owned and operated by Dimebag and Paul's father, Jerry Abbott.

"We went right into Pantego [Sound] studios … maybe a month after doing 250 dates for Cowboys with hardly any breaks at all," recalled Brown. "Philip and I found these really cheap loft apartments that were right across from the studio. We made this little hole in the fence so we could walk right from our apartments to the studio. [Dimebag's longtime partner] Rita [Haney] had one of these loft apartments, too, and Darrell and Vinnie were still at their mom's house, but they had vehicles. Me and Phil were still broke, so I bought myself a bike. I'd ride up to this place that was like a 7-11. We knew a guy that worked there who would leave us beer and sandwiches behind the back of the place so at least we had something to eat when we were working."

3. Pantera blew off steam by playing "Chicken Brake" with producer Terry Date's rental car
For the most part the sessions at Pantego with producer Terry Date were all business, and the musicians intensely focused on the task at hand. But a work hard/play hard model was in full effect — and when they clocked out things got a little wild.

"When we finished doing the music then it was our turn to go out and party," Paul recalled. "We used to play this game called Chicken Brake where you suddenly grab the fuckin' emergency brake and the whole car would come to a screeching halt. One night we took Terry's rental car and we were hauling ass down the highway in the pouring rain and all of a sudden Rex thinks it would be funny to reach over and hit the chicken brake. I was doing, like, 60 miles per hour, and when he hit it the car went into a 360 spin, and spun and spun and spun, and then it just came to a stop in the middle of the highway. We both just looked at each other pale white and went, 'OK, that didn't happen,' and kept going.

"Later that night, we went out for drinks, and we were really ripped when we got back. We went through this neighborhood and ran over every fuckin' mailbox. I don't know how we didn't go to jail or blow the radiator out, but we pulled up in front of the studio. And Terry comes running out and sees the headlights on his car all busted out, the fucking front end was all bashed in. There was steam coming off the motor. And he never yelled at us like he did that night. He's going, 'Man, I'm gonna have to pay for this and the fuckin' label's gonna fire me.' And we were like, 'Dude, just chill. We'll take care of it. We'll make enough money on this record to pay for it.'"

4. Undercover cops tried to infiltrate the recording sessions
Luckily, nobody was harmed — or arrested — during Paul and Brown's vehicular escapades. But Pantera did attract some unwanted attention from Texas law enforcement for another after-hours studio game called "Twist and Hurl."

"You'd drink one of these little bottles of beer and guzzle it until you finished it and then you had to spin and throw it at this stop sign and if you hit it you won," Paul told Revolver of their appropriately titled drinking game "Twist and Hurl." "We'd play that just about every night. We'd drink tons of these little beers so we had ammunition. One night while we were playing, these flashlights popped up through the trees and there were five cops there ready to arrest us. I don't know how we talked our way out of it."

"The cops were always coming by and telling us to keep the music down and trying to bust us for something, but they weren't too smart about it," Paul continued. "This cop would come down during the day with his cop outfit on. And then one night he came back in plainclothes, and said, 'Hey, lemme hear what you guys are doing. Oh, and you wanna go smoke some dope, man?' And we would go, 'No, man' because we knew he was an undercover cop."

5. Pantera paused Vulgar's recording sessions to play a once-in-a-lifetime show at Moscow's Monsters of Rock festival — an experience that gave them "a new level of confidence" when they eventually returned to the studio
In September 1991, two months into recording Vulgar, Pantera got a call from their A&R rep, Mark Ross, with an offer they couldn't refuse: opening for Metallica and AC/DC at the Monsters of Rock festival in Moscow. The next thing they knew they were in Russia playing before 500,000 screaming fans — a confidence-boosting experience that added "swagger" to the remaining Vulgar sessions.

"We had been off the road and in the studio, so we were kinda worried that our chops might not be there," Paul recalled to Revolver. "It ended up being the most amazing thing ever. It was the Monsters of Rock festival and it was the first time there had been a Western concert over there.

"We were as good as anybody that played that day, and the crowd treated us like Led Zeppelin even though most of them had never heard of us. ... I was walking around Red Square, and I bought a whole Russian army outfit from some dude for $10. Rubles were worth nothing. It was ridiculous how poor and corrupt and wrecked the whole country was. They gave us a tent to stay in and a half a bottle of tequila, and that's all we got that day, and that was fine with us. We were just so happy just to be there."

"That was a big boost and it gave us a taste of where we wanted to be," Brown added. "... And it was a short set, but I remember coming back and then we got back into the studio ready to rage."

"Knowing that we had really fuckin' jammed to a bunch of people who had never heard of us before definitely put a bit more swagger in our step," Anselmo said. "We flew back home and went back in the studio and the music just bled out of us. At the time, I was on the most positive kicks I've ever been on. When I wrote lyrics like 'a new level of confidence,' it was fuckin' true, man."

6. Nine Inch Nails inspired the distorted vocals on "Fucking Hostile"
Throughout the Nineties, Dimebag Darrell was often seen sporting a classic Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. Not surprisingly, it wasn't just a fashion choice. Producer Terry Date recalls that the Pantera guitarist was a fan of Trent Reznor's boundary-pushing sounds — and Vulgar's fiery "Fucking Hostile" was directly influenced by NIN's 1989 banger "Head Like a Hole."

"They knew what kind of sounds they wanted and we always tried to listen for other things that were new and unique that we could do, too," Date told Revolver. "The distorted vocals on 'Fucking Hostile,' was inspired by Nine Inch Nails' 'Head Like a Hole.' We were messing around with different techniques to get the right distorted sound, and Dime goes, 'Oh, wait a minute. I gotta go back to my house. I got the perfect thing.' He comes back with this old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. And he says, 'Just run the mic through this and turn the preamp up really high. It distorts really great.' So that's what we used for that vocal. When we were doing that vocal, Vinnie and Dime's dad came running into the control room. And he goes, 'You can't record a vocal like that! They'll never master it.'"

7. Philip Anselmo unconsciously stole a line from The Exorcist for Vulgar Display of Power's title
Philip Anselmo's love of horror is a well-known fact. He's been an aficionado of scary, gory movies for decades — and is so well steeped in the genre that sometimes it manifests in his life without him knowing it. Such is the case with the title Vulgar Display of Power, which takes its name from a line in The Exorcist.

"The phrase Vulgar Display of Power jumped out at me, and where it came from didn't hit me until later," Anselmo explained to Revolver. "And then I was like, 'Oh, it's from The Exorcist!' Nice line there, William Peter Blatty [who wrote the novel and screenplay]."

8. Dimebag's signature drink, Black Tooth Grin, was invented during the Vulgar tour supporting Megadeth and inspired by Countdown to Extinction single "Sweating Bullets"
In fall 1992, Megadeth tapped Pantera to open for their European run. The hard-partying Texans were excited to spread their Vulgar message across the continent with one of their heroes. But at the time bandleader Dave Mustaine was going through his own "anti-drinking crusade," recalled Anselmo. The sober mood put a slight damper on the festivities, but it didn't stop Pantera from having a raucous time.

"Dave Mustaine was not drinking so no one should be drinking, and that never worked with Pantera," Anselmo continued. "So there was a little bit of a fence there — the sober side, where everybody in Megadeth had to do what Dave said, and outside, which was a big ol' party."

Naturally, Dimebag was on "the big ol' party" side. It was there that inspiration struck, and his signature drink — Black Tooth Grin (Crown Royal with a splash of Coke) — was born.

"That tour was the tour where Dime got the idea for the Black Tooth Grin," Paul revealed to Revolver. "It's from a line in [Megadeth's] "Sweating Bullets" ["Some day you, too, will know my pain/And smile its black-tooth grin"]. It was Dime's idea to call a drink that. He would look at Dave and go, 'Smile a black-tooth grin! Here have a shot.' And then all of a sudden Dime goes, 'Wait a minute. Have a shot. Let's put these two together. That's a Black Tooth Grin right there!' It just became his name for this drink and it became really popular. I actually see it in bars now. He made that thing famous."

9. Despite the 30-punches-to-the-face rumors — no models were harmed creating Vulgar Display of Power's iconic cover art
Despite misinformation from the band itself — including late Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul confirming a widely spread story that "some guy off the street" got punched in the face 30-plus times ($10 per hit) to get the cover shot — no fans, or models, were harmed creating the artwork.

Photographer Brad Guice, who also shot the cover for Cowboys From Hell, recounted his version of the story to Revolver in 2012: "So they called me again and said, 'We want you to do this incredibly powerful album cover of a fist hitting a face.' I was like, 'What?!' but I knew I had to pull it off. We looked for a longhaired male model to play the part of the guy being hit. We ended up using this guy from L.A., Sean Cross, and he's still a friend of mine. We got a real strong hand to be the guy punching and we did it all in studio, straight shot. We had a red light behind his hair because they were originally going to run it in color. So I thought the red was powerful and the motion of the hair was really interesting. We had the fist move in slow motion and then Sean moved his head to get it to look right. And then this rumor started about this guy having to get hit in the face over and over until we got the shot right. That's not true at all. It was a controlled situation. No one ever got hit."

10. Vulgar's intense pseudo-ballad "This Love" could have been about "a dozen different" women — but mostly its concepts are rooted in Anselmo's "fuckin' neglectful childhood"
As Pantera's success skyrocketed in the years after Cowboys and into Vulgar Display of Power, the group indulged in its fair share of alcohol-fueled debauchery. "Everyone knows there was a lot of sex," Anselmo told Revolver. "Everyone knows there was a lot of drinking. Everyone knows there was a lot of drunken sex. Yeah, I was pretty single then and there were some incredible times where I caught myself in the middle of a situation and I'd look around me and put my arms in the air and say, 'I'm the fuckin' king of the world.'"

And while Anselmo said the hit ballad "This Love" could have been about "12 different girls," the love at the song's core is an elusive concept — and very much tied to Anselmo's tumultuous upbringing.

"I had a fuckin' neglectful childhood," Anselmo said. "Mom was great, dad was aloof. They were both terribly young. I was born with mom's heart and dad's diseases. I had a stepfather I resented. I fuckin' split from my house when I was 15. Then I came back and left for good at 16. And within all that, I've got temper issues and trust issues, and they were worse when I was a young man. In a lot of relationships, I could never give all of myself. At the time, there could have been a dozen different girls the song 'This Love' could have been about, because none of it was real to me. Love came from a different place, not from a relationship between two people because I never saw it as a kid, man. And when I did, I just didn't believe it or I resented it. That's not the way I am anymore, obviously. I've learned some lessons here and there. But that's how I felt then."