The story of Pantera is bound to the modernization of heavy metal in the 1990s, but the band’s origins began long before that.
Formed by guitar virtuoso “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, Pantera began as a rather rudimentary ’80s metal band: big hair, glam riffs, and unfortunate album titles such as Metal Magic and Projects in the Jungle. Bassist Rex Brown was along for the ride from nearly the beginning, but things shifted when vocalist Phillip H. Anselmo joined the band after they had already released three under-the-radar albums.
While Anselmo was on board for 1988’s Power Metal, It would be the seminal 1990 album Cowboys from Hell that truly marked the arrival of the Pantera that is now recognized as one of the best heavy metal bands of all time. Perhaps the band’s lack of success in the ‘80s had its dividends, because nobody navigated hair metal’s commercial implosion as well as Pantera. They completely reinvented themselves, ditching the glam outfits for street clothes and embracing thrash metal and hardcore influences, helping pioneer a new sub-genre called “groove metal.”
Pantera followed it up with what is widely considered their masterpiece, 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power. An even more brutal offering, the album is an exercise in technical precision. Rex Brown once mentioned that the band’s biggest influence was ZZ Top, and like their fellow Texans, Pantera also knew how to lay down a hook. For all its virtuosity, the band could pen songs that were both catchy, memorable, and musically skillful — all in the same breath. Those traits were even more pronounced in the live setting, where the band decimated stages night in and night out.
As the group matured, so did its musical output. 1994’s Far Beyond Driven was Pantera’s most diverse collection of songs to date, with 1996’s The Great Southern Trendkill upping the emotional resonance with darker material. Around this time Anselmo became more active with NOLA stoner metal act Down, and cracks began to show. 2000’s Reinventing the Steel would be Pantera’s final studio album, and the band would eventually break up in 2003. Anselmo and Brown turned their focus to Down, while Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul formed a new act called Damageplan.
On December 8th, 2004, tragedy would strike when Dimebag was murdered on stage by a crazed gunman while performing with Damageplan. It remains one of the most horrific deaths to befall a well-known musician, and the heavy metal community continues to mourn his passing. His brother, Vinnie Paul, would also sadly pass in 2018, leaving Anselmo and Brown as the only living members of Pantera.
Now, Anselmo and Brown are resurrecting Pantera for an unexpected 2023 reunion tour, with guitarist Zakk Wylde and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante rounding out the lineup in place of the late brothers. With that news in mind, Heavy Consequence dug through Pantera’s discography to rank their 10 best songs. Let the headbanging commence.
— Jon Hadusek,
Senior Staff Writer