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
10. “Mouth for War”
Pantera had quite the task in front of them in surpassing 1990’s Cowboys from Hell, yet they absolutely did with 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power. Obviously, “Mouth for War” kicks things off in delightfully fiery fashion. Vocalist Phil Anselmo is confidently ferocious as he sings about transforming negativity into something useful (“The releasing of anger / Can better any medicine under the sun”). Likewise, his bandmates surround his assertions with poised and lively tumultuousness, showcasing why they were arguably the tightest group in thrash metal. — Jordan Blum
The Great Southern Trendkill, released in 1996, is an outlier in Pantera’s discography. It’s a slower, murkier record and the band’s most emotionally revealing — possibly a creative repercussion from Phil Anselmo’s work with Down a year prior. The seven-minute centerpiece “Floods” epitomizes the mood and musical style of the album. Atmospheric textures and multi-layered vocals create a druggy sonic palette that closer resembles mid-’90s Alice in Chains as opposed to the riff frenzies Pantera had been dishing out through the first half of the decade. While they are best known for those breakneck rippers, “Floods” is a fine example of how they could slow down to tap into something deeper. — Jon Hadusek
08. “I’m Broken”
Highlighting 1994’s Far Beyond Driven, “I’m Broken” is a true southern sludge heater, anchored by one of Dimebag’s tastiest riffs. The influence of the New Orleans metal scene — of which Anselmo was a participant via Down — can be heard here, with the central riff and hardcore-style vocal delivery recalling bands such as Crowbar and Eyehategod. It’s downright catchy, with a satisfying mid-tempo nod that makes it one of Pantera’s most accessible songs despite it not being their fastest or most intricate. — Jon Hadusek
07. “Cowboys from Hell”
After signing to the record label Atco following 1988’s Power Metal, Pantera simultaneously found breakthrough success and popularized groove metal with Cowboys from Hell. Naturally, the opening title track (which was also their first single) justified both achievements. Dimebag and Rex Brown are perfectly in sync the entire time, delivering bitingly melodic riffs around Vinnie Paul’s adventurous drumming and Anselmo’s alluringly abrasive declarations of dominance. Of course, Dimebag’s flashier playing elevates the second half as well, cementing “Cowboys from Hell” as the moment Pantera truly arrived. — Jordan Blum
06. “Fucking Hostile”
There are those rare songs that happen to sound like their title. “Fucking Hostile” is one of those songs. You could also say it is the sonic equivalent of the Vulgar Display of Power album cover — a fistful of rapid fire riffs and aggression. Clocking in at a mere 2 minutes and 48 seconds, the song is structured around its high-speed verses and an out-of-nowhere catchy vocal hook that has a tinge of James Hetfield influence. The bit around the 1:23 mark is iconic: The music drops out for a split second as Anselmo screams the titular phrase into what sounds like a telephone. — Jon Hadusek
05. “Revolution Is My Name”
Reinventing the Steel (2000) would be the final Pantera album before they broke up in 2003. It’s unanimously considered the weakest of the band’s post-1990 studio efforts, but it does house the anthemic “Revolution Is My Name.” The time-shifting opening riff cascades into slower bluesy licks for the chorus, giving Anselmo the perfect window for a truly Ozzy-esque wail (“I can’t help the way I am”) before the song’s ultimate hook: “What is my name?!” If only all the songs on Reinventing the Steel would have come together like this one, it would have been considered a late-career gem rather than the symbol of an increasingly dysfunctional band. — Jon Hadusek
04. “This Love”
This second single from Vulgar Display of Power features some of the former quartet’s most poetically resonant lyrics (“If ever words were spoken / Painful and untrue / I said I loved but I lied / In my life”). It portrays the turbulent nature of romance musically, too, as its clean and grungy verses repeatedly switch places with wholly venomous choruses packed with thrashy bitterness. Add in seriously devilish and dynamic jamming halfway in and you have another self-contained staple of Pantera’s adroitly shifting personas. — Jordan Blum