Tales from a Metalhead: Chapter 14: Mouth For War

Tales from a Metalhead logo

This chapter is part of a book called Tales from a Metalhead written by Metal Express Radio’s President Stig G. Nordahl. The chapters will be posted one at the time and you can find them all here.

Philip Hansen Anselmo.

Pantera became an increasingly important band for me over the years. However, I never got to interview the members of the band while they were still active, only after they broke up. It also took an unnecessarily long time before I saw the band live.

I remember well the time I was first introduced to the band. MTV was buzzing in the background when I visited a friend of mine, and suddenly the video for “Cemetery Gates” came on. This is one of the few times I’ve been speechless from watching (or rather hearing) a music video. The guitar riff after the quiet intro was unlike anything I’d heard before, and combined with Phil Anselmo’s range and raw vocals it was unique. This was of course while he was still using his entire vocal range, which would soon end.

PANTERA - Cowboys From Hell
The cover art for Cowboys From Hell.

Well, eventually I got the Cowboys From Hell album and it is one of my favorites to date. The title track gave me the same feel I had gotten when I saw and heard the video for “Cemetery Gates”. Dimebag Darrell became a new guitar god. On a side note, I ended up in a fierce argument with a three chord Rock fan several years later because he mocked Dimebag’s brilliant guitar playing on the title track and didn’t think it was a riff. Why don’t you go home and play “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” if that’s all you are good for. Moron!

I was overjoyed when I heard the announcement that Pantera would go on tour with Judas Priest and Annihilator in 1990. Priest had just released Painkiller and Annihilator had released their sophomore album Never Neverland. Those three bands on one stage was arguably every Metal fan’s wet dream at that time. At least it was mine. The disappointment was equally great when it was announced that Pantera would not play the show in Oslo. The stage at Rockefeller Music Hall was reportedly too small for three bands! I can’t even count how many times I have seen three or more bands play on that stage in the time after that show. There may of course have been some other reason for this than the official explanation, but it could also have been that since the venue was relatively new the routines were not in place yet. It’s been said that Phil Anselmo was pissed off about this and was pacing around the venue with a sour face. It’s still bugging me that I didn’t get to see Pantera on this tour. To top it all off I was denied entry to the concert at first, as I will explain in a later chapter.

The follow-up, Vulgar Display of Power, was released while I was in the army, stationed in the middle of nowhere far up in the
cold northern part of Norway. MTV still occasionally played sensible music, so it was usually the preferred channel and was playing in most of the rooms in the barracks. The first taste of the new album came in the form of the video for “Mouth For War”. It starts off like a fist punching you in the diaphragm. With this opening Pantera continued the style we had heard on the previous album and a punch to the diaphragm had never felt better! Here, however, something had happened to the vocals. At the time, I felt like the dynamics were gone and that it almost sounded like monotonous growling. After the first few times listening to the song, it felt like a letdown. Eventually I got the album on CD and over time it grew into an even bigger favorite than Cowboys.

A shitty sounding bootleg I bought back in the days.

Eventually, a new chance to experience Pantera live emerged. This time they were supporting Megadeth at Sentrum Scene in Oslo. I have seldom seen a support band blow the main band off the stage with such intensity. With only a few square feet and sparse light available on stage, this hungry gang from Texas delivered an unparalleled demonstration of power. It was simply a letdown when Dave Mustaine came on stage and grunted into the microphone afterwards. I have never been much of a headbanger, but when Pantera was playing I felt compelled to bang my head throughout the set. I almost had to wear a neck brace the following week.

There was a guy in Bærum (a neighboring city of Oslo) who made and sold mixed videotapes at that time. He would send you lists of all the concert footage he had available, and you ticked off the concerts you wanted in a form. The guy would fill the tapes accordingly until he ran out of tape, and you paid him depending on how long the video tape was. I actually got a hold of a bootleg recording of the aforementioned concert with Pantera and Megadeth from this guy, some time afterwards. Now, of course, it’s available on YouTube as well, but the wobbly camera and poor mono audio can’t compare with the experience of having been there yourself.

Ticket for the first Pantera headliner show I attended.

I have never been a collector, but I was such a big fan of Pantera that I ordered everything available of weird releases, official and unofficial. The stupidest purchase I made was a remix of songs from the Vulgar record where some guy had edited the songs and added new beats. The most successful purchase was a CD called Vulgar Display of Power Metal which contained the Power Metal album. This album was released just two years before Cowboys From Hell and was the first one to feature Phil Anselmo on vocals. I strongly recommend that you check it out! In addition, there was the song “Light Comes Out Black” with Rob Halford from Judas Priest on guest vocals (he has always been a great supporter of Pantera) and not forgetting, the entire concert from Monsters of Rock in Russia in 1991. The latter is proof of what a brilliant live band Pantera was at that time. The ending of “Domination” still gives me goosebumps; the slow and heavy riff combined with 500,000 headbanging Russians is unbeatable. The footage was later made available on DVD. Of course, the first three albums, Metal Magic, Projects in the Jungle and I Am the Night had to be acquired. Pantera is a completely different band on the first three albums, but they are definitely worth checking out as well.

Before Far Beyond Driven was released, I was given a promo cassette with two songs from the upcoming album; “5 Minutes Alone” and “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills”. The latter had me raising an eyebrow. This was more or less a poem, read by Phil Anselmo over a sick groove provided by the rest of the band. It still sounds a bit weird, but it blends in well with the rest of the songs on the album. When I got the entire release, the opening song once again left me speechless. “Strength Beyond Strength” is a merciless opening to the album that I of course learned to appreciate. With classics like “5 Minutes Alone”, “I’m Broken” and “Becoming”, there was no doubt that Pantera had delivered the goods again.

Vinnie Paul’s drum head.

On the Far Beyond Driven tour the band returned to Oslo; this time as headliners. My expectations were soaring after having seen them live for the first time on their previous tour. They put on a really good show, but nothing could top the first show I saw. This time, I stood in the front at the gallery, where objects were thrown from the stage. Rex Brown’s pick hit me straight in the face and my buddy got ahold of a drumhead that Vinnie Paul threw. When the house lights came on after the show we saw that he had written the following on it: “Oslo Rocks: Eat Pussy!”

Pantera visited Oslo again on the Reinventing the Steel tour. Something came up and I couldn’t go to the show, but I wasn’t as big a fan as I had been the first few years. I heard afterwards that Anselmo was quite “distant” in his performance that night. Pantera didn’t release any more albums and in 2003 it was all over.

In 2004, I was on a business trip to Hungary. I was sitting in a cafe having breakfast when I received a text from a friend: “Sucks to hear about Dimebag!!!” This was before smartphones so I was not aware that he had been killed onstage during a Damageplan show in Ohio. I was shocked to say the least! One of the modern-day Metal icons had been shot by a deranged bastard. It was unreal!

During the last few years before the murder, the brothers Vinnie and Dimebag had recorded one Country Metal album with one of their heroes David Allan Coe. The project was named Rebel Meets Rebel and was to be released around the time of Dimebag’s death. The release was postponed until 2006 and I was offered the opportunity to do a phone interview with Vinnie Paul. Better late than never. We had a long talk about life after the murder of his brother and his newly formed record label in addition to the new release.

In the wake of Pantera, the members have been involved in several projects. I have seen Phil and Rex play with Down a couple of times. In 2012, Rex Brown started the band Kill Devil Hill, a band that also included drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell and Dio) for a while. The debut is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already heard it. I did an interview with Rex Brown while he was promoting the album. Of course, I wanted to talk about Pantera, but that’s not why Rex called me. At least I got him to record a Pantera station ID for Metal Express Radio. This was just before Rex released his Pantera biography. Too bad he didn’t tell me about it because I would have loved to talk to him about that.

For many years, there has been talk of a sort of reunion of Pantera with Zakk Wylde on guitar, and the talks are persisting now, even after Vinnie Paul has passed away. Without the Abbott brothers it would just be sad. Please drop this idea!

The partners at Metal Express Radio had their annual board meeting in Chicago a few years ago. Traditionally, we also had a live broadcast on the radio. That year we presented our favorite bands from different Metal subgenres. One of the partners wanted to play a song off Cowboys from Hell during the Thrash Metal segment, because Pantera was his favorite Thrash Metal band. We had a long argument about this. A lot can be said about Pantera, but even though they have some fast songs they are a far cry from Thrash Metal. Groove Metal is the best term for the band in my humble opinion. Nevertheless, our partner pointed to the Wikipedia article for Cowboys from Hell where it was said that it was a Thrash (and Groove) Metal record. This, he claimed, was beyond dispute. He ended up playing Pantera on the show. After the show, our partner Kris edited the Wikipedia article so it said that Cowboys from Hell is a Groove Metal album and nothing else. End of argument!

Pantera will forever be one of the bands I have been most into. I even named my cat Dimebag. She seemed happy to go by that name.

R.I.P. Dimebag! R.I.P. Vinnie Paul!

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  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

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  1. Oh, I am sorry to hear that. If the band had the right sound I am sure they would have slayed. Thanx for the comfort 🙂

  2. I have seen the JUDAS PRIEST / ANNIHILATOR / PANTERA Tour, too. “Seen” is the keyword with regards to PANTERA here. They started the set and the sound was so bad that one could not figure out which song they played. During what was supposed the second “song”, Anselmo threw the mic down and stomped off stage, the band followed. It seems they got a bad sound all through the tour so you may not have missed much.

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