Thursday, December 09, 2004


Dimebag Darrell - RIP


Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed last night, along with four others (including the gunman, who was fortunately taken down by a police officer before causing even more carnage). He was 38. Two others were injured, included Darrell's brother Vinnie.

Dimebag and Vinnie formed Damageplan after their previous group, Pantera, finally came apart after years of internal conflict. The motivation for the killing is unclear at this time, but it's believed that Pantera's breakup may have had something to do with it.

Damageplan had yet to turn out anything of significance - their first album, debuting earlier this year, was mediocre at best (although I'm sure peoples' opinion of that, including perhaps my own, may now be subject to change). Pantera, however, could very well be credited with keeping metal alive in the mainstream through the 90s.

Pantera started off as a hair-metal band in the 80s, but moved beyond that (hopefully) forgotten phase and found a unique sound before finding fairly widespread popularity with their crushing album "Cowboys From Hell". I recall watching MTV's Headbangers' Ball and catching videos for both the title track and "Cemetary's Gates"; both stood in stark contrast to the hair metal that had yet to die off. In "Cowboys From Hell", Dimebag was creating more good riffs in 4 minutes than one could find on a half-dozen so-called "metal" albums of the day (the breakdown after the second chorus is particularly fierce). "Cemetary's Gate's" proved that tough guys could write a good ballad (this was before Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters"), and the guitar work on this song re-creates the full range of emotion that one goes through in the grieving process.

"Vulgar Display of Power" soon followed, and it was quickly apparent that it would not follow either of the two directions that metal was heading in at that time. Some bands attempted to distance themselves for the now-dead hair-metal stupidity by regressing back to the early 80s and pushing the limits of speed; others attempted to move more towards the hard-rock mainstream (as Metallica did so successfully with their self-titled album). Pantera instead choose to take a path of absolute intensity. Dimebag's sludgy guitar work combined with Phil Anselmo's growling vocals to create the heaviest mainstream music of that time. Because of this, they were able to survive the upswell of grunge and alt-rock, and found themselves with a rather broad fanbase. While "Walk" is undoubtably the signature track on this album, strong songwriting and brutal musicianship makes this a consistantly strong work. "This Love" is not only one of the angriest breakup songs of all time, but another excellent demonstration of Dimebag's ability to portray a range of emotion well beyond that which could be expected from an average metal band. The album's other ballad, "Hollow", does the same, while straightforward thugfests like "Mouth for War", "(Fuckin') Hostile" "A New Level" provide a sufficiently fierce venue to showcase Dimebag's metal chops and cement the band's place in metal history.

"Far Beyond Driven" came out in 1994. Let's keep in mind who was charting high at this point - grunge was fading fast on the heals of Kurt Cobain's death, and artists such as Beck and bands such as Blur would soon dominate the airwaves. Yet, for the first time ever, a metal band released an album that debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. While the lyrics were not nearly as sharp on this album as on previous work (a symptom of Anselmo's drug issues, perhaps?), there is little doubt that the vocals and musicianship was absolutely top-notch. Pantera's cover of Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" took the band's sound into new directions while giving a very clear indicator of where they placed their roots. The heaviest of the songs, such as "5 Minutes Alone" and "Becoming", were awesome displays of the band's power, and were undoubtably driven forward by Dimebag's skills and attitude.

Later work, such as "The Great Southern Trendkill" and "Reinventing The Steel", despite continuing the tradition of cool album names, simply fell flat, likely the result of internal issues in the band. But even as the metal scene crumbled and fragmented during the late 90s, make no mistake - Pantera did not attempt to change with the times or make any effort to attract a larger audience at the cost of deviating from the sound that won them so many followers, and their legacy remained intact. By this time, the influence of the band's earlier work could already been seen on new and emerging artists within the scene - as mediocre as they may have turned out to be.

B-sides such as "Where You Come From" hinted at a bluesy side to Dimebag's playing, and it would have been interesting to see where this could have led the band (indeed, it seems difficult to imagine that a Texan rock band wouldn't eventually find themselves going in that direction). But the track that ultimately displays Dimebag's skill on the guitar is Pantera's cover of Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever". Face it - if you've got the ability and the testicular fortitude to follow in Uncle Ted's footsteps, you deserve the greatest respect.

I was able to see the band on my birthday back in December of 2000. I was suffering from a wicked case of the flu that had left me feeling like I'd already spent a few days in the mosh pit, but I was not going to miss this show. They did not disappoint, and I left the show feeling that although viruses can cause your body to hurt, they are nothing compared to the power of a few thousand Pantera fans crouded into a fairly small arena. I'm pretty sure that TheraFlu has nothing comparing to the sound of Dimebag, pushed through the largest Marshall stack I've ever seen in my life.

Pantera - the last great metal band? Perhaps, but only time will tell. If indeed they deserve that honor, then it should be known that Dimebag Darrell is the man that was responsible.

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