Early in July, the music world was turned on it’s head by the news of a long rumoured reunion of sorts. Not just by any band, but the most dominant metal outfit of the 90’s, and arguably the band of the decade: PANTERA.
Though an official press release and tour details are still forthcoming, participating guitarist Zakk Wylde confirmed the news himself. As the long rumoured stand-in for legendary axeman Dimebag Darrell – who was brutally murdered in 2004 to the horror of an entire community – Wylde’s involvement in this particular tour has been rumoured for at least a decade. Who better to fill in than Dime’s best friend, and one of the absolute best of all time in any genre?
I want to be clear, I don’t consider this a true reunion – those require more than half of the original band to be present in my eyes. I also doubt anyone involved in the project thinks of it as such either (Zakk said that much in revealing the authenticity of the project). It’s a celebration and a tribute more than anything, though of course there are those calling it a purely financial endeavour.
While I can absolutely see that being a serious consideration, let’s look at the facts. I am fairly certain everyone involved in the project is already a millionaire several times over. The rumoured drummer is Charlie Benante of thrash metal legends Anthrax, who practically invented a genre, and has been in one of metal’s most successful, influential and active bands of the last 40 years. Still touring and recording consistently, still maintaing a high level on festival billings and in public awareness, and never having had the questionable changes of direction that plagued their thrash metal peers like Metallica or Megadeth.
As for Wylde, his Black Label Society band are about 25 years into a very successful run, based on a consistent sound that never really deviates. They’ve resisted any commercial temptations by building a style and fanbase more akin to outlaw biker gangs than trendy scenes and profitable fads. His money was made long ago as the legendary guitarist of Ozzy Osbourne, who to this day is still selling out tours and making records at the highest level, with a new album on the way very soon.
As for the remaining original members, bassist Rex Brown has been touring and making music long since Pantera, with his former involvement in both Kill Devil Hill, and of course Down. While his notoriety and success is not quite at the same level as the other three, I highly doubt he’s desperate enough to need this tour on a financial level.
Then there is Phil Anselmo, the controversial icon of counterculture, one of heavy music’s most notorious outsiders despite his kingpin status. This is a man who has only grown angrier and more rebellious since Pantera’s demise in 2002, when he could easily have cashed with meathead crossover metal in the early 2000’s, or jumped on the metalcore bandwagon that followed. Instead, he opted to make some of the most dark, inaccessible and abrasive music ever recorded with the likes of Superjoint, The Illegals and the bands on his own label, Housecore Records.
Even his supoosedly gentler work in the bleak and gloomy En Minor or the rough, bluesy sludge of Down has been anything but easy listening. The man, for all his faults and failings, has stayed outside the mainstream and immune to commercial corruption for two full decades since Pantera’s fiery breakup. To suggest that he’s going for the money now shows an ignorance of his recent history, and of Pantera’s own.
See, Pantera were the band that flew the flag for American metal in an era where it was allegedly dying. While the genre remained extremely popular in Europe, Japan, Australia and South America, the grunge, rap and alt rock movements of the 90’s shifted the focus and conversation to the point where metal was declared dead by some. With Metallica and Megadeth heading in blander, more accessible hard rock directions, and Slayer just last their prime, Pantera took the metal crown and dominated the charts with a sound that was a middle finger to said charts.
The reality is that since abandoning their 80’s glam metal sound and creating the power groove sound that defined them, Pantera was a fiercely anti-establishment act that was never about money. They succeeded based on talent and integrity, their ethos cultivating a level of fan loyalty perhaps unmatched in metal history. While their sound evolved through the 90’s, it never betrayed the core values of both band and fanbase, and if anything moved in a less accessible, more aggressive direction over time.
There are those who’ve suggested that the Abbott brothers (Dimebag and his deceased brother, orignal drummer Vinnie Paul) would be rolling in their graves over this supposed reunion project. What they didn’t know at the time is that the estates of both brothers have signed off on the project. There’s also the fact that out of touch, overly purist death metal vocalists of diminishing relevance aren’t really qualified to speak for the dead.
I personally think Dime and Big Vin would be happy to see their work celebrated in some form, and to see legends and friends like Wylde and Benante involved in the affair. The Pantera breakup was rough on many of us, and the Dimebag murder in 2004 was the 9/11 moment of the metal community. A catharsis and closure of sorts is needed, for the fans, the band members and associates, both original and otherwise. For diehards like me, who got into Pantera too late to see them live, it’s the closest thing we’ll ever get, and I’m excited to see it. Bet your ass I’ll be at the nearest show, no matter where and when.
I won’t pretend I didn’t react with VERY mixed feelings and heavy skepticism when the news first broke, and both still persist, but I do see more positives than negatives here, and I wish others would too. If Vinnie was still alive and involved, you could call it a Pantera tour, but not now. Maybe CFH: A Tribute to Pantera or something to that effect is better.