The last Pantera studio CD, The Great Southern Trendkill, is old enough to have come out at a time when there was no such thing as the "nü metal" scene. Back in 1996 when that CD arrived, Pantera had already spent over half a decade putting a different spin on 1970s and '80s metal by taking the heavy sound of bands like Black Sabbath, Slayer and Metallica to a new level of intensity. With a style defined by detuned guitar riffs, furious tempos and the growling, menacing vocals of Phil Anselmo, Pantera pioneered a sound that downplayed melody in favor of full-on fury.
Today, those hallmarks of the Pantera sound are shared by dozens of metal bands that have emerged over the past few years, from Korn to Machine Head to Limp Bizkit to P.O.D. And at this year's Ozzfest they share a bill with a plethora of bands that have absorbed the brutal lessons of Pantera albums past. So just how much credit does Pantera deserve for creating the blueprint for today's new generation of heavy metal?
"I think we're the only metal band that stayed metal through the beginning until now," says Vinnie Paul, Pantera's drummer and co-producer. "A lot of those bands, I run into the guys in Korn or (Limp) Bizkit or whoever and they tell me, 'Pantera is one of my biggest influences. They're the ones who started me playing.' I hear it in a lot of their music and I think we probably don't get enough credit for being as big of an influence as we are, but that's no big deal. We're still here."
Paul is pleased to have seen metal enjoy a resurgence, and counts Godsmack and Slipknot as two newer groups that have impressed him. "I think it's healthy for the genre, for hard rock," he says of metal's renewed popularity. "It never dies. It never goes away. It just goes through phases when it's more visible than it is at other times. Right now is one of those times. We've been through this phase two times now in this band. And we don't go away. We don't change and our fans are always there for us. We'll see if a lot of these bands that are out today can stand the test of time or if they're just kind of a trendy thing and that's the end of it."
Although the market is now crowded with bands that have clearly borrowed a few letters from Pantera's musical signature, Paul said he doesn't worry that his band will get lost in the shuffle. "The kind of music we make is still kind of unique to me," he says. "I feel like we're an alternative because we don't sound like [other bands]. We don't have the rap influence. We don't have record scratchers. We don't have tape loops. We don't have any of that. It's just a raw, stripped down form and there's not much of that out there today."
Indeed, while the title of the new studio CD, Reinventing the Steel, may suggest otherwise, Pantera haven't attempted to reinvent their sound. Instead, the new 10-song CD continues to employ the now-familiar ingredients of the Pantera sound. Tunes like "Goddamn Electric," "You've Got to Belong to It" and "We'll Grind That Axe for a Long Time" are prototypic Pantera songs, featuring Anselmo's raging vocals, bludgeoning bass and drums, thick guitar riffs and the wacked-out guitar solos of "Dimebag" Darrell.
Paul admits the band wanted to emphasize their established strengths on Reinventing the Steel. "We don't ever let ourselves get caught up in flavor of the month or making a large left turn. We know what this band's all about and we know what our fans expect from us and what we expect from ourselves. I feel like every album that we've made has its own identity, but it's still Pantera. There's no doubt it's us. Very few bands can constantly take left turns and still maintain their fan base and the success. Where with us, you know what you're going to get. There's not going to be any songs that were written specifically for the radio. It's just stuff that's written from the heart for ourselves and for the fans."
For most fans, the first taste of the Pantera sound came in 1990 with the release of the group's major label debut, Cowboys From Hell. A second CD, Vulgar Display of Power, was released in 1991 and it considerably expanded the band's following -- so much so that when the next CD, Far Beyond Driven, was released in 1994 it shot straight to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. The Great Southern Trendkill followed in 1996 and became yet another platinum-plus CD. A concert CD, Official Live: 100 Proof, was released in 1997.
All of these albums, though, actually represent a second phase in Pantera's career. The first lineup was formed in Dallas in 1983 by Vinnie Paul, his brother -- guitarist "Diamond" Darrell (now known as "Dimebag" Darrell), bassist Rex Brown and original singer Terry Glaze. The original group released three independent albums that featured a glam-metal sound. That sound began to shift in 1986 when Anselmo replaced Glaze. By the time the band released their fourth CD, Power Metal, Anselmo was entrenched as lead vocalist and Pantera's sound had evolved into the thrashier form it carries today.
"When we finally did find him [Anselmo], we knew he had the right attitude and aggressive edge the band really needed," Paul said back in 1991 about the band's early years. "So when he did join the band, he definitely brought attitude to the band, something that was totally lacking, and he really helped us all hone in on what we were all about."
While Reinventing the Steel will sound familiar to today's Pantera fans, the CD does mark a new phase in Pantera's career in one important respect. After working with Terry Date (known for his work with Soundgarden, Limp Bizkit and the Deftones) on the previous four studio records, Reinventing the Steel is the first CD to be produced by the band. This time Paul and "Dimebag" Darrell shared production duties.
"Terry is a great friend of ours and we have a great relationship, and obviously he's one of the most sought-after record producers right now," says Paul. "We both knew at some point we would want to work on our own and he wouldn't be a part of it. We just didn't know when. We started working on the new stuff and doing some demos and Terry was working on the new Deftones record [White Pony]. All the guys in the band were happy with the way things were going so we decided to go ahead and go for it on our own."
Pantera performs on the Ozzfest Tour, coming to Lakewood Amphitheatre on Tues., July 4. Tickets are $44-$59, available through Ticketmaster.