Forming in Texas in 1981, Pantera were initially a Hair Metal band before, after four failed albums, they got in Phil Anselmo as lead singer. Their next album was not a success, but the one after, ‘Cowboys from Hell,’ catapulted them into the mainstream. As the Metal world collapsed around them, they went from strength to strength in the 90s, but sadly, internal tensions led to their break-up in 2003, and Dimebag Darrell Abbott, the sole guitarist in the band and founding member, was shot dead at a gig with his new band, Damageplan, putting the seal on the end of Pantera.
D. Abbott was a close friend of Zakk Wylde and they shared a love of Black Sabbath. Beyond that, D. Abbott was a huge fan of Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen placed a guitar in D. Abbott’s coffin. His other big influence was Ace Frehley. Later on, the band became more influenced by Thrash bands as they moved from a glam sound and invented Groove Metal. Other influences on D. Abbott included Billy Gibbons and Joe Satriani.
Classics (the albums even a casual fan owns)
‘Vulgar Display of Power’ (1992):
This is ground zero for Pantera. They were never better than this. The previous album was good, but still had some traditional Metal elements. This album threw those in the bin and defined the Groove Metal sound that would define Pantera. Songs like Mouth for War and Walk were heavy in ways no one had ever heard before in the mainstream. Just as the Metal world was on the verge of imploding with the arrival of Grunge, Pantera fed us something fresh and new and we were all ears.
‘Cowboys from Hell’ (1990):
Finally signed to a major label, Pantera gave it all they had, with songs like Primal Concrete Sledge and Cowboys from Hell showing the way forward, and Cemetery Gates showing their mastery of the more classic Metal styles they were leaving behind. A band on the cusp of greatness, they nearly reached their goal with this album, but it all came together on the next one.
‘Far Beyond Driven’ (1994):
Debuting on the album charts at number one, back in the days when people bought CDs, this album announced that Pantera were a big deal. However, while songs like 5 Minutes Alone and I’m Broken were up to par, overall this album was not as strong as its predecessor.
Next Steps (One step below, but these albums still shine in the catalogue)
‘Reinventing the Steel’ (2000):
After the band tried to stretch out on ‘The Great Southern Trendkill,’ this album marked an attempt to return to their earlier sounds. Most people know this never really works out, and in this case, the fighting within the band made it all but impossible to reach the heights of years gone by. The end was not far away.
‘The Great Southern Trendkill’ (1996):
Within the band, Rex Tillerson stayed quiet, Anselmo wanted to keep it heavy and the Abbott brothers wanted to try new sounds. This is the album where the brothers won, and sadly, while the album was diverse, even including some balladry, it just wasn’t up to scratch.
‘Power Metal’ (1988):
Anselmo is here so all is well, right? Well, no. This is the best of the early albums, it’s faster and heavier, but the vocals are high pitched and song titles like Rock the World and Proud to be Loud (the latter written by Marc Ferrari of Keel), show they were still not there yet. If you want to check out the earlier stuff though, start here.
Fan Favourite (Not a hit, but fans love it)
‘Official Live 101 Proof’ (1997):
As the only official live document of a uniquely powerful Heavy Metal band, this is a keeper. But, while it was certainly successful on release, it’s often forgotten about when people talk about Pantera. Certainly the first three albums by this band on a major label were a heck of a golden run, but the combination of some (admittedly not essential) new tracks and a live document make this a must purchase.
Controversial (The one fans disagree on)
‘I am the Night’ (1985):
The last album with Terry Glaze on vocals sees the band moving from glam towards traditional Heavy Metal. Glaze has suggested it’s influenced by Iron Maiden, but that’s a bit of a stretch. There’s a bit of Judas Priest in songs like Hot and Heavy, but once the vocals start, we may as well be on the Sunset Strip. So what it comes down to is, do you like this sort of music as well? If you do, then this is a cool window in to what Abbott (then Diamond Darrell) was doing before hitting the big time. But if you hate 80s glam, there’s probably nothing for you here.
Buy this last (Not all bands have a ‘bad’ album, but this is the worst of them)
‘Metal Magic’ (1983):
The first Pantera album came out in 1983. D. Abbott loved Ace Frehey and Eddie Van Halen. It’s really no surprise that what’s on offer here is cliched glam from a band still starting out and finding themselves. Song titles like Ride my Rocket should tell you all you need to know.
Playlist (a killer playlist for your phone):
Cowboys from Hell (‘Cowboys from Hell’)
Cemetery Gates (‘Cowboys from Hell’)
Mouth for War (‘Vulgar Display of Power’)
Walk (‘Vulgar Display of Power’)
Fucking Hostile (‘Vulgar Display of Power’)
This Love (‘Vulgar Display of Power’)
Five Minutes Alone (‘Far Beyond Driven’)
I’m Broken (‘Far Beyond Driven’)
Planet Caravan (‘Far Beyond Driven’)
Revolution is my Name (‘Reinventing the Steel’)
Drag the Waters (‘Great Southern Trendkill’)
The Badge (‘Reinventing Hell’)