No argument here. An informative read for the new Pantera fans, a great trip down memory lane for the lifelong Cowboys and Cowgirls From Hell.
Originally posted on citypages.com here.
Reader Daniel Breitenbucher of South St. Paul sent City Pages the following letter on Sunday. He’s super into Pantera. Enjoy!
Do people even write and send these in anymore? Well, whether they do or not, here’s mine. I’m just a lowly iron worker who is waiting for the work to pick back up and in the meantime, writing about his favorite band. Enjoy, or don’t, you are free to do so.
Do you know who the greatest band of all time is? Never mind, don’t answer that. I don’t want to hear whatever terrible band you think is the answer to that question. Instead, I’m just going to tell you the answer to that seemingly obvious question: Pantera.
Pantera is the greatest band ever created, hands down. It’s not even a contest. And I’m going to tell you why.
In 1990, big-shot producer Bob Rock convinced Metallica the underground scene where they had made a name for themselves was no longer good enough. He reasoned that they were talented enough to step into the mainstream and that completely selling out and beginning a long and still-running string of terribly mediocre music was the way to go. By leaving the underground scene, Metallica created an opening for someone new to carry on the flag for unique, innovative metal. Pantera was that band.
Metallica’s Black Album came out in August of ’91 and, at that point, Pantera’s first album (that is, the Pantera everyone came to know), Cowboys From Hell, had been out for 13 months. I think it’s a safe bet that hoards of fans that had been all about Metallica since their inception heard The Black Album and thought, “What is this radio crap?”
Other than the song “One” from their previous album, Metallica had not made a music video and had received little-to-no airplay from their first four albums. The Black Album, their fifth, produced five music videos and well over half the songs got radio air — and still do to this day.
Non-believers of this fact I’m writing about will point out that Pantera’s first album did indeed produce a couple music videos, as well as some radio-friendly songs. That is where the similarities between these two and basically every metal band of the ’80s that was still somewhat relevant by the late ’90s end, however.
With Metallica leaving the door open for a new, truly unique American metal band, Pantera grabbed that opportunity by the gonads and ran with them waving in the wind.
Where Metallica started heavy and was literally wearing makeup by the mid ’90s with Lars sporting a drum set the size of a lounge band’s, Pantera got heavier and less radio friendly with every forthcoming album. And that is reason No. 1 and possibly the most important why Pantera is the greatest band ever created.
Enter reason No. 2, possibly the most logic-defying one. Pantera’s second album, Vulgar Display of Power, is widely known as their best and most innovative. CFH garnered them a bit of commercial success but, more importantly, put them on the metal map of America. VDP took what they created in CFH and made it better. While VDP gave them possibly their biggest hit in “Walk,” it also followed that track with “Fucking Hostile.”
Who names the best song on their sophomore CD something that literally can’t be said on anything that could get you attention? Pantera does. VDP gave them even more success than CFH and solidified them as the new anti-mainstream metal band.
So what did their record company tell them? Here’s what bassist Rex Brown’s told Rolling Stone: “The record company was pushing for something like [Metallica’s] Black Album. We were like, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.'”
And now we enter the heart of reason No. 2. Pantera’s third album is an all-out punch to your face and the mainstream music industry. Vulgar was heavier than Cowboys, and now Far Beyond Driven left Vulgar in the dust. It also got dark — really dark. Its opening song, “Strength Beyond Strength,” is a blistering piece that at one point describes, “The President in submission / He holds out his hand on your television / And draws back a stump.”
The song “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills” could literally never be played anywhere but your car, at home, or on a stage. I’ve never even come across it in all my concert footage searching of the band. I’m guessing they never had a desire to play it at a show, because it’s barely a song and it’s so downright disturbing … and stupidly awesome.
But what happened to Far Beyond Driven? It went No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. It went No. 1 with little to no radio play and only two real music videos that saw action late at night on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. It is still to this day the heaviest album to ever reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
Some might say, “But Metallica’s Black Album went to No. 1, and that was pretty heavy.” Far Beyond Driven makes The Black Album sound like a song Tigger would sing on a Winnie the Pooh during Saturday morning cartoons.
For possibly the most-telling example of how Pantera defied the odds in 1994, one must look at all the musicians that had No. 1 albums that year. Specifically, before and after FBD. April 2 saw Ace of Base claim the top spot on the Billboard 200. April 16 saw Bonnie Raitt get the nod. The only bands of that year that could possibly be put into the same category as Pantera when it comes to sound and heaviness that also had No. 1 albums would be Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden … and let’s be honest, they’re not even close.
Those bands were total products of the ’90s grunge movement. Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven went No. 1 with absolutely no help from the media or music industry. Just stop a second and imagine that today, even 15 years ago. It’s unthinkable. A No. 1 album purely because of that band’s fans driving, biking, walking to a store to physically buy the CD from a shelf.
You’re thinking, “What are you talking about? That’s how all CDs used to be purchased.” I realize that. And the mega-selling albums also got played on the radio 50,000 times a day all over the country, with videos to accompany those songs on MTV at hours when viewership was high, when it used to actually be Music Television. Those groups sold singles, they had dedicated promotion teams.
The record company got their No. 1 album with Far Beyond Driven and only cared about one thing: How can you get us an even bigger success next time, i.e. now we really want a Pantera Black Album.
Therein lies my point: FBD did the work all by itself, and then the follow-up record did the unthinkable. Which takes us to reasons No. 3 and 4. What would your typical, run-of-the mill, crappy radio-rock band do after reaching the most coveted position on any chart for the first time in their career? They’d probably follow it up with some blizzard of waste, or a repackaging of the CD that just made them more successful. Maybe they’d tour on it for three years, suckling at the teat of said album, gorging themselves on whatever money they can squeeze from their newfound success.
The more important question is, what did Pantera do? They went out and made the heaviest, most radio-unfriendly, darkest, hateful album they could. FBD went to some dark places. The Great Southern Trendkill gave us “Suicide Note Part 1” and “Suicide Note Part 2,” with the latter song screaming, “cowards only try it.”
The title track, also the lead off song, opens with a full-on scream for 10 perfect seconds. I would argue that there is not one song on that album that would ever be played on the radio today. And it still managed to reach No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and stay there for 16 weeks. Most Pantera fans think I’m crazy, but I’ll happily admit to thinking TGSTK is both the greatest song ever created and the greatest album of all time.
Consider this: While Metallica was releasing Load, wearing eyeliner, painting their nails, creating 14 songs that damn near had the same drum beat, and man-kissing each other on the inside cover, Pantera was a month earlier releasing a CD whose entire message was a giant FUCK YOU to mainstream music and the supposed “trends” of the mid ’90s. Hence the lyrics of the title track: “Buy it at a store / From MTV to on the floor / You’ll look just like a star / It’s proof you don’t know who you are.”
In an age like today, where it’s all about immediate exposure through social media, being as superficial and fake as possible just to get noticed, and “what bandwagon can I jump on to make as much money as quickly as possible,” Pantera was and still is the epitome of a band that did not care about anything other than making music for their fans and ignoring whatever trends the “suit and ties” told them were going to be popular.
Pantera could have had as much commercial success and money as their hearts’ desired, but they didn’t care about that. They cared about the only thing that should matter to any respectable band — the music. Pantera innovated with every new release, never recycled songs, never tried to be something they weren’t, never listened to anyone other than themselves, and went out on top.
Hell, the only other band that achieved somewhat similar success while never really compromising their sound and heaviness was Slayer, and they were opening for Pantera on their last tour in 2001.
With Far Beyond Driven’s 22nd anniversary on March 22 and The Great Southern Trendkill’s 20th on May 7, I felt that now was the perfect time to inform the world of something most were probably not aware of: Pantera’s utter flawlessness.
Originally posted on citypages.com here.