Monday, December 8, 2014

Pantera's "Dimebag" Darrell died 10 years ago.

On December 8, a great musical artist’s life tragically ended when he was not yet 40 years old, shot by a murderer who’s euphemistically referred to as "a crazed fan." A great guitarist and composer, who must have had plenty more great music to give to the world, although his legendary band for which he'll be best remembered had already broken up. I feel honored to have gotten the chance to see him live in concert. The world lost one of the greatest metal guitarists 10 years ago today.

“Dimebag” Darrell, born Darrell Lance Abbott, died at the cruel age of 38 on December 8, 2004. As the guitarist of Pantera, he pushed the envelope of ultra-heavy rock music, inspired countless guitarists, and was acclaimed by many as the greatest metal guitarist of all time.

Some of Pantera's standouts:

"Hollow" starts out disarmingly gentle for a Pantera song, with some beautiful melodies by Darrell, then descends into a more straightforward metal song halfway through. One line is chilling today:

No one knows what's done is done — it’s as if he were dead . . .

"I'm Broken," which is probably Pantera’s most famous song, was essentially made by Darrell even if he didn't write the lyrics. Both his riffs and his solo in this song are unforgettable. Some of the stretched-out notes of the guitar solo seem to have a playful sense of humor — uncharacteristically for metal.

(And here's what it sounds like for Pantera to be played as chamber music.)

"Mouth for War" — You probably won’t like this. In fact, please don’t click on this unless you like music that’s aggressively heavy. If you do listen, notice how brilliantly the band starts the song with the pre-chorus riff (instead of a more common choice like the verse or chorus), which lends a special, climactic feeling to the actual pre-chorus ("bones, in traction . . .").

"This Love" melds the quiet and heavy sides of Pantera. Darrell plays a soaring guitar solo with some unexpected key changes.

"Walk" is a good example of why Pantera is called "groove metal" (as opposed to the "thrash metal" of Metallica and Megadeth, for instance). Here's a bluesy cover that's faithful to the spirit of the original while being radically different. A commenter at SongMeanings describes how meaningful the song has been to her:

This is the song that gave me back my confidence and self belief. For the years I was at high school I suffered at the hands of bullies who ripped my confidence to shreds and left me in tatters. They basically chewed me up and spat me back out. This song is about attitude and self belief. I got into the metal scene and found an outlet and music I loved. Far from being the victim, I became the victor, this song was my anthem.
Shedding Skin” — I'm surprised this isn’t better known. To me, it’s one of Pantera’s best. But please don’t click that link unless you’re OK with some pretty crude lyrics and brutal music. Starts with a compelling riff, then switches to an eerily soft verse, which flows seamlessly into the heavy chorus. Tempo changes keep things interesting later on: the part where it slows down, in the section right before the guitar solo, is transcendent. The guitar solos (plural) are amazing as usual.

Cemetery Gates” is an earlier song from Pantera — a classic showcase for Phil Anselmo’s singing and Darrell’s guitar virtuosity. This came out in 1990, and you can tell that it's rooted in the '80s in a way their later work wasn't.

"Planet Caravan" is a haunting cover of Black Sabbath. Pantera was so concerned that this un-heavy song would alienate the fans that the liner notes included a message justifying the decision to include it on the Far Beyond Driven album. It gives us a rare chance to hear Darrell soloing with a clean tone.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

A bitter irony, those first two sentences. Thanks for reminding me that it's December 8. I wasn't aware of Dimebag Darrell, either. Your tastes are very broad, John.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Yes, it's not the usual December 8 post...