Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pantera, "Hellbound"

"Hell ain't a bad place to be," the polemicist Bon Scott tells us in his Let There Be Rock dissertation. As usual, he was being understated. Hell is the most metal place in the universe, as emphasized by Slayer's waiting, Venom's welcome and Stryper inviting the Devil there. Ozzy and Lemmy both went a-raising, right on the same song. Some of metal's finest documents start in the underworld, or at least right next door, including AC/DC's two best albums, Megadeth's most violent junkie dream and Guns N' Roses two-CD loose cannon. But no one ever made it sound louder or angrier than Pantera.

Pantera dominated the '90s as the world's best and biggest metal band, just as Black Sabbath ran the '70s and Metallica owned the '80s. They kicked off the decade by introducing themselves as the Cowboys From Hell, but bookended it by dragging us back home with them on their final album.

Even when Dimebag was still alive, there was much uncertainty as to whether we'd ever see another Pantera album. Every Pantera fan who read about them in metal mags (and if you were a Pantera fan, you absolutely read metal mags) knew that there was infighting between Phil Anselmo and the Brothers Abbott. It had been four years since The Great Southern Trendkill, years in which mainstream metal had been reoccupied by Korn and Limp Bizkit. But on the wonderfully preposterously-titled Reinventing the Steel, Pantera outsavaged not only the nu-metal legions, but more importantly their own storied career.

"Hellbound" is a band at their most ruthless, throwing all of their brutality into their last testament while still hanging on the the grooves. Phil Anselmo's banshee scream in the chorus is the stuff of immortals. He couldn't keep it much longer, as his voice settled into its present-day baritone, and the band couldn't even stay together after the Reinventing the Steel tour, with Phil Anselmo famously telling Metal Hammer "Dimebag Darrell deserves to be beaten severely." That quote was run on the magazine's cover one week before Darrell was killed by a gunman.

Pantera may have no longer been friends on Reinventing the Steel, but by Satan's graces they were still a band. If Hell really is other people, than I'm glad Pantera chose to leave the tape rolling.

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