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Pantera: Vinnie Paul Reflects On 'Far Beyond Driven' At 20

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Ask any metal fan what their favourite Pantera song is, and they’ll probably be as hard-pressed to make a decision as a child in Build-A-Bear (we’ve all been there). Play the opening few seconds of Fucking Hostile in a rock club before pulling the power and you could listen to a cacophony of drunkards bellowing every word. Put simply, Pantera were one of the best bands on the planet.

Following their split in 2003 and the senseless murder of guitarist ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott a year later, there are many who never saw their incendiary live show. But Pantera are done and the band’s drummer, Vinnie Paul, Dimebag’s brother, is adamant that they will stay that way.

“People – especially fans – can sometimes be selfish,” he said. “They want something and they just don’t seem to realise that it’s gone. We had 14 years of amazing history, and it left behind the legacy of my brother and the band. Pantera won’t be tarnished by some other version of it.”

Pantera were a unique band. Their crushing, brutal take on heavy metal produced a potent run of albums between 1990 and 2000; five blistering documents of pure aggression that pummelled the faces of all who doubted them. The band’s third major label release, ‘Far Beyond Driven’, served as a pivotal moment in the heavy metal story. It somehow managed to sound even more pissed off and violent than their previous releases and became the first extreme metal album to reach the #1 slot on the Billboard 200 charts.

Twenty years on, ‘Far Beyond Driven’ still sounds as life-affirmingly decadent as ever. From the skin-scraping salvo of Strength Beyond Strength right down to the soothing Black Sabbath cover Planet Caravan, the album is a beast. To celebrate its anniversary, the record has just been given a fresh lick of paint and sent out into the wide world as a deluxe edition.

“At the time, everybody thought that we were gonna go down the Metallica ‘Black Album’ route and there were quite a few people who wanted to see us go down that more commercial avenue,” Paul said. “But we knew what our fans wanted, man. We wanted to make a record for the fans, which is why we made the most extreme music that we could.

“Each album we recorded was perfect for the time it came out. With ‘Far Beyond Driven’, we really wanted to push people against the wall. it was recorded at a time when rap-metal was starting to come in, and alternative music was starting to take over. We pushed each other to extremely extreme extremities to make that record, and I think that the overall sound of ‘Far Beyond Driven’ really depicts what we were going through. We wanted to make a statement.”

And what a statement it was. Not only did ‘Far Beyond Driven’ arrive packing some of the most aggressive tunes ever heard by human ears, it managed to deliver them with absolute precision. “The sound was a very important aspect of the album,” Paul said. “It was something that myself and Terry Date [producer] worked really hard on. We started working on it with ‘Cowboys From Hell’, we pretty much nailed it on ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ and ‘Far Beyond Driven’ was just taking it even further.

“The songs are great – they’re real, which is why people love them. I love Becoming. It’s one of the coolest drum tracks that I ever came up with, and it’s when my brother brought that crazy wah-pedal into the music that we made. It’s just a really unique song, and I don’t think I’ve heard anything like it since.

“But you’ve got to remember that back then, Pro Tools didn’t exist – you had to play every fuckin’ note and sing every chorus. There was no cut and pasting, none of that stuff – it was for real, man. We worked extremely hard on those records, and my brother spent hours getting his guitar parts tight, tight, tight. It was an amazing record and it stands the test of time. It sounds like it could’ve been recorded today.”

If all albums recorded today sounded like that, then the world would be a much better place. Alas, very few metal albums since ‘Far Beyond Driven’ has achieved such mainstream success while maintaining artistic credibility. Young hopefuls like Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot and Linkin Park have all fallen victim to the commercial machine at one time or another, trading heaviness for squeaky-clean choruses and cries of ‘sell out!’ from fans hiding behind computers. But Paul believes that is simply a sign of the times.

“The musical landscape is completely different nowadays,” Paul said. “The internet is such an important part of the world now. In 1994, it was only just starting to make an impact. We built the most savage fanbase by just touring and playing live, and that’s why we never had to depend on radio or MTV to make Pantera into a successful band.

“Today, everything’s so fast and everyone wants results immediately, so bands don’t really have time to develop like we did. It’d be very difficult for a metal band to be massively successful today without having some sort of radio or media outlets to help promote the music.”

These days, ‘Far Beyond Driven’ is regarded as one of metal’s biggest, most brutal assaults on the mainstream, but at the time, Pantera took it all with a pinch of salt and a shot of Jack. 

“We were so in the moment with everything,” Paul said. “We’d done just about four years of non-stop touring for ‘Cowboys From Hell’ and ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’, so rolling into ‘Far Beyond Driven’ wasn’t any different – it’s not like we had any time to sit back and celebrate, light up cigars and think ‘Wow, look what we achieved!’

“The night the record went to #1, we had a show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. Some guys from the record label came in and just told us: ‘Your record just went to #1, you beat Ace Of Base. By the way, here’s your platinum record – it’s not platinum yet, but we’re gonna give it you anyway, cause it’s gonna go platinum’. Later, we were on stage and then played around three hundred and fifteen shows after that. I don’t think any of us really appreciated it at the time. We just thought ‘right, next thing, let’s keep moving’.”

The ‘Far Beyond Driven’ reissue harbours live tracks taken from Pantera’s seminal Donington gig at Monsters Of Rock, as part of a line-up featuring, among others, Aerosmith, Sepultura and Therapy?. Despite a few initial concerns, the show was a blinding success. It’s now regarded as not just a classic Pantera gig, but a classic gig full stop.

“It was pouring it down with rain and the bands that played before us basically got zero reaction,” Paul said. “We thought it was gonna suck, but the whole place just exploded when went on stage. It was a pretty magical day.”

‘Far Beyond Driven’ is a true one-off and it’s likely that no other band will ever come close to replicating what the men in Pantera did. The artwork has a drill going through a guy’s skull, for god’s sake. The original cover was even more extreme, though, with the drill being inserted somewhere else.

“It probably wouldn’t have sold as well – that’s why the record label made us change it!” Paul laughed. “Maybe it’d have sold more if we’d kept it…an ass on the cover might have gotten more people wanting to listen to it. Things work out for a reason - we ended up going for the other cover, but they both said the same thing: metal in your fuckin’ face.”

Metal in your fuckin’ face indeed. Ask your favourite metal band who their favourite metal bands are, and Pantera's name will almost certainly come up. They may be gone, but this band will never die in the eyes and ears of the faithful.

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