The much hyped Pantera reunion. If they had taken The Hawk’s advice (not that anyone ever does) Pantera would not have re-formed. Would have left all those great memories intact and untainted from their all-conquering years. Honoured the wishes of their late founding member, Vinnie Paul.
But no, – they’re back. Let’s take a look at how things have gone so far and try to figure out what to make of it all.
Recapping the Boom and Bust Years
The Hawk has already covered Pantera’s boom and bust days in detail a separate blog – how in the 1990s, Pantera left behind their glam, big-hair days for good and churned out an dazzling array of albums, each one better, heavier and more intense than the last – it was a golden period, probably unsurpassed in metal history.
Starting with ‘Cowboys from Hell’, and running all the way up to ‘Far Beyond Driven’ OR ‘The Great Southern Trendkill’ (depending on your view of exactly when it all started to go wrong), metal fans were spoiled beyond their wildest dreams.
But when the wheels fell off, they did so decisively. The reasons for the decline? A combination of things, as these train wrecks usually are. Phil Anselmo’s increasing problems with drugs and alcohol to combat his chronic back pain. Separate solo projects getting in the way. An increasing sense of alienation between Anselmo and the others.
When Pantera split in 2003, there was already a sense of finality about the decision, which was compounded by the brutal and senseless murder of guitarist Dimebag Darrell not long afterwards. Vinnie Paul remained implacably opposed to any reformation until his own death from heart disease in 2018. Anselmo seemed to have driven the final nail into the coffin with his very public white-power tirade on a stage in 2016 (and at a tribute event to Dimebag to compound the sin). There could surely be no way back.
At least, that’s what we all thought. But nature abhors a vacuum. A while after Vinnie’s death, reunion rumours began to swirl, and now it has happened. The ‘new’ Pantera is here, made up of Anselmo and long-time bassist Rex Brown, joined by metal veterans Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante on guitar and drums respectively, and replacing Dimebag and Vinnie.
First off, is it really Pantera? There was plenty of talk to begin with about forming the ultimate tribute band that would be thought of as ‘like’ Pantera, and yet a bit different at the same time. A ‘celebration’ rather than a reunion according to Anselmo.
Well we can now put that to bed. The new band use the old name and the logo on all their publicity and stage materials. They play the same songs. They are, to all intents and purposes, Pantera reformed, rightly or wrongly. As always in these situations, the fans will have to decide how ‘real’ they think it all is.
What about some new material? New songs would go some way to telling us about the identity of the new line-up. Would they stick to the 90s script, or try to develop the sound? Unfortunately, everyone has been somewhat coy about the possibility. Benante, for example, told Braveworlds that
Oh man, who knows? Creatively, if we are just flowing and getting going, and things are starting to be really good, musically speaking, you never know what could happen. I’ve got tons of riffs.Charlie Benante
So no new music, or at least not yet. Instead, the band have locked in a touring schedule, which started with the Heaven and Hell Metal Fest in Mexico back in December 2022, followed up with a few more shows in Latin America. Next, there’ll be a European tour in summer 2023, followed by (and here they’ve really hit the jackpot) a support slot for Metallica when they tour their new ’72 Seasons’ offering in the US.
With that schedule in place, there’s obviously not much time for writing and recording anyway in the near future. Taking a cynical point of view, one might speculate that the tour plans are intended to make the new Pantera a fact of life. Play shows, remind fans of what they were missing and people will get used to it. Over time, the negative comments and criticisms will fade away. Let’s see.
So what about those shows? What have people made of the comeback tour so far?
The it’s certainly been a case of going for a crowd-pleasing vibe above all – the setlist saw 6 numbers from ‘Far Beyond Driven’ and plenty of ‘Vulgar Display of Power’ also getting a run out. Cemetery Gates – maybe the song that really set them on their way from ‘Cowboys from Hell’.
Large pictures of departed members Vinnie and Dimebag adorned the kick drums. There was a heartfelt speech from Anselmo to the crowd in Mexico near the start:
There are a million things I could say right now, but all I’m gonna say is that every note we hit, every lyric and every melody are for Vinnie and Dime.Phil Anselmo
So there’s been plenty of humility and conciliatory tones going out to the doubters, and to some extent, it seems to be working. Even the Vinnie Paul estate has issued a mostly conciliatory sounding statement as follows:
There can never be a PANTERA reunion without Vinnie and Dime. However, there is no better way to celebrate and honour Vinnie and Dime’s legacy, than to bring the music of PANTERA directly to the fans. We are honoured that Charlie and Zakk, their very close friends and musical brothers, will share the stage with Philip and Rex, to unleash the power of PANTERA live around the world.Statement: Vinnie Paul Estate
One speculates that talks went on behind the scenes, and a deal has been done.
And the reviews of the shows so far have been mostly positive – they still kick ass musically despite age and health issues. Have a look for yourself, here:
So, all smooth running so far? Well not quite.
In an ill-starred occurrence of fate, Rex Brown tested positive for Covid-19 after the first 3 Latin American shows and had to be replaced by Derek Engemann for that leg of the tour, leaving it as Anselmo and THREE substitutes. That was bad luck, and Brown will no doubt be back.
THAT Elephant Still In the Room
But there are more issues bubbling away, not least that massive elephant on the room – the fact that Anselmo’s racist white-power outburst from back in 2016 has never been resolved. As previously noted on here, he tried to pass it off as a joke before making a more sincere-sounding apology after the backlash grew too loud to ignore.
But then there was a further statement from Anselmo to Rolling Stone not long afterwards:
For all the pious out there who like to point the finger at me and say, ‘Oh, racist,’ they don’t f***ing know me.Phil Anselmo
Yeah – imagine people thinking you might have certain racist tendencies after an outburst like that. For anyone needing a recap, it’s still there for all to see.
And, let’s compare and contrast to what Anselmo himself said when the controversy was at its peak:
It was ugly, it was uncalled for and anybody who knows me and my true nature knows that I don’t believe in any of that. I’m a thousand percent apologetic to anyone who took offense to what I said, cause you should’ve taken offense to what I said.Phil Anselmo
So which is it, Phil? Do people have a right to be angry or not? Plainly plenty of people still are, which is why the European festivals Rock Am Ring and Rock Im Park Festivals have cancelled the slated Pantera appearances for Summer 2023 after fan protests. In a statement, they said
In the last few weeks, we have had many intensive conversations with artists, our partners and you, the festival fans, we have continued to deal with the criticism together and decided to remove the band from the program.Statement: Rock Am Ring
Unfortunately, until / unless Anselmo feels able to clear up the whole ‘Sorry / Not Sorry’ mess, and give us a truthful account, it’s a sorry saga that will continue to rumble on.
Owning It (Or Not…)
And even leaving that aside, there are plenty of fans for whom the whole reunion schtick doesn’t feel right, for all the reasons touched on above and more. New boy drummer Charlie Benante has been in the press already complaining to Metal Hammer recently about the treatment he’s been on the wrong end of.
Now let’s be clear on this – sending hate is never ok, and The Hawk will not condone it. Whatever anger people feel, keep it civilized, and remember that the estate has presumably agreed all this.
That being said, the tone of the Benante interview will strike some as a little too plaintiff. Pantera was always the Abbott brothers’ band. Vinnie was against a reunion. Ignoring all that now he’s dead of course generates anger. If you want to go ahead anyway, it’s important to own that decision and the inevitable fallout. You don’t get to complain that not everyone is throwing confetti on the new union.
Facts of Life
So that’s where we are. The reunion / celebration / tribute (or whatever else we should call it) is a fact of life, and fans will make their own decisions what to do next. Accept it? Listen to it? Buy a ticket and see it? Ignore it completely? All are valid options.
For the record, The Hawk is in the same camp as those fans whose protests saw the European festivals cancelled.
Musically, fine, let’s do it. As the Vinnie Paul estate said, there’s so much great music, and in theory, that should be performed, enjoyed and celebrated. It’s a pity to keep it locked away – time heals most wounds, and who knows, maybe Vinnie and Dime really are up there nodding in approval, a smiling spectral presence watching over the new Pantera. Plenty of commentators would like to think so, and they may just be right.
But celebrating the music as it’s being performed by a seemingly unreformed white power advocate is a line plenty of people will not and should not cross.
Bringing things full circle, that is why The Hawk was against such a reunion in the first place – because without proper resolution, this continues to taint the music and the legacy. ‘Pantera’ coming to town soon? I’ll be staying at home for that one.
Which camp are you in? Do you care about all the controversies or not? If so, are you willing to forgive and forget in the name of the music? Or will you continue to avoid? Let us know in the comments below, and, to repeat, keep it civilized if you do. Debate is welcome on here, but no hate.