Music News

Dark Riders

"I think the alternative scene is disgusting," says Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul on the eve of his band's new world tour. "I don't know how these bands can feel good about robbing a dead man's grave. To me, every one of them sounds like fucking Nirvana."

Like its music, Pantera's mentality takes no prisoners, and has earned this quartet of good-ol'-boy, pro-pot metal heads from Texas more than a few enemies over the years. Most recently, Paul became the target of widespread scorn with alternative pop fans for tearing a strip out of MTV poster boys the Presidents of the United States of America in a May interview with RIP magazine.

"I don't know how many people jump up and down and shoot firecrackers out of their ass every time they hear a song called 'Peaches,'" he said in a quote destined for infamy. "That sure as fuck don't do nothin' for me or anybody I know . . . whoever that band is, they won't be around a year from now. That's a fuckin' trend. Pantera's never been a trend, and never wants to be a trend. We're from the South and that's how it is."

True to Paul's word, the band's latest release is titled The Great Southern Trendkillers. As tight and merciless a thrash-metal set as they come, Trendkillers entered the charts at No. 4 last month. Pantera's previous disc, Far Beyond Driven, debuted at No. 1, putting the band side by side with White Zombie as the metal gods of the '90s.

But while Zombie turns out thrash metal with a fast pop sheen, and former headbanging compadres Metallica make weakly shielded compromises to accommodate its crossover into modern rock's mass market, Pantera has stuck to its hard-core guns.

"People just don't seem to give the fans any respect," Paul says. "Sure, most of them are open to change, but not when you change your sound so much that you're all of a sudden going in a new direction--like if you make loud, hard, aggressive music, and then you're being played on alternative college radio."

The state of popular music was a different chapter of the same story when Pantera got its start in Arlington, Texas, in the early '80s. Back then, it seemed like every band was trying to sound like either Journey or Van Halen, and Paul and his brother, Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, wanted nothing to do with it. The two formed a hyper-agro metal band and started their own record label under the guidance of their country-songwriter father, Jerry Abbott. Pantera's initial look was a bit on the wussy side--Spin magazine recently ran embarrassing before-and-after shots that showed the band sporting a prissy glam look. And it wasn't until original vocalist Terrence Lee (who went on to front Lord Tracy) got the boot in favor of Phil Anselmo in 1987 that the group's grinding, apocalyptic sound became entrenched and the band began its rise out of the Southwest metal-club circuit.

Recently, however, Pantera fans have worried the band's days might be numbered. For most of 1995, Anselmo devoted his time to Down, a side project with members of Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar, while Dimebag lent riffs to the latest Anthrax disc and an Ace Frehley tribute CD. For his part, Paul was either burrowed in his home studio or out bass fishing and golfing (he claims to have shot an 86 just a few days ago).

Also lubricating the rumor mill was the fact that Anselmo never left his adopted hometown of New Orleans during the making of The Great Southern Trendkillers. Instead, he recorded his vocals nearby at Trent Reznor's studio, then shipped the tapes to Paul in Dallas, where the rest of the band recorded and mixed the instrumental tracks at Dimebag's home studio, housed in a barn-style building in his backyard.

Paul says rumblings about a falling-out have been overblown. "When we came off the road in April [1995], it was after six years of nonstop touring all over the world. We were fucking fried. I know there were all sorts of rumors floating around. But what people didn't know was that we had started working on this record, too. I think it's kind of cool that it came out of nowhere."

Onstage, Anselmo is a fireball of adrenaline, all whirling limbs and confrontational demeanor. Paul says the band's cranked-up sound and its front man's badass aura have led to a few misconceptions about what the band's like offstage.

"When people run into us in a bar, they'll be jumping up and down all over the place, expecting us to be the craziest motherfuckers you'd ever meet--eating glass, drinking everything in sight," he says. "I mean, we're like that some days, but you do have to moderate yourself.

"Learning to deal with success is about learning moderation. The rock stars who can't handle it are the ones who instantly thought they were the shit."

But Pantera has become "the shit"--to the tune of platinum-album sales and pricey arena road shows. The band's current tour with White Zombie is billed as "The War of the Gargantuans," which sounds more like a monster truck rally than a rock concert, and certainly doesn't help sustain the band's shitkicker-next-door image.

Being a metal superpower has its advantages, however. Paul says the band no longer has problems getting Cowboys tickets (they're all rabid fans), and he recently moved into a custom-built home in Dallas that boasts a swimming pool in the shape of a Crown Royal whiskey bottle. Brand loyalty is one thing, but that's getting a little stupid. Though just when you might think Paul could be turning into what he claims to abhor--a spoiled, compromised rock star--he earnestly parrots a bit of fatherly philosophy that puts his persona back in perspective.

"[My dad] never pushed us into being musicians or doctors or lawyers or anything," he says. "But one thing he did say was to just make sure you do it good, because there's always going to be somebody to take your place if you don't."

Pantera is scheduled to perform on Thursday, July 18, at Compton Terrace in Chandler, with White Zombie, and Eye Hate God. Showtime is 8 p.m.