Pantera: A Mandatory Listen for Millennials
“ For every fucking second the pathetic media pisses on me, and judges what I am in one paragraph,
Look here — FUCK YOU ALL!”
— ‘War Nerve’, Great Southern Trendkill(1996)
Enough has already been said about Pantera and their music ever since they shed their glam-metal avatar and shredded the metal landscape, one album after another, each dose more brutal than the previous. So, why should this article mean anything to anyone? It should, as I wish to highlight the qualitative and philosophical aspects of the content that Pantera made, which for some reason seems to have either diminished in its reverence, or hasn’t translated too well for millennials. This one is for us — why listening to Pantera, now more than ever, is the need of the hour.
Before we get into the meat of the topic, let’s address why I write this.
This subset of the population, which I am often seen loathing, is also a group that I belong to. So, I can say that I’ve seen and experienced the lifestyle, the things that matter to this group, their issues and their coping mechanisms first hand, almost always.
It upsets me that we’re constantly looking for validation or a sense of belonging to a herd, just so that we don’t feel awkward being ourselves. This is particularly seen in the kind of Pop culture that exists at the moment that we end up being the audience or the creators of.
The three things that I’m particularly passionate about — Food, Music and Comedy — have taken a bad hit in recent times.
In food, we have formulaic recipes regurgitated through the same format, through different media outlets, which are bankrupt of any objective other than making lazy cooks lazier, and fat people fatter.
The music that we kids are consuming is as confused as the career choices we’re making. Earlier in 2016, we’ve witnessed atrocities in the form of songs like ‘Let’s Marvin Gaye, and Get It On’, or ‘I Took A Pill in Ibiza’, just to name a couple. Not to forget the formats so overdone and made particularly insufferable in the last year, by the likes of Drake, Justin Beiber and Sia, that it’s absolutely nauseating — Tropical House and Dance-hall.
That music is proper plague, as it addresses nothing, while not being Seinfeldian at it even in the slightest, and is only making our generation soft-willed and blasé.
It’s not surprising to see the ironically hilarious suicide and crippling depression memes that were quite the rage in the year gone by.
But, more than anything else, humour has taken a huge hit since 2015. We have comedians who can’t take a joke, and are further pushing the PC agenda of “trigger-warnings”. Then there are sketch comedies that can’t help but have content that show ideological bias, which implies that their material isn’t well researched.
Now, there are the jokes we can’t make anymore, because some precious little butterfly will get upset, and all of social media will be on your ass, only because you TRIED to be funny or express what you like, which has led to quite a few notable people giving public apologies, and many more people that the mainstream doesn’t care about quitting jobs.
If all of this doesn’t confuse millennials, I don’t know what will. The food is designed to make us fat and gorge on mass-produced bullshit, which very sneakily “plugged” in a recipe, as marketers like to call it. The music is a constantly recycled mess which probably stemmed out of a boardroom discussion as well, only played 365 x 24 x 7. And you get penalised if you tell a joke — our ideas are rationed and policed by our own peers, it seems, and I hate it.
I hate the fact that the very thought of doing something radical is not just frowned upon, but also discouraged in varying degrees, because being MTV-BuzzFeed kids, who are just happy with reactions and seeking mass validation, has become a deep-seated norm in our collective ethos.
It’s no wonder how more kids are finding proxy yet superficial ways to express themselves, and are driven by being a part of the herd, intellectually or otherwise.
MSM and Social Media
No matter what you feel about the American presidential race results, you cannot ignore the fact the mainstream media has exposed itself far worse than an Aussie streaker interrupting The Ashes. The world has been lied to, and now everyone is in a perplexed state, having lost trust in what was, for many of us, the only source of information regarding global affairs.
Social media has only amplified this alienation we feel towards the world, with constant propaganda push, and desperate brands making obscene attempts to pigeon-hole and tag you as such-and-such. Politics has always been divisive, but only until recently we stopped understanding the importance of the grey spectrum. Now, it’s square to be in the middle — the media suggests that “you’re either with us, or against us”, and nothing is left open for a logical discussion, because even bringing up stats about controversial problems hurt sentiments these days.
I’m not surprised if you felt pathetic on and around 8th Nov, 2016. I’m not surprised if you still feel so. The damage done to our generation has been quite terrible, and the media can do very little to reverse that and to regain trust.
The Trouble with Musicians These Days…
Simply put, it’s their choice of subject, worsened only by their articulation. Let’s forget Pop/Hip-hop for a minute and look at Rock and Metal, since Pantera is categorised in these genres.
2015–16 saw some of the biggest names in the said genres releasing albums, from the (now split) members of RATM doing two politically charged yet boring as fuck projects, to Metallica, Kreator, and Meshuggah releasing some of their more insipid records so far. Vektor’s Terminal Redux was a revelation, though, but no record in this realm dealt with a subject that is evergreen and particularly significant in the said period — individuality of the youth, and the frustrations associated with it.
In fact, the artist that I heard justifiably, though not exclusively, talking about the subject, was not even a Metal figure, but is now Hip-hop royalty Kendrick Lamar, on what is arguably the best record from 2015, To Pimp A Butterfly. Not unlike Pantera, individuality is also a recurring theme in Kendrick’s content throughout his discography, but he likes to play cause-and-effect off of the actions of the self to their consequences on the society/community, and vice-versa.
This is where Pantera steps in as, in my opinion, the biggest individual voice on top of the mountain of all things awesome in not just rock and metal, but probably music itself, screaming in your god-damned face, with no pretense whatsoever, with the most primal emotion you must feel to get on with life. Pantera, who despite their disbandment in 2001 and the murder of Dimebag in 2004, have not had anyone truly as a torch bearer of their sound or their message.
So, Why Pantera?
As the album cover of their first “live release” reads, Pantera were as honest as they were self-aware of their music being “pure against the grain(American) Metal”. I think Pantera liked to keep it simple — make a statement, make it loud, and make it unapologetic.
It was the direct rawness of their personality that was very easy to associate with for a middle-class 20-something audience, with the abrasive, noisy yet blues-rock driven riffs only drilling the sentiment deeper. The music was simple and perfect, like a punch to the face, much like what’s seen on the album cover of Vulgar Display of Power. It delivers the message effectively and loudly, by saying just enough, well enough.
But Pantera did more in what they did. Often, they wouldn’t just make things relatable by talking about the right issues, but also suggest a reasonable means out of the issues, and also recommend a Nietzschean existentialist way of life, only less fragile and verbose and more matter-of-fact. The sheer power behind the music only made the message more convincing.
Here’s how I’d deconstruct my thought on why Pantera is the remedy for millennials:
Let’s start at the end — their last album, Reinventing The Steel.
The album, which happened in the penultimate stages of the band’s split, was made during a lot of internal conflicts in the band, especially the with the growing dissent towards the band members towards front-man, Phil Anselmo. During such a period, you generally see a bands put out some of their most confusing and disconnected works. But, Pantera’s was a very different case — they somehow came back heavier than their previous releases, while keeping their message as clear as always — The world is shit, but you’re in it, so flip it the bird and march on.
“The weight of the world has lifted and parted,
My eyes roll blind to sights that distracted
Through tunnel-vision and dope-hair blinders,
I’ll cut a path and evoke my will.”
— ‘Goddamn Electric’, Reinventing The Steel (2000)
A similar sentiment is echoed throughout the album, my personal favourite reference being the chorus on Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit, the song which addresses the turn of the last century, and all the hysteria that was associated about Y2K, in general, which also happened to be the year the album came out —
“ ‘cause yesterday don’t mean shit,
What’s over is over and nothing between,
Yesterday don’t mean shit,
Because tomorrow’s the day you have to face.”
— ‘Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit’, Reinventing The Steel (2000)
Not to diminish the importance of the seminal ‘Revolution Is My Name’, which was more or less a call to action to assimilate the lost generation into a brethren of people tired of media and propaganda — this coming from the collective wisdom of the band members, who grew up around the time of the Vietnam War.
Moving on to the album that becomes the introduction to the band for most, which, in my opinion, also happens to be their best produced album, Vulgar Display of Power.
“Run your mouth when I’m not around,
It’s easy to achieve,
You cry to weak friends that sympathize”
— ‘Walk’ , Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
The album as a whole is a masterpiece, with other less-spoken-of lyrical gems such as this one:
“You run and hide for the mere fact that you feel inferior
And know your interior”
— ‘No Good (Attack The Radicals)’, Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
And the band deals with a wider array of topics, which probably seem personal, like the song This Love which deals with a relationship gone horribly wrong, or the ballad-like Hollow which is a rather emotional departure from their general tone, and deals with the death of a best friend.
Either way, the album has become a representation of a certain lifestyle philosophy, which perhaps cemented the route the band must embark upon.
“Today I’ll play the part of non-parent
Not make a hundred rules
For you to know about yourself
Not lie and make you believe what’s evil
Is making love, and making friends, and meeting God your own way,
The right way”
— ‘Fucking Hostile’, Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
Like so, there’s so many more lines and songs to pick out of their discography which focus on a person’s struggle for being an individual. And they didn’t speak about “artistic individuality” as much as they did about something far more basic — riding the solo path of defining yourself, without looking at external sources for approval. The emphasis on “leave me the fuck alone to do my own shit, and figure life out for myself” was strong in their songs.
Evolution and Image (or the lack thereof):
The band’s conviction in the idea of self-belief was also evident in how their sound evolved, album after album. These days we see bands who start getting radio-plays deviating their entire tone to the songs that work, only diluting it further to appeal to a much larger audience. Pantera, on the other hand, got heavier, meaner and ear-ache inducing with every album, and the fans loved the fact that there was no compromise.
Since Cowboys From Hell, when they made the drastic shift to playing Thrash/Groove Metal, from a Glam Metal setup, Pantera had also assumed a simpler look of an angrier Grunge Band crossed with a Punk band from The South. Grunge and Alternative Music was also a musical movement that almost killed guitar-driven music, and their figure-heads who dressed up pretty much like bums, were becoming cool for the kids. Even Metal legends like Metallica became mellow around this time just to be accepted by a wider audience with turds like The Black Album dropped, and everything else that followed after, only proceeding to damage their image permanently.
It was when Pantera hit the stage did people realise the assault that they didn’t come prepared for. The band speared through the Grunge wave effortlessly, with every snare-hit serving as a roundhouse kick to the likes of Pearl Jam, who were too melancholy and caught up in their feelings.
Pantera brought initiative to the front — an initiative to not cave into what the “market” might suggest, an initiative to out-do themselves with every record, and be totally unapologetic about it. They assumed the role of the flag-bearers of Metal, and very few bands before them, and none after them have been able to do the same, and no one did it as effectively.
Unlike the Grunge-scene, or Hip-hop, which are both very focused on the image of the person playing the music, Pantera decided to strip all of that down — you could look like anything and be anyone, and yet have a truthful relationship with the band and their music. The band itself looked like a bunch of homeless punks controlling thousands in a mosh, like kings.
The Music and Artistry
Pantera’s approach towards their sound is very similar to the one that Sabbath took, in that Pantera wasn’t just a band who played with a lot of distortion on down-tuned guitars, but they were innovative in their use of chords. It was, overall, a musically sound and educated band. Every note played by Dimebag was well calculated and thought out. The right use of effects in their mix only made their sound darker.
Upon listening to songs like Floods from The Great Southern Trendkill, which was probably their most experimental release, we also see the interesting use of a flanger, maybe, on Anselmo’s vocals, apart from his own manipulation of his voice, which makes the track sound that much more sinister.
Even the clean guitar seems to be laced with some chorus, de-tune and spring reverb, laid over the choicest arpeggio progression for the intro, making it sound like the most unceremonious Mexican stand-off. Brown’s bass effort on this track is particularly commendable for setting the groove.
The point is, Pantera was more than just a noisy band. In fact the “noise” is just a veneer on their music that served as a very good aid to tell the world that they were…
Sure, each of them had their tricks, particularly Dime and Anselmo who were innovators in their respective fields, but that didn’t overshadow the music.
Much like Hendrix, Beck or Coltrane, we only saw the growth of the band as an artist, who was stretching itself to find more sonic possibilities to express itself better.
Pantera, despite the adulation received by the individuals of the band, remains an entity who chose to be a genre than be like a genre, without giving two flying fucks about what others thought of their music or them.
The fans speak the Pantera gospel, and it’s high time you convert. Dump their discography, starting from Cowboys From Hell, into your playlists right now, and listen on full-blast. Much like the first sip of beer you ever had, the music might be too bitter for you, but stick around and give it sometime — try to LISTEN. It would help you channel your rage better and, at least, it’ll help you stop complaining about trivial shit in your life, like going back to work on a Monday.
Wake up, plug in your earphones, start with “Revolution Is My Name”, and proceed to own the day, and anyone who chooses to fuck with you!