If metal is indeed dead, if has devolved into a mass of stereotypes, and if its angry messages of empowerment and apathy have been absorbed by so-called new-punk bands such as Green Day and Offspring, then Pantera is even that much more of an anomaly. The band, which began almost a decade ago as a glam Judas Priest-Van Halen-Krokus rip-off, now exists in its own universe--as both tired clichŽ and powerful spokesband, as laughable exaggeration and larger-than-life manifestation of its own message. "I'm broken," Phil Anselmo roars on one track, singing for an entire audience that considers itself incomplete, owed something bigger and better; on another song, Anselmo identifies himself as "the bastard father to the thousands of the ugly, the criticized, the unwanted."

"With most metal bands, it's the same ol' thing," drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott tells the Observer. "They're either faster than Slayer or they've got more hair than Poison. With Pantera, the sound has changed, the songs have changed. We haven't been trend followers. I think we've been trend setters. I feel like one of the most important reasons Pantera has been successful is because of Philip's cold hard facts--street-level stuff that's happened to him and the band--and they mean something to our audience.

"A lot of heavy metal is Dungeons and Dragons and corpses and shit people don't do, and that's why they listen to it--as a novelty. I think our audience relates to it. I listen to a song like 'Shedding Skin' [off Far Beyond Driven], which is about peeling a past relationship, and it gives me a lot of strength and motivation to move on."

The music on Far Beyond Driven amplifies its two predecessors (Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power) by a thousand: each song blurs into the next, guitars and drums and vocals turned up so loud they distort into one another, each passing as quickly as a bullet from a machine gun. When the band performed earlier this year at the Fair Park Coliseum, it revved up the sold-out crowd into a manic frenzy--the music providing the sound track to a well-behaved riot.

Those on the floor ripped up the wooden boards that covered the ice the Dallas Freeze play on, hoisting them in the air as surfboards for the risk-takers. To witness it was to be swept up in the fever--to raise one's fist and shout "Fuckin' hostile!" each time the bald, beefy Anselmo put out the call. One doesn't merely witness Pantera from the sidelines; rather, you're forced to jump up from the bench to participate in the winning scoring drive, no matter what the price.

--R.W.

ALBUM PRODUCER & INDUSTRIAL/DANCE
MC 900 Ft Jesus/Mark Griffin

Since the dawn of time, Griffin has walked away with the industrial-dance award, but never has he won the best album producer accolade. And yet his winning this year should come as no surprise to those who've followed Griffin's career as the Mighty Big Jesus and witnessed how he evolved from a twisted hip-hop artist into a hybrid jazzer-spoken-word artist who now takes his cue from the likes of poet Charles Bukowski and such Miles Davis albums as Bitches Brew and Live-Evil (one day, perhaps, Griffin will even be nominated in the jazz category, alongside compadre and fellow Music Award-winner Earl Harvin).

Griffin moved to Dallas from Cleveland in 1979 and played trumpet with the Telefones till the summer of '83. He began his career as MC 900 Ft Jesus almost as a whim, working behind the counter at VVV Records; the idea was to release a vinyl 12-inch single, then recoup the investment and put out another album.

Now, he is on a label that also boasts on its roster Johnny Cash, Jesus and Mary Chain, Lucinda Williams, the Jayhawks, and Stereolab; his Spike Jonze-directed video for "If I Only Had a Brain" was a "Beavis and Butt-head" favorite; and on April 8, Griffin and his full band completed a European tour that included a month's worth of gigs in such places as Vienna, Paris, and London.

Griffin released his first two full-length albums on Nettwerk, then jumped ship to Rick Rubin's American Recordings label in 1993 when artist-and-repertoire man Mark Geiger made him an offer no artist could refuse.

"The deal with American is much better, because I told them I'd have the record done last summer," Griffin said last June, "and it took me a year to do it. And no one ever gave me one ounce of shit about it at all. It was always, 'Just take your time and do a good record.'"

For months, Griffin toiled in front of his Mac, tweaking months' worth of music on his sequencing software, learning his way as he went. The combination of anxiety brought on by wanting to top his previous work, Welcome to My Dream, and the difficulty in assembling a live band (that included Harvin and former Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, along with several Dallas-area jazz artists), caused several delays in the album's release. But the result was astounding: One Step Ahead of the Spider, released last summer, is a hallucinatory, hypnotic trip though the minds of beggars and lunatics, laced with murder threats and suicides.

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