Critics loved to believe that Pantera made music for slack-jawed, beer-guzzling stereotypes. But in reality, I was the target demographic for the group--a wimpy, pissed-off 12 year-old in the suburbs. When I moved back to Dallas for middle school, the preppy kids quickly tagged me as the isolated nerd, and while they tossed around footballs and tackled each other on the weekends, my ass hid in the bedroom with a stack of CDs. This was before antidepressants and child therapists became the standard cures for adolescent rage. We didn't have chemicals; we had rock. But my bad moods required more than the devil imagery of Black Sabbath or the spectacle of AC/DC. I wanted anger, direct and hard-hitting, something that spoke to that ache of isolation. Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power showed up just in time.
Look, these guys weren't the Beatles, but since I didn't have friends (or parents) with cool record collections, my discovery of Vulgar Display was a huge deal. I'd listened to Metallica and Megadeth, but even those metal powerhouses paled in comparison to Phil Anselmo's Godzilla screaming and Dimebag Darrell's start-stop, jumbo-sized guitar chords. The explosive opening of "Mouth for War" forced my fingers into devil horns as I shouted back, "My ears can't hear what you say to me!" while the first-quiet-then-loud "This Love" was the sucker punch I'd never heard from my father's Dan Fogelberg tape collection.
Granted, radio in those days offered plenty to match my anger, but Pantera stood out. They were something off the beaten path. The other kids had their Pearl Jam and Metallica; Pantera was much more insane and over-the-top, and yet, I had no trouble relating to their tower-sized fury. Apparently I wasn't alone. It turns out millions of kids around the country were thinking the same thing--the band's next album, Far Beyond Driven, went to No. 1--but in the days before MP3 downloads, sneaking downstairs at midnight for MTV's Headbanger's Ball and hearing Pantera play the show's theme was as illicit a rock discovery as we got.
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By the time the band released Far Beyond Driven, I'd overcome my school insecurities and moved on musically to punk, techno, folk, hip-hop, country and so on. Heavy metal got old. These days, the genre is even more incestuous and generic-sounding, and replays of Vulgar Display remind me how far my tastes have shifted, though the album offers an enjoyable hunk of nostalgia. Still, I keep my ears open, in case someone revitalizes the metal scene with a hunger and intensity that even non-metalheads can appreciate. Someone like Dimebag Darrell.