Earlier this week, the news broke that surviving Pantera members Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown are heading out on a “reunion” tour in 2023, which is one of the biggest headlines the metal community is likely to receive this year.
The frontman and bassist of the groove metal legends have signed with Artist Group International to book their North American dates, and are being looked after by the agents Dennis Arfa and Peter Pappalardo. The latter told Billboard: “We are thrilled to be working with such an iconic band and bringing their music back to the fans”.
Undoubtedly, many people are thrilled at the thought of getting the chance to see Anselmo and Brown roll back the years and perform a host of their songs, which will surely include cuts such as ‘Cowboys from Hell’ and ‘Walk’, which rank among the most influential in metal. Formed in 1981, the band went through various changes before settling on its classic lineup in 1987, which featured Anselmo, Brown, the legendary guitarist ‘Dimebag’ Darell Abbott, and his brother and drummer, Vinnie Paul Abbott.
The band, from Arlington, Texas, broke through with their fifth album, 1990’s Cowboys from Hell, before hitting new heights across the decade with records such as 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power and 1994’s Far Beyond Driven. Popularising the groove metal form, the band’s key component was guitarist Dimebag and the powerful sound of his Dean ML. Often coloured by a flanger, it was this component that helped them stand out from their peers, bringing something refreshing to the metal scene. Without Dimebag, you could say goodbye to the sounds of Korn, Slipknot, and many others.
However, internal friction caused the band to split in 2003, and their last release came in the form of their ninth album, 2000’s Reinventing the Steel. After Pantera, Darrell and Vinnie formed the band Damageplan, whilst Anselmo undertook a series of projects, including the supergroup Down. Brown also performed in Down for a time, as well as with the likes of Jerry Cantrell and Crowbar.
Even though there was still friction between Anselmo and the Abbotts, the post-Pantera world seemed to be trudging along fairly smoothly until tragedy struck in December 2004. On December 8th, when Damageplan were performing at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio, a deranged fan, Nathan Gale, rushed onto the stage as the band played the first song of their set, and shot Dimebag multiple times. He was pronounced dead at the scene, aged just 38.
Understandably, the metal world was heartbroken. One of their most treasured figures had his life cut short. Thousands of fans flocked to his memorial, whilst a host of legends from the community were in attendance, such as Zakk Wylde, Corey Taylor, and Jerry Cantrell. Famously, Eddie Van Halen even donated his iconic black-and-yellow ‘Bumblebee’ guitar which was included in the casket. At the funeral, he said: “Dime was an original and only an original deserves the original.”
Herein lies our first point. Dimebag Darrell was such an original, that in many ways, he was Pantera. Without him, they would not have been so. He was what made them stand out, and if you were to replace him with any other legendary guitarist, such as Zakk Wylde, who is rumoured to be taking his place for Anselmo and Brown’s 2023 tour, it would just not be the same. Imagine Led Zeppelin without Jimmy Page or Nirvana without Kurt Cobain; it’s nigh on impossible.
Added to the overwhelming sense that the 2023 tour is not Pantera is the absence of Vinnie Paul, who passed away in 2018. The band’s rhythmic ballast, he bolstered the thickness of his brother’s riffs with equally as powerful work on the drums, setting Pantera’s now-iconic tone.
However, with all that, there remains one other reason to not be thrilled about Anselmo and Brown’s decision to reunite, and that is the former’s past comments on race, which cannot be avoided. Firstly, we have to turn our attention to the notorious Pantera concert in Montreal in 1995. Here, Anselmo claimed that “Pantera are not a racist band” and that they had friends “of all colours and all kinds”. However, Anselmo caveated this by saying that he had a problem with Black rappers “pissing all over white culture”.
It is also claimed that Anselmo continued by saying that the pleas from the African-American community to end “Black on Black crime” should be interpreted as “it’s OK to kill white people”. He said that white people needed to take more pride in who they are. “Tonight,” he concluded, “Is a white thing.”
Rightly criticised for his rant, this, as well as other whispers, became everpresent spectres in his life and career, which led to Anselmo later apologising for what he said: “Harmful words that may have racially offended our audience”.
Some forgave and forgot Anselmo’s outburst as a one-off, whilst others did not, making the already controversial frontman even more polarising. However, in January 2016, after the annual ‘Dimebash’ benefit in honour of the late Dimebag, footage of the Pantera frontman surfaced on YouTube. The video showed Anselmo after his performance giving a Nazi salute and screaming “white power” at the crowd. Inviting an unprecedented backlash, Anselmo claimed that he was joking about drinking “white wine”, which he said was some form of in-joke that the performers had backstage.
He commented on the actual YouTube video, writing: “OK folks, I’ll own this one, but dammit, I was joking, and the ‘inside joke of the night’ was because we were drinking fucking white wine. Some of y’all need to thicken up your skin. There’s plenty of fuckers to pick on with a more realistic agenda. I fucking love everyone, I fucking loathe everyone, and that’s that. No apologies from me.”
Perhaps the most stinging criticism came from Robb Flynn, the frontman of fellow metal legends Machine Head. Posting an 11-minute video message on their official YouTube entitled ‘Racism in Metal’, he made some explosive claims about Anselmo’s backstage behaviour at the ‘Dimebash’, which cast serious doubt onto the Pantera man’s already spurious claims.
Flynn stated: “I was there, and I can tell you for a fact that there was not a Chardonnay or a Pinot Grigio in sight backstage.” He continued, “In fact, the only thing that you were drinking, Phil Anselmo, was Beck’s German beer. Maybe that’s where the joke came from. Get it? German beer. White power. Fucking hysterical stuff there.”
However, the most explosive allegation from Flynn was yet to come. He claimed: “I bumped into Phil and decided to strike up a short conversation as we were gonna play a couple of Pantera songs together.”
“Within 30 seconds of sitting down and talking to him, his drunk ass decided to let me know in no uncertain terms that he hated the ‘nigger’ era of Machine Head, referring to our third album, The Burning Red,” the Machine Head man continued, before pulling up two images of both bands in their early days on-screen. “He hated every second of it. Hated it with a passion. I just laughed in his face. ‘You are gonna sit there and judge me for the way I looked back in the day? For the music I was making back in the day?’ Pot, meet kettle.”
Elsewhere, Flynn proceeded to share an anecdote that alluded to the fact that Anselmo’s behaviour at ‘Dimebash’ was not an isolated incident.
Due to the severe criticism that Anselmo’s tenuous response garnered, a week later, he released an official apology, declaring: “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 per cent apologetic to anyone who took offence to what I said, ’cause you should’ve taken offence to what I said.”
What’s even more intriguing is that in December 2016, when interviewed by Eddie Trunk on SiriusXM, Anselmo claimed he was being mocked throughout the performance by “two or three little hecklers” who were near the stage. He maintained that these hecklers were shouting names at him during the show and that by the end his patience ran out. He offered this explanation for his behaviour: “When people start screaming ‘racist’ over and over and over and over again at me, what I did was show them exactly what […] the ugliest possible thing I could think of at the time was.”
Whilst I’m sure that many in the metal community are thrilled that Anselmo and Brown are taking Pantera’s songs back on the road after 20 years, there are many reasons to not be excited about it. After all, it’s not the real Pantera, and for all his protestations, Phil Anselmo should not be given the platform that he has. I’d argue that there are better metal bands to see live, that come without the baggage.