It has been 10 years since “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was brutally murdered on stage during a tragic scene at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio while performing with his post-Pantera band Damageplan. Ten. Years. If you are anything like me, this makes you feel both old and sad all over again. After all, Pantera was the band of my teenage years. Sure, I was probably a tad more obsessed with Metallica and Megadeth at first, but both of those bands were well past their primes by the time of Dimebag and Pantera’s ascension to the throne.
Mostly, for a guy growing up in small town Midwest America during the 90s, the level of sheer unhinged rebellion in Pantera’s music was a vehicle for my confused rage. They were “evil Van Halen” – brilliant guitar player, his brother the drummer, abrasive and likely insane vocalist, and amicable, underappreciated bass player – and found a perfect crossroads of musicality, middle finger defiance, and hints of extremity that would help to lead me and countless others to the true underground.
Dime’s death also came at a key moment for me personally. I was a serious late bloomer getting into the finer side of metal; I basically inched into the underground during my undergrad days, not diving in completely until my early 20s. Dime was murdered when I was 24 and in my first year of grad school, at a moment when I truly felt as if all of metal’s fruits were becoming obvious to me. His death hit like a ton of bricks; any hopes of Pantera reuniting were gone. I was devastated because I felt as if I had lost a friend, a pain shared by many due to the unique relationship Dime had with his fans. He treated life like one long party, and everyone was invited. With his death, the party was over for good.
In the decade since, my love of Pantera’s music has not waned in the least, despite becoming a massive fan of their more underground contemporaries (and despite the kind of junk Vinnie has peddled during these years). The reason is simple: Pantera made some of the most vital, balanced heavy metal music of the 1990s, and Dimebag Darrell was The Last True Guitar Hero. Try to name someone else that has found the same level of respect from the metal underground, metal mainstream, and guitar player audiences within the last 20 years. No one comes close. Dime was a master of situational guitar playing in his main, often simplistic riffs, improvised hooks, and most importantly, monstrous soloing. He also had a deceptively varied repertoire when you look beyond just Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power. He is particularly all over the place on The Great Southern Trendkill, Pantera’s oft-misunderstood masterpiece, and Dime’s shining moment as an artist.
But he had plenty of moments of brilliance on all of the band’s major label albums (and hell, a couple decent ones on Power Metal), and nowhere did he shine harder than during a guitar solo. Every one of his feature spots told a story within a story, perfectly serving the greater song while allowing the listener to escape within each note, shred, hot lick, and ballsy bluesy wail. To honor Dime’s memory all over again, I present a few personal favorites, and the reasons for their longevity.
THE SLEEP[Cowboys From Hell, 1990]
“The Sleep,” AKA Cowboys From Hell’s other ballad, often gets lost in the general discussion compared to the adulation for “Cemetery Gates,” which is unfortunate, as this is a gem. Starting with an acoustic motif straight out of Randy Rhoads’ playbook, the music quickly becomes a blunt backdrop for Phil Anselmo’s almost soulful singing. Dime’s solo starts out standardly shreddy enough, but it is at about 3:20 that it really takes off. Instead of going buck wild, he holds back the technique, riding some extended, bended notes over the top of the supporting music, slowly working his maniacal chops back in before coming to a rippin’ conclusion. It was one of the earliest examples of Dimebag’s understanding that you can let everyone know that you are a monster shredder while still totally serving the song. EVH would be proud.
FUCKING HOSTILE[Vulgar Display of Power, 1992]
Thrash thrash thrash thrash thrash! And play the solo like you’re still thrashing. After all, an aggressive, unrelenting song needs an equally aggressive, unrelenting lead. So Dime emptied the vaults, abusing his axe and dropping a ton of acrobatic widdles and scribbles and shreds and bends and wah-fueled sassy licks all over the place. And that moment at about 1:40? Like his hands are constantly switching places or something. This song was an anthem for teenage me, but that solo speaks to any age.
I’M BROKEN[Far Beyond Driven, 1994]
Dime’s status as a beast of the 6 strings was already established on the two previous albums, but I would argue that Far Beyond Driven is where he truly attained legendary heights. Any reservations were tossed aside and the man just got nuts. From the whammy pedal squeals in “Becoming” to the anti-solo wackery in “5 Minutes Alone,” this was the sound of a musician truly finding his unique voice. Odd then, that the first solo I choose from this album is one of Dime’s more standard offerings; standard in style only, as this is as close as one can get to a perfect rock guitar solo. That song-within-a-song quality is at full strength here: a perfect melodic journey; a perfect tone; a perfect amount of how-exactly-did-he-do-that trickery. Perfect.
SHEDDING SKIN[Far Beyond Driven, 1994]
Perhaps the most underrated song on Far Beyond Driven, “Shedding Skin” is a constant showcase for Dimebag and Pantera’s songwriting. After a monster intro riff, great clean part, and crazy good verse from both Dime and Phil, it of course just goes crazy during the bridge and solo. The latter is two part, with the first being typically shreddy but maintaining the intensity of the song’s tone. The second part, however, is where the-power-of-solo-as-songwriting-tool is at full strength. At 4:49, the lead rips back in, offering more of a climax for the song than any tortured vocal line ever could, while also delivering one of the more irresistibly air-guitarable moments on the album.
THE GREAT SOUTHERN TRENDKILL[The Great Southern Trendkill, 1996]
Not so much a solo as the entire second half of a song, this was an honest tribute to the southern rock of the Abbott brothers’ youth. Only it was metal. Way metal. The main bluesy lick is pinched and pulled to Dime’s free-spirited delight, as speedy leads are tossed all over the place. After the fairly thrashy first half was filled with Phil’s rants about trends and rock-as-a-commodity, it was Dime’s work during the second half that truly backed up the statement. Pantera went platinum with the two previous albums, but largely thanks to Dime’s evolution as a musician, they still had plenty left to say.
FLOODS[The Great Southern Trendkill, 1996]
We arrive at it. “Floods” was not Dime’s most famous song by a long shot, nor his most technically impressive, but it might just be his most accomplished moment as an artist. A haunting, understated song for much of its duration, it ascends to legendary heights once Dime takes over at about the 3:50 mark. He starts with an expressive, emotive melody over one of Rex Brown’s finer bass backdrops before the improvisation sets in. Each section is written and performed with the knowledge of what came before and what will come after, never allowing self-indulgence to take over and negatively affect the overall mood. Later, Dime’s reflective outro – complete with the perfectly accompanying sound of rain – works like the acceptance of some unknown loss. Hearing this live on the Reinventing the Steel tour was as unexpected as it was unforgettable, and a concert moment for the ages.
As with any legendary artist and band, we all have our unique experiences, memories, and treasured moments. Feel free to share yours below. Love them or hate them, Pantera was the last band to find that perfect balance between underground and mainstream and actually be able to hold onto it for an extended period of time. It took a perfect mix of crazy personalities to achieve this, but musically, none was larger than the man we called Dime.