It's hard to believe that 2014 marked ten years since the tragic passing of guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who was murdered on stage while performing a show with the band Damageplan. But the band that Dimebag is best known for - Pantera - continues to loom large on the metal scene. Watch any handful of new headbanging bands, and you're probably going to come across quite a few "Pantera-isms" - both musical and visual.
Pantera is one of the main reasons why heavy metal survived the '90s - a genre that many (including MTV and most radio stations) had completely turned their back on and left for dead. Thanks to such classic albums as Vulgar Display of Power (1992), Far Beyond Driven (1994), and The Great Southern Trendkill (1996), and such songs as "Mouth for War," "Walk," and "I'm Broken," the band (which was comprised of Dime, singer Phil Anselmo, bassist Rex Brown, and drummer Vinnie Paul) admirably stayed true to their metal roots through thick and thin.
And all of the surviving former members of Pantera continue to remain busy with music (Anselmo with Down, Paul with Hellyeah, and Brown with Kill Devil Hill). Brown spoke with Songfacts about his Pantera days, his current band, and his 2013 book, Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): The Official Truth book has been out for about a year and a half. What do you think of the book now that it's been out for a while?
Rex Brown: You know, it was written between 2009 till 2012, and then edited. I edited the book 10 different times, told them to take certain stuff out, they kept it anyway. Just to get the dirt. And other than that, it's just what I was seeing through my eyes and what I remember at the time. There was some begrudgement in there, I wish it wasn't in the book, but that's my only regret. Other than that, I think it's pretty fucking cool.
Songfacts: How would you say that the songwriting worked primarily in Pantera?
Rex: We would go down into the studio, and Dime would usually have something kind of mapped out of where he wanted stuff to go. He just had a massive amount of riffs, and of course, we would change those and maybe put in more parts or whatever.
Then we would work of off that. And the other times I would have something or Vinnie would come in with a drumbeat that we would work around. "Primal Concrete Sledge" I remember was just him fucking around. "Becoming" was all Vinnie. Just little drum patterns and you'd build a song off of them. Phil would come in with different ways that he would hear the riff in his head - either double time or half time.
But a lot of the times Dime would come in with primitive riffs and we would write everything in the studio so we had it all captured on tape. There's so much DAT tape of that stuff out there, and I want to put a full record out of how the song started to the very end of it in the songwriting process. It's just going through all those DAT tapes and through all those masters. It would take two years or more just to edit that stuff. [Rex also states that there is a missing DAT tape of Dime's, that had between 20-40 song ideas that he had lost, before Pantera did the Far Beyond Driven album]
We always knew which ones were going to work. Some of the stuff that Dime would bring, we'd go, "No, that's not going to work at all, that's not the direction we want to go in." And sometimes we wouldn't even fuck with that song, but I'd say 9 out of 10 times, the stuff that we did start tracking ended up on records.
Songfacts: What would you say was your greatest contribution to a Pantera song as far as songwriting?
Rex: We were the three-piece kind of thing. You know, that kind of Van Halen stuff. So pretty much all the stuff that was underneath the solos, and any time there was a key change, that was me. And our arrangements a lot of the time, just depending, Phil and I would work on those. But any time we changed into a key pattern, changes or stuff like that, was me. And me and Dime worked on a lot of those riffs hand-in-hand - mine with his. He'd have this little part and I would come in with a different little section at the end of it, that's what made the riff.
But any guitar player in the band is going to come up with the majority of the shit a lot of the time. We had four very different individuals in the band, and it took all of us to make what I called the "magic in a box." You'd put those four individuals together, and that was magic. Once you opened that box up there were so many influences between all of us, and we would just pour them all into it.
Songfacts: Is there a Pantera song that ended up completely different than how the song started?
Unlike some bands that have plenty of leftover studio tracks, just about everything Pantera recorded made an album, and those songs got their full attention. One of the few completed tunes that was left on the cutting room floor was from the Vulgar sessions, titled "Piss." The song was eventually issued on the album's expanded "20th Anniversary Edition" in 2012, for which a video was compiled of fans enjoying themselves.
Rex: There was one song that came out off of Vulgar, "Piss," and that was just one of my riffs that had a different beginning to it that Dime had and then we ended up using that riff on the third record - "Use My Third Arm" is the main riff.
Songfacts: And which Pantera song would you say was the most difficult to finally complete?
Rex: Shit, dude, all of them! We were such perfectionists in what we did. Really a lot of the time the thought process was thrown through the door, and it just came out naturally - it didn't feel contrived. That was the beauty of it. Once we started really having to think about what we were doing, which was probably towards the end with Reinventing the Steel, we were trying to take something from each record and make it into who we are. When I listen back to that record - and I couldn't listen to it for a long time, because of Dime - but I listen back to that record now, it's Where do you go past there? How much fuckin' more intensifying can you get than that, for doing what we wanted to do?
Our whole plan was to take a break and then we all reconvene, and it just didn't turn out that way. But I'm sure if Dime was still around we would still be doing whatever we'd be doing. But as it turns out, he's no longer with us, which kind of sucks. We got robbed by some fuckin' lunatic. It is what it is, and it's a hell of a ride.
Songfacts: It's a shame, because especially now, if you listen to a lot of the new bands coming out, a lot of the newer bands...
Rex: Every band out there wants to be Pantera, I'll just put it that way. I'm not patting myself on the back when I say that, it's just fact. They're trying to get the riffs and they'll never have it. They'll never get it. It takes the four of us. Special. I mean, you can't just throw three of the original guys out of Slayer and expect to sound like Slayer, it's just not going to work. Just one of them things, man. You run across that once in a lifetime and you just fight for it, and that's what we did with the band.
But it was all about the song. It was all about that melody, that "catch" that could suck people in.
Songfacts: Looking back at some of the specific Pantera songs, what sticks out about the song "Floods"?
Rex: The guitar solo in that was voted #19 in Guitar World Magazine for "Greatest Solo of All-Time." That was one of my favorite bass lines on that song. We'd rehearsed it a couple of times and Dime and I sat down for quite a while with that. It was more of trying to get yourself in a mellow mood. It's a blazing solo with a really cool rhythm section underneath it - I'm really proud of the bass line. I think that was Dime's favorite solo on that song.
Songfacts: What about "Message in Blood"?
Rex: You know, we recorded "Cowboys" three times, so "Message in Blood," kept advancing in the way. Every time we'd record it, we'd come up to some little bitty something that made it better, but we'd try not to get away from the original. But production-wise, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger.
When that was written, I remember we were sitting in Joe's Garage, which is a club that we used to rehearse at - we actually didn't have a rehearsal place, so we'd just rehearse at the clubs. Dime would go back and we'd just come up with something there. But it was all by the seat of our pants, just let 'er fly.
Songfacts: What about "Drag the Waters"?
Rex: "Drag the Waters," that's something Dime had that just turned into a little ditty that became a single, of all things. People look at it now and go, Goddamn. They try to get so technical with everything, "Oh, how did they do that?" Well, it just came naturally. There was no set form how to do it, you just get together and start jamming. That's how you do stuff. That's another one of those "one-note wonder songs" that worked. It's all about the groove.
As Rex mentions, Pantera has quite a few "one-note wonder songs" - many of which rank as the group's all-time best (which also proves that some of heavy metal's best all-time riffs can be the simplest). Case in point, the aforementioned "Drag the Waters," as well as "Walk," the "sliding" riff of "Mouth for War," and bits of "Primal Concrete Sledge," among other hard-hitting ditties.
Songfacts: What about the title track from Cowboys?
Rex: That was Dime all the way. Except I play guitar on some of that - the rhythm section that became the mid-bridge break, and also the solo part, I wrote all that. Other than that, that was all Dime.
Songfacts: What about "Goddamn Electric"?
Rex: It was one of those things where we needed, like, a shuffle. And that's kind of got that shuffle groove thing to it. I can remember how that came around. Sometimes you go through records and you start listening, and you go, "Man, we really need an anthem kind of a shuffle." After we did the "Walk" thing, that was kind of, "Well, we need one of those. We need something that's heavier than hell, but it's got to have that good thump to it that you can sing along to." One of those kind of things.
Songfacts: Would you say that the best Pantera songs came quickly?
Rex: Absolutely. The whole Vulgar record just came naturally. Parts kept getting thrown in and thrown in, and we just had to make it all flow.
Songfacts: And the last song I have is "Live in a Hole," what sticks out about that?
Rex: Oh, Jesus Christ - I just saw a sound check of that with us, back in the day. That was one of those that just came around. That was just another one of those sledgehammer jams. That's how that happened.
Songfacts: Okay. The last question I have is what is your band Kill Devil Hill currently up to?
Rex: We are in the process of gathering all the riffs and tapes and ideas, and we're probably going to get to work here in the next month hopefully. Been in discussion this week about heading out to LA and maybe getting in the rehearsal room and kicking this thing off.
Right now I'm just waiting around to see what's going to happen with the music industry. Right now it's up in flames and I think timing is the best thing that can happen with Kill Devil Hill. With that said, we have to all be on the same page. Maybe the first jam will tell what we're going to do.
January 2, 2015. For more Rex, visit his Facebook page, Kill Devil Hill's official site, and Pantera's official site.