Home Music Music Features

Pantera’s Powerful Second Act

Pantera have risen from the ashes and are bringing their music back to life, including playing Australia for the first time in 23 years

Pantera at Knotfest

Pantera perform at Knotfest Australia 2024

Ashley Mar

It began in Arlington, Texas, in the 1980s. It began as a channelling of youthful energy set to the music of the time, that over time warped and buckled and was rebuilt into something so sonically brutal as to stand on its own as a bastion to heavy sound itself.

Pantera was its name, and as that decade wore on and morphed into the next, they came to define a time and place and way of doing things that is still adhered to, and idolised, to this day. 

If you’re a keen metalhead, you know the history of this band. You know of the band’s ingesting of more hard-biting musical influence, of the addition of a young vocalist, Phil Anselmo, from the steamy streets of New Orleans that began so gloriously to pervert their sound. You know of the warning shot, 1988’s Power Metal, and the ensuing full-on assault that began two years later via the now-seminal Cowboys From Hell. You know the band ran hard and fast through the 1990s before imploding in the early 2000s, seemingly ending what was, for so many, the greatest period in heavy music since it began, likely never to be repeated.

You also know that the heavy metal world was changed as a result.

Plenty has happened since the release of Pantera’s final record, 2001’s Reinventing the Steel, and not a lot of it good. Addiction and estrangement and death has permeated their ranks, and yet the band has, almost inexplicably, risen once more. This time’s different in human terms, but it’s the same from a musical point of view, their signature groove-addled power thrash still very much alive. 

It’s been reported that, in the middle of 2022, Anselmo and long-time bassist Rex Brown began talking about resurrecting the band in some form or another, but this isn’t true. According to Brown, the conversations actually began “way before that,” but when pressed on how they started, how they progressed, only says, “I’m not gonna go there,” suggesting it wasn’t as easy as it perhaps sounds. “We’ll let you know in the book,” he adds, the hint of a smile playing on his lips.

Brown and Anselmo, in Australia for the first time since 2001 this month, are the only remaining ‘original’ members of Pantera, touring today (and for the past year and a bit) with Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante filling the immense shoes of founding brothers Vinnie and Darrell Abbott, both of whom have died since the band went on hiatus in 2001 and then was scrapped two years later.

It’s on the memory of the Abbott brothers that this reincarnation is founded, the band’s current tour leaning heavily on the ideas of legacy and brotherhood. “Two of our beloved brothers that just aren’t here anymore man, that’s life, you know?” Browns says on the deaths of the Abbott brothers. “They’re just not with us man, that’s just fate, it’s the way the ball rolls, dude.”

Finally, after 23 long years, we see the band back on Australian shores. Older? Yes. Wiser? Maybe. But they’re very much aware of the time that’s elapsed, the time spent away from their fans, and are now relishing the opportunity to reintroduce themselves once more.

“We were just young, spry bucks, you know, very thirsty, fuckin’ angry young men,” Brown says, thinking back. “And here we are, grateful and it’s just a privilege to be here. We’re different fellas to how we were back then.”

“I mean, it’s a dream,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “I told Philip yesterday, ‘Man, pinch me when this shit’s over.'”

For Brown, being on stage under the Pantera banner once again isn’t something to be taken lightly: it’s not a gimmick, a money-making exercise, something he’s involved with just for the hell of it. This is, for Brown, for Anselmo, no doubt for Wylde and Benante, and sure as hell for the band’s millions of fans, a very real thing. 

“It’s just one of those things that is sacred to us, you know?” he goes on. “This is no tribute band – Philip and I get to play these songs of ours that we haven’t played in 23 years. And to be able to do that and connect with the enormity of what’s happened is just extraordinarily fucking insane, you know?”

The pair who have been recruited to fill these hallowed spots long left vacant are, of course, not just mere session musicians plucked from obscurity. As well as fronting the well-known Black Label Society, Wylde has played guitar with Ozzy Osbourne for decades, while Benante is the long-time drummer for thrash pioneers Anthrax – no one but the best was required to fuel the current incarnation of Pantera. “These guys are kickin’ fuckin’ ass,” Brown asserts. “Hard shoes to fuckin’ fill, I’ll put it that way.”

“We knew who would fit and who wouldn’t,” he adds. “We knew what the obstacles were in front of us, and we knew after… I’ll put it this way – Charlie and I came down in September before we played that [first] show in December [2022], and we have probably one hundred hours of tape of us playing every fucking Pantera song that I could remember.

“And so, you know, me and Charlie lockin’ in like that… the drummer and the bass player, that’s your foundation. So when Zakk came in, there were certain things we had to go over and over and over, to get tight. And today, this band is about as tight and about as badass as I fucking want. You know what I mean, and that’s all I’m gonna say on that.”

“But man, this band is on fuckin’ fire, and I couldn’t be happier man. I just can’t explain that as much as I need to, I could not be happier,” he adds a little later.

Unless you’re at a Pantera show, you’re not going to get that ‘feeling’, as Brown concurs. “You’re not gonna get that feeling off YouTube, you know, you have to experience it live.”

The Abbott brothers are no longer here – this is a fact of life – but the music sure is, as pure and jagged and real and raw as it ever was. “That’s the whole thing… there’ll be the chants before we go on for a big show and I’ll just go, ‘Hey boys, let’s just fuckin’ look at each other and fuckin’ jam’, that’s it.’

“We all know these songs in and out, man. But you’ve gotta bring a rock ‘n’ roll element to it, you know what I’m saying? You can get it as tight as you want, but the thing that we were really good at back in the day was impromptu kinda territory, and that’s where we’re kinda headed, you know?”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by KNOTFEST (@knotfest)

So it began in Arlington, Texas, but where will it end?

It’s grown and prospered and withered but it’s never died. Will the joy in playing this music that Brown and his brothers in sound are so easily finding fade? 

“You’ll see this band go and go and go and go,” Brown says. “There’ll be a bunch of new songs in the set in 2025, maybe even this year… I ain’t givin’ it away.” He won’t be drawn on specifics again, but in truth, it doesn’t matter. Not right now.

“The set list we’re doing now, goddamn, it’s powerful, man,” he smiles. “And I hate tootin’ my own horn, dude, you know… we’re just happy to be here, man, it’s a privilege to be here. I’m honoured and I am grateful to be here, and that’s all I gotta say, man.”

Read Rolling Stone AU/NZ’s Knotfest Australia review here. Find Pantera’s tour dates here