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Daniels, Neil
Reinventing Metal:The True Story Of Pantera And The Tragically Short Life Of Dimebag Darrell (Book Review)
October 2013
Released: 2013, Backbeat Boots
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JP

Considering the sheer size of Pantera, I’m mildly surprised that it took this long for a book about the Texas quartet to come out. There have been a few others, a couple about Darrell and Rex’s recent autobiography, but this is the first band biography (unauthorized) and it is written by a gentleman from England! I figured the first Pantera bio would be a big corporate thing with a big name US rock writer like Strauss or Bozza.

REINVENTING METAL is a slightly oversized paperback published by Backbeat who are really making a good name for themselves in the rock book market. The quality is good as the 245-page book includes a foreword by Jeff Waters (who toured with the band back in the 90’s) and an afterword by Brian Slagel of Metal Blade. There are a couple dozen full colour photos printed on glossy plates in the middle and they range from the earliest incarnation of the band to more recent promo shots. Speaking of promo shots, the picture adorning the cover was a bit of a weak choice as the band is just standing there looking decidedly un-Metal.

The text is broken up into three main sections, the glam years, the glory years and the years of decay and a brief epilogue about the end of the band and the death of Diamond Darrell. I’ve read all the other Pantera books so there was not a huge amount of new info but there was certainly plenty of detail. The band is notoriously tight-lipped when dealing with media these days as they have had several unpleasant, even painful experiences; once bitten twice shy they say. Accordingly there are no recent interviews with any of the three reaming members of the ‘classic’ line-up, however Daniels did talk to a couple of ex-members who provided useful and interesting insight into the early days of the band.

The tone is generally positive, almost too positive! There were a few times where I had to look at the cover to make sure the sub-title wasn’t ‘My personal love-letter to Pantera’! Sentences like “VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER is an album of thick, brutal songs, intelligent lyrics and magnificent musicianship-and is one of the all time great Metal albums.” (p. 106) made me cringe. To be fair Daniels did admit the VULGAR album had critics, (like me) who felt the album had weak lyrics and was trying too hard to be ‘heavy’ for the sake of being heavy at the sake of good musicianship.

Speaking of recording, a comment such as, ‘What was also important to the band, however, was capturing as truly as possible, the energy and aggression of their live performances.’ (p. 106) sounds like it was written by a publicist. I also had to roll my eyes when Daniels asserts that it was a ‘stroke of understated genius’ (p. 109) to send the band out on the road to build a fan base. Genius? Hardly, that is what every single metal band on the planet had been doing since 1970, was touring to build a fan base! Sending a new band out to play a string of crappy club dates in the backwater of the America could hardly be called genius. Daniels enthusiasm for the band contributed to some significant hyperbole across the book. However, if he was too negative Phil Anselmo might come and punch him the head so you can’t blame Neil for accenting the positives.

I’m not the world’s biggest Pantera fan and I fall into the admittedly very small camp who did not like the bands new direction after COWBOYS FROM HELL so the constant gushing about the band selling ‘millions’ wore thin. Big sales does not necessarily equal talent or good songwriting and the cult of Pantera was so big that Phil could have recorded a solo album of him playing the harmonica and it would have gone Gold. I think Daniels exaggerates (or at least over-emphasizes) how many millions they sold. Sure, they sold tons but went platinum in three countries (US, Canada and Australia) but keep in mind Platinum status in Canada was 100,000 units and in Australia only 70,000 units. It took COWBOYS FROM HELL seven years to go Platinum in America. Added up over 20 years and nine albums they are not even in the same league as some of the biggest Metal bands. However, to add perspective, they are still in the top 5% of Metal bands for sales, selling about the same amount as Ratt for example who also had four consecutive Platinum albums in the US.

Lastly, in terms of criticism, Daniels does little to mention the negatives of the dramatic changes in Pantera. After slogging it out in the trenches for a decade with little formal success, Phil joins and in a very short period of time the band changed their sound, their style, their clothes, their hair, signed to a major label and started shooting videos and selling millions. That is the textbook definition of selling out. Many Pantera apologists, Daniels included, do not agree with this because the band got 'heavier' and they can conveniently ignore the radical, deliberate and pre-mediatated change. Pantera is often critiqued for their early 'glam' days when, in fact, they were very cutting edge starting in the very early 80's and don't get nearly enough recognition as pioneering that melodic Metal style, because they were not as successful as the bands from that same era, the Dokken's and Keel's of the world. Suddenly the band changes dramatically, the past gets buried and they become heralded for pioneering a style which was really just piggy-backing on what was popular in the early 90's namely grunge, with slower songs, toned down image, simpler riffs and solos (if any) and the ever present shout style of vocals. For further evidence look who the band was touring with in the 90's, many bands of questionable metal pedigree, (Prong, Gruntruck, Downset, Type O Negative, Deftones, Clutch, Neurosis, Static X, Skrape etc) not to mention Ozzfest...

I'm getting off my soapbox now.

Some of the highlights of the book were Jeff Waters recollections of the Priest/Annihilator/Pantera tour and a good amount of deal on the evolution of the band from regional stars to a heavily touring act the US. I’m surprised there wasn’t more info on the infamous Skid Row/Pantera tour of the early 90’s, which was well documented in one of the bands home videos. Daniels covers the alleged Exhorder feud, which really wasn’t much of a feud after all, and he interviews many managers, roadies, colleagues and former members as well, bringing good insight into the inner workings of the band before they made it huge. Daniels, simple effective prose made this a fun, easy read playing a broad audience of Metal fans as well as enough technical detail about tours and chart placements to satisfy the more die-hard trivia minded reader as well.

Daniels is one of the most prolific Metal authors on the scene right now and REINVENTING METAL is another feather in his cap. He does a fine job telling a complicated story about a complicated band without primary access and despite a very glowing tone, he truly captured the story of the cowboys from hell.
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