The way guitarist Dimebag Darrell tells it, he and his Pantera bandmembers didn't think twice before deciding to continue their tradition of unrelenting, old-school metal on their new album, Reinventing the Steel.
"It's our f---ing religion," Darrell said. "It's what drives me from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep."
And judging from Reinventing the Steel's first-week sales, which landed the album at #4 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, the old-time faith of squealing guitars and sledgehammer drums is good enough for a lot of loyal fans.
"There's a bunch of [impure] music out there a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It's a little bit confused," Darrell (born Darrell Abbott) said recently from his Texas home. "We're not confused about who we are. We're not going through any image crisis. We're not trying to fit in with anybody. We're not trying to write that hit song."
Instead of changing their sound to embrace, say, rap-rock, the band decided to make Reinventing the Steel what they hoped would be the ultimate Pantera album, combining the best elements of past releases such as Cowboys From Hell (1990) and Vulgar Display of Power (1992).
"We kinda rolled it all into one and at the same time kept the focus on ass whipping, ass whipping, ass whipping, ass whipping." Darrell said. "I can't tell you many times I've bought a record and there's 17 songs on it ... and most of it's horse sh--. We said how 'bout quality, not quantity let's write 10 bad motherf---ers. And that's what we did."
In the process, according to Darell's brother, Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul, the band tried to pull back from the over-the-top aggression that characterized their most recent album, The Great Southern Trendkill (1996). "It was abrasive, loud, excessive everything you can think of," Paul said. "This time, we got back to the songwriting."
To that end, on tracks such as "Goddamn Electric" (RealAudio excerpt), singer Phil Anselmo manages to maintain his trademark aggression while adding a bit of melody.
"Phil came in, and nobody twisted his arm, but he said, 'I wanna sing on this record. I want to do more with my voice rather than going balls-to-the-wall on every track,' " Paul (born Vincent Paul Abbott) said.
Anselmo's newly melodic approach is also evident on the album's first single, the riff-packed "Revolution Is My Name" (RealAudio excerpt), which is emblematic of the album's stripped-down, guitar-heavy approach.
"There's f---ing heavy riffs all through there. There's more riffs on that one song than there probably are on someone else's whole record that's out today," Darrell said, laughing.
Despite its uncompromising sound, the single is getting play on active-rock radio stations and even some alternative outlets. It's #24 on the Radio & Records active-rock chart.
Fans' and radio programmers' embrace of Pantera's new album isn't surprising, given the loyalty of the group's fans, said Larry King, rock buyer for a Los Angeles Tower Records.
"Some people kind of keep the ball rolling, like Kiss, who's getting 40-year-olds to come out to its concerts. I think [Pantera] are holding onto their fans from 10 years ago," he said. "I think this one will have legs. There's a real buzz around it, and the label seems to be supporting it."
Pantera formed in 1981 but didn't find their signature, thrash-influenced sound until nine years later with Cowboys From Hell. From there, they became one of the most popular metal bands of the '90s, and Dimebag Darrell's inventive leads lifted him to guitar-hero status.
The band, who has recently toured with both Kiss and Black Sabbath, will be one of the headlining acts on this year's Ozzfest tour.