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Photos & Show Review: PANTERA Played Their First Show In 21 Years

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Pantera is a name that has passed into myth and for the better part of 20 years has been one that has been sadly relegated to the past. In their prime they were regarded as the saviors of metal in a decade where the genre had been all but rendered a four-letter word by the music media, and their signature style that came to be known as groove metal became a template that throngs of bands old and new would adopt and make their own.

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One might venture to say that they defined the 90s as much as their rivals in the Seattle scene, and sadly their reign as de facto kings of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal would draw to a close not long after the end of said decade. Musical differences and other factors would see this iconic foursome part ways for other projects, and the subsequent and tragic passing of guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott and later that of his brother; bandmate and drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott would seemingly put the Pantera name to rest for good.

Now a little more than 2 decades to the day that this metal juggernaut’s 1992 seminal studio offering Vulgar Display Of Power first hit store shelves, the first of several confirmed dates resurrecting the Pantera name in a live context would come to pass in Toluca, Mexico during the Hell & Heaven Metal Fest on December 2, 2022.

Whether one wishes to chalk it up to a reunion of the two surviving members of the band or a tribute, the inevitable hype and towering level of expectations became palpable well before the masses had flocked to the Foro Pegaso for the three-day metal festival extravaganza. Accompanied by longtime friend and fellow traveler of the band Zakk Wylde of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society fame and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante to fill in for the roles vacated by the dearly departed Abbott brothers, it seemed a literal case of the stars aligning, and with it the promise of a faithful tribute to the legacy under consideration.

The presentation that would unfold was one that would effectively cater to the immense nostalgia factor that came with the performance itself. The occasion would be kicked off with a poignant montage of past touring footage of the band during their heyday titled "A Vulgar Legacy" to the pummeling grooves of the original studio cut of "Regular People (Conceit)"

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Following a short sample of "In Heaven (Lady In The Radiator Song)" by David Lynch & Alan R. Splet, the auditory carnage commenced with a one-two punch off Vulgar Display Of Power in "A New Level" and "Mouth For War" respectively. Suffice it to say, they sounded extremely close to the original, barring Zakk’s Wylde’s deeper and muddier guitar tone and differently idiomatic soloing style, with Benante doing a particularly exemplary job in mimicking Vinnie Paul’s signature beats as images of both the Abbott brothers stared out at the crowd from his bass drum heads.

This particular incarnation of Pantera was definitely one to embrace the theatrical aspect of the venue they were rocking as they rolled through classic selections of their entire 1990-2000 studio catalog with a gigantic red backdrop and banner featuring their logo covering the stage. Additional video clips would air on the large screens surrounding the stage at key points between songs, including a tear-jerking one to the studio recording of "Cemetery Gates" roughly two-thirds of the way through the set.

The onset of age was a virtual non-factor for all involved, including the battle-weary front man himself Phil Anselmo, whom conjured up the closest thing to his iconic 90s gruff vocals that he’d realized in years to such bestial groove metal classics as "Drag The Waters," "I’m Broken," "Cowboys From Hell" and even some deeper cuts like "Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit" off their final studio hurrah Reinventing The Steel. Yet his finest moment would be a heartfelt speech just after the opening two songs of the set to the effect of: "There are a million things I could say right now, but all I’m gonna say is that every note we hit, every lyric and every melody are for Vinnie and Dime."

As one of the headlining acts in a festival that boasted the likes of Venom, Possessed, Cradle Of Filth, Arch Enemy and a slew of others, it went without saying that in whatever capacity one wished to quantify it, Pantera were back with a vengeance. There was barely a single seminal tune from their glory days, be it the vintage, turn of the decade proto-groove metal mayhem of cuts like "Domination" and "Hollow" that closed out the set, to the modern anthems of discontent like "Fucking Hostile" and "Strength Beyond Strength," that were absent from the performance, and all involved threw every ounce of their respective beings into each note that was played.

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Naturally it would never be the same as it was before, even with a pair of seasoned pros with arguably a comparable degree of musical gravitas to bring to the table, but for the masses that had flocked to the Heaven Stage from 10 until 11:30 pm, it was as close to the original as it needed to be. Call it presumptive, but felt like somewhere out there that the Abbott brothers were nodding their heads in approval, and it was only the first outing.

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