By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Pantera coming back to play some live shows. There are conflicting reports about what the future may hold, but Pantera is now active again. This was controversial, to say the least. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I wanted to put together my thoughts here. I don’t think using the band name is an appropriate idea and I’ll talk about why.
Pantera was one of the most influential metal bands of the 1990s, with a sound that blended groove, thrash, and hardcore punk into a unique and powerful style. The band was known for its intense live shows and the virtuosic playing of brothers Dimebag Darrell (guitars) and Vinnie Paul Abbott (drums). The Abbott brothers officially disbanded Pantera in November of 2003 but even back then there were hopes of a reunion some day. Sadly, the tragic killing of Dime in December of 2004 made a full reunion impossible.
To some, a reunion without Dime never made sense. But to others, there was still some hope. At least Vinnie could be a part of it, right? Even if it wasn’t for any new albums or songs, it could just be for a tour or two. Maybe Dime’s good friend Zakk Wyle could fill in? But the small hopes that fans had for any kind of reunion were dashed when we sadly lost Vinnie Paul in 2018. Now, with two integral members gone, no kind of reunion or tour seemed right. At least, to me it didn’t.
Of course, this is my opinion. I’ve engaged in similar discussions about one of my favorite bands, Queen, and the use of the Queen moniker when two key members are no longer there. So, when the recent news about Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante touring with Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown under the Pantera name hit the heavy metal news sites, I was a bit taken aback.
This is probably going to be a more subjective article than I’ve written in a long time. But I know I’m not the only fan who is struggling with some of these decisions where a certain band moniker continues to be used even though the people who heavily contributed to their success for a long time are no longer there.
To be clear, the argument I’m presenting is not that these songs shouldn’t be played live. I have a lot of respect for the surviving members of Pantera. After all, I do consider Pantera among my favorite bands. I’m an even bigger fan of Anthrax and Charlie Benante, who is such an underrated drummer, is an integral part of that band. He’d do justice to any Pantera song he plays. Same is true for Zakk Wylde. His work with Pride and Glory remains one of my all-time favorite records. If these people want to play Pantera music, there’s nothing wrong with that. And yes, it is true that many fans would love to hear some of those incredible songs played live one more time.
The question is, do you need the Pantera name to perform these songs? I could see why you’d want this particular name if you intended this as a “reunion” and wanted to signal that Pantera was now back to being active. But if these group of musicians were named “Zakk’s Friends” or “The Band”, would Zakk suddenly forget how to play guitar? Is the Pantera name a prerequisite to the songs being played live?
Because here’s the thing. When you name this band Pantera, it’s inevitable that everyone’s thinking this is a reunion. But then you have the statement from Vinnie’s estate that makes it very clear that “there can never be a Pantera reunion without Vinnie and Dime” and that this is just to “celebrate and honor Vinnie and Dime’s legacy”. According to Revolver, Charlie and Zakk echoed similar statements and labeled this more as a “tribute” rather than a reunion. So, that much is established. This is a celebration of the music. It’s a tribute to Dime and Vinnie. Everyone would support a tribute to the Abbott brothers.
Except, I still have the same question. If this is not a reunion, why, then, keep the name Pantera?
One answer is “because they can”. And yes, of course, that’s true. But the argument we’re making here is not a legal one. And just because you can do something, doesn’t always mean you should. That’s what we’re exploring here.
Another answer is that this way they can get more promoters behind the shows and play to larger crowds. This is likely the biggest reason they’d use the name. But it still doesn’t justify it to me. These are not some unknown musicians. Are we to assume that with any other band name, they wouldn’t be able to launch a successful tour?
So, for argument’s sake, let’s say this was to attract larger audiences. Is there any harm in that?
Let’s start by acknowledging that Vinnie Paul, whom some people claim would have supported this tour, spoke out against any idea of a Pantera reunion when he was alive. So, if you were curious about what he thought, he addressed it before and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he changed his mind. So, if you’re a Pantera fan and you cared about what Vinnie himself thought, there’s that.
Going back to the question above, when all is considered, the cons still outweigh the pros. Therefore, the Pantera name should be retired. I don’t believe these four musicians need the additional fame; another band name with these four playing these songs still would have done rather well.
I know that some of you are wondering why it’s okay for some bands to continue with the same name but for others there’s controversy. There isn’t a particular standard. Folks who have the legal rights to a name can make the choice and then fans evaluate how they feel, which may or may not affect sales. As far as I’m concerned, I always look at it on a case-by-case basis. It doesn’t bother me that Megadeth continues with the name even though Dave Mustaine is the only remaining original member. This is because he’s always been the main songwriter in the band. Besides, the band has a history of member changes so line-up consistency was never a thing besides Dave. In other words, Megadeth’s most prominent contributor to its sound and image is still on board. The same is not true for Pantera.
In addition, Pantera should not continue to use its name because it perpetuates the myth that rock stars are solo artists rather than collaborative groups. This band was not just a group of talented individuals, but a collective that created something greater than the sum of its parts. Particularly in the era with Phil on vocals. Their consistent line-up over the years meant that they, together, created something that gave the name Pantera meaning. By replacing two members of the band and continuing to perform under the same name, the rest of the group is perpetuating the idea that one individual is more important than the collective, which is a dangerous and misguided idea.
Finally, I believe having the same moniker when key people are no longer there can also dilute a band’s legacy. When new fans discover Pantera, or any band that is in a similar situation such as Queen, their discovery will include these new chapters that don’t involve the key people who heavily contributed these bands’ legacies. The band you love now becomes more of a brand. There is no shame in musicians wanting their bands to be commercially successful. I’ve never believed in the unfair idea that artists shouldn’t think of profits. But there’s a balance to be struck. If you keep using the same band name over and over even without critical people, you can’t then criticize people if they believe what you are doing is only commercially motivated.
Motorhead’s long-time drummer Mikkey Dee was recently asked by Canada’s The Metal Voice if he and Phil Campbell would ever tour under the Motorhead name again. This could only be done with a replacement for the legendary Lemmy Kilmister. But Mikkey, rightfully, said no. He said it would be “stepping over the line.” He did acknowledge that he might do some shows here and there but under a different moniker. Because Lemmy was hugely influential in our understanding of Motorhead’s image and sound. Kudos to Mikkey!
Let’s end this article on this note. I still have tons of respect for all four musicians who are now touring under the Pantera name. They all have written or co-written some of my favorite metal tracks. And I am glad that these songs are going to be played live! But I cannot, in good conscience, agree to the use of the Pantera name. Without Dime and Vinnie, the “band” is not there, but perhaps the “brand” still is.