Of all the hard-rock and metal bands that dominated the 90s — Korn, Limp Bizkit, etc. — Pantera might just go down as the most influential.They redefined how to play metal in the 90s while simultaneously challenging people’s perceptions of what could be considered metal in the first place. At a time when bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were defining what hard rock would sound like for an entire generation, Pantera was lighting a fuse for the real rock revolution, which would come later. In the end, however, you don’t need five years or a thousand listens to figure out what exactly made Pantera so special. Just play one of their songs; any song. The proof is in the grooves, or riffs, as it were. Vinnie Paul, Dimebag Darrell, and the Abbott brothers Phil and Diamond Darrell redefined what guitar playing was (and what it could be) during their time together. They were phenomenal players and master songwriters; churning out some of the finest songs in metal history before internal struggles threatened to destroy them both physically and intellectually. That, of course, is a story for another time — one that can be told in its own 10-best list some other day. Right now, it’s enough to focus on the music. So without further ado, here are arguably 10 of Pantera’s best songs ever:
10.”Cowboys From Hell” (Cowboys From Hell, 1990)
This is as good a place as any to start, given that it’s the title track from what many consider Pantera’s finest studio effort. Although the song was actually penned by Dimebag and his brother Vinnie Paul (with some help from Diamond), this rager of a tune deserves credit for spearheading Pantera’s incredible five-year run of metal domination.There are many great things about “Cowboys From Hell.” It is fast yet heavy with a groove that defines the entire album. And just when you think it might have gone on for too long, it ends abruptly, leaving you wanting more. The song also introduced one of metal’s best riffs, which Dime raises to the level of legend when he plays it live.
9.”I’m Broken” (Far Beyond Driven, 1994)
Of all the songs that show up on these lists, none more perfectly demonstrates how far beyond mortals Pantera was as players than “I’m Broken.” The song does everything you want it to, and more. It’s heavy, yet groovy; fast. it just doesn’t stop. It makes you think about the best riffs of all time, which can only mean one thing: You’re listening to “I’m Broken.”
8.” Drag The Waters” (Vulgar Display Of Power, 1992)
Pantera’s heavy stuff was great. Then they brought in a producer named Terry Date, and everything changed — for the better. Date helped Pantera take their sound to the next level on Vulgar Display Of Power, and while some of the songs (see: “Fucking Hostile,” “Mouth For War,” etc.) may be considered superior, “Drag The Waters” was probably the most powerful song in terms of showing how far these guys had come. The song is heavy, fast, and dark; the perfect thing to pump you up before a fight… or after one, for that matter.
7.”Planet Caravan” (Far Beyond Driven, 1994)
You could make an argument that Far Beyond Driven was a masterpiece. The album not only showed the band at their most cohesive and musically appealing; it also contained their biggest radio hit. The song, too, is one of the band’s best overall — even if many people don’t think it’s a metal tune at all. The truth is that “Planet Caravan” is heavy as hell; you just have to know where to look for it. And then it hits you right between the eyes like a brick.
6.”Mouth For War” (Vulgar Display Of Power, 1992)
This song always reminded me of something that would happen in a German nightclub — the type where people swing from the rafters and spit at each other instead of throwing fists. It is loud, dirty, and mean, full of the type of energy that only comes from being pissed off. You can’t help but get caught up in it, which is exactly what Pantera wanted.
5.”Walk” (Vulgar Display Of Power, 1992)
Here’s one thing you can always count on Dimebag Darrell for a fantastic guitar riff. But the thing about “Walk” is that it wasn’t just one of Dime’s best riffs. It was probably one of his best works. Here you not only had a riff that defined an entire song, but it became a staple in Pantera concerts for years to come — even after Dime passed away.
4.”Cemetery Gates” (Cowboys From Hell, 1990)
Cemetery Gates is one of those songs that nobody really paid much attention to when it first came out. But over time, the buzz surrounding it grew until it became one of Pantera’s most popular songs. The song sounds very dark, which is part of its charm. But the main thing people remember about it is how great it sounded live. It was slow and heavy with an epic feel that made you go crazy when you heard it live.
3.”Floods” (The Great Southern Trendkill, 1996)
“Floods” stands out because it is the only acoustic song in Pantera’s discography. And, yeah, that makes it sound like the softest thing you ever heard. But don’t be fooled — it’s heavy as hell, too. The reason people get scared of it is because of the lyrics, a dark warning about the type of people who cause so much destruction in this world.
2.” Becoming” (Far Beyond Driven, 1994)
“Becoming” is one of the greatest songs ever written by the band, period. The song is fast, loud, and brutal, full of the type of anger that few bands could ever dream of coming close to touching. And Dimebag’s guitar playing here is just insane. The entire song sounds like one big stream of rage that never lets up; it’s easily one of the best songs on Far Beyond Driven.
1.” Shedding Skin” (Far Beyond Driven, 1994)
Of course, “Shedding Skin” is at the top. The song is crushing in its heaviness, and it’s mind-numbing in the way it stays so true to the anger that makes Pantera such a great band. The lyrics are dark, reflecting on how difficult life can sometimes be and how we’re all just trying to claw our way out of whatever challenging situation we’ve found ourselves in. The song has a strong social message to it, too. It reminds you that no matter how bad things get, there is always hope for the future — which is why Pantera fans rallied behind it during some of the band’s darkest days following Dimebag Darrell’s death.