"Our top priority with Far Beyond Driven was to make a balls-out, heavy-metal record with no compromising," former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo tells Rolling Stone. "I think we pretty much did it."
When the record – Pantera's third for a major label and seventh overall – came out on March 22nd, 1994, the band's priorities could not have been more at odds with what was popular at the time. Grunge bands and pop artists ruled the Billboard 200, and, as "balls-out" metal proved less commercially viable, metal bands ranging from Mötley Crüe to Skid Row were struggling to keep up by embracing alternative-leaning aesthetics. Despite this, Far Beyond Driven somehow claimed the Number One rank on the aforementioned chart – sandwiched between weeks that featured Ace of Base and Bonnie Raitt in the top spot – making it one of the heaviest and most unrelenting records ever to do so.
Now the group is celebrating the legacy of that album with a newly remastered double-disc reissue of the album, which includes a live disc recorded at Donington Park in England in 1994. Three of Far Beyond Driven's singles – "I'm Broken," "Five Minutes Alone" and "Becoming" – were some of Pantera's most powerful songs, full of bluesy metal riffs and, in the case of the latter, a rhythmic steam roller. Pantera keep up the pace throughout the record – with an excursion toward experimental metal on the noisy and aggressive "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills" – before chilling out with a cover of "Planet Caravan," a ballad of sorts off Black Sabbath's Paranoid.
Looking back, Pantera's members now credit the commercial success of Far Beyond Driven to their own perseverance. The band had formed in 1981 and, after years of slugging it out as a glam-metal band on Dallas' club circuit, it eventually settled into a lineup that consisted of Anselmo, guitarist Dimebag Darrell, his drummer brother Vinnie Paul and bassist Rex Brown and adopted a heavier sound. By the late Eighties, they had established themselves as a no-funny-business metal band with thrashy grooves and Anselmo's macho bark as their hallmarks. But those characteristics had only begun really paying off when 1992's hard-hitting Vulgar Display of Power, their sixth LP, charted just below the Top 40. So when they began working on Far Beyond Driven at a Nashville recording studio, they decided to stay their course.
"The record company was pushing for something like [Metallica's] 'Black Album,'" Brown says. "We were like, 'No, that's not going to happen.'" These days, the bassist considers reaching Number One a "validation," and he still remembers the day he found out it had had gotten that far. "We were going to the airport the day the record came out, and I picked up a USA Today, and it said, 'Pantera: The overnight sensation from Texas.' And I went, 'Overnight my ass.'"
"We came up with the title Far Beyond Driven far before we came up with any of the songs," Paul says. "That was the mindset going into it: Just make everything over the top."
It was a formula that worked – except for the band's initial cover art idea, a drill bit going into a person's posterior ("It might have even sold more," Paul says now) – and it positioned the band for greater things. In the years following the release of Far Beyond Driven, Pantera would go on to tour with Black Sabbath, achieve Top 5 chart placings on its next two records and even, oddly, land some music in an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants before officially imploding due to inter-band tension in 2003. Dimebag Darrell was killed by a crazed concertgoer the following year, while touring with the band Damageplan, and the band members have never fully resolved their differences. Anselmo now splits his time between his solo band, sludge metallers Down and the hardcore group Arson Anthem. Brown was a member of Down until 2011, when he started the hard-rock group Kill Devil Hill. Paul now drums for the groove-metal group Hellyeah. The only time the musicians "reunite" is for interviews like this one, where they look back on Pantera's highlights. Here, the three tell Rolling Stone the stories behind five of the album's most potent pile drivers.
Phil Anselmo: We were really on a Black Sabbath trip, so "I'm Broken" has a lot of "Black Sabbath influence." I'll say that with this disclaimer: Anything Pantera set out to do, it always ended up sounding like Pantera, no matter what influenced us, because we would never lift anything directly. It was always our interpretation of things.
Also, around this time, I had introduced the Melvins to the rest of the guys in Pantera. I was privy to their first record, Gluey Porch Treatments, and their second one, Ozma. So I turned them guys onto that record, and I didn't expect them to like it at all. But right off the bat, it was Vinnie Paul who spoke up and said, "Wow, that's a pretty fucking heavy drum sound." Then from that point on, I was getting into slower bands and revisiting a lot of bands I had grown up with like Witchfinder General. This was shortly after I did the first Down demo. The faster music for me – thrash music and early shades of death metal – was getting a little bit boring because it was getting redundant.
Vinnie Paul: The song was nominated for a Grammy. Well, we got nominated for four Grammys and it was the only award that our mom ever wanted us to win because she knew what a Grammy was. [Laughs] All four times, we got beat by bands that didn't even consider themselves heavy metal bands, so it probably wasn't very special. I still have the golden awards they gave us for being nominated on my wall at my house in Texas, but it wasn't really a big deal.
"5 Minutes Alone"
Rex Brown: Some of the stuff that Dime was doing in the riff was groundbreaking. Nobody does that. It's all over the board kind of riffs.
Paul: The story behind this song is we were opening for Megadeth, and there was a guy that was flipping us off the whole show and so we stopped the show. And I was like, "Listen, in case you haven't noticed there's 18,000 people who really dig what we're doing. You're the only one doing that stupid shit without even having to egg the crowd on." Ten guys just jumped the guy and beat the shit out of him. His dad called the manager after all the lawsuits and this and that, and basically said, "Give me five minutes with that Phil Anselmo guy. I want to whup his ass."
Anselmo: There are always gold-diggers out there. The way I remember it was there was this kid that swore that I jumped off the stage and beat him up. Well, that was bullshit. That did not happen at all. When the father asked for five minutes along with me, our manager responded aptly and perfectly: "No, you don't." [Laughs] "I really doubt that," and basically hung up on the guy. But once that story was conveyed to me, it actually made me angry because it wasn't fucking true. I basically plucked out those words from my agitator's mouth and yeah, man, "five minutes alone," fucking bring it.
Anselmo: "Becoming," to me, is a "we have arrived" type of song. We have become something that was never in the forecast at all, especially for me, the ultimate pessimist. "Becoming" was kind of a gloating kind of song, puffing the chest out type of song. "I'm born again with snakes eyes" – very tongue in cheek, very much me playing around with words, and throwing a bit of a curveball at the listener.
Brown: With that riff, I remember Dime had gotten his first whammy pedal [for his guitar], and this thing would go up two octaves and make this incredible squeal. And Vinnie was using these different [drum] triggers. He was just fucking around with the drum beat. So it just started with a jam.
Paul: I was just playing around a drum thing, an idea for a drum solo. Dime heard me playing a pattern, and he ran in and said "Hold on, let me get my guitar," [and] we had a new song.
Anselmo: "Becoming" encompasses everything we were about. Dimebag had a pedal that we used, which I loved because it was hideous sounding and piercing and then of course there was that heaving mighty fucking groove that was all about everything that Pantera was about, and also a huge hook. I think that song was one of the more special songs on the record.
"Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills"
Brown: It was just kind of fucking around – Vinnie had a drumbeat, Dime was just fucking around with that pedal, and I had the five-string bass. It was just this little groove that we had. We listened to it and at first, we went, "What the fuck is that?" Then when Phil put the vocals on it, it just blew everybody's fucking minds. I don't know what the fuck he was thinking with the lyrics.
Paul: The first time I heard it, I was like, "What the fuck, really? Fucking your best friend's girlfriend behind his back?" But those were personal experiences that we lived through collectively as a band, so it wasn't hypothetical, it was pretty honest and straight to it.
Anselmo: The lyrical content was me probably giving a nod to my fascination at the time with Nick Cave's Birthday Party. Nick Cave was a genius. I will say the lyrics [on "Good Friends"] tell a true story. I made a lot of mistakes as a youngster, and to reveal to this particular person who it was about, why it was about, what happened that particular night, would not be a very kosher. I can't do it. To this day, I won't do it. It would just be in bad taste. At this point, I don't think that person would want five minutes alone with me, unless we have a sip of white wine.
Paul: That was the first song we did for the record. We actually recorded it for a Black Sabbath tribute album called Nativity in Black, but our label got into a pissing match with the label that was supposed to put it out, so it just got put on the backburner.
Anselmo: I knew people would expect us to pick one of the heavier Black Sabbath songs. The thing about Pantera is that, to this very day, those guys were crazy talented. They would kick into a country sound and it would be authentic; they would slip into funk and it would sound authentic. They could go into any genre and somehow it would sound like the real deal. "Planet Caravan" is my favorite Black Sabbath song and I knew in my heart that, if I suggested it, we were the perfect band to interpret that song and do something really special with it. It did turn out to bet caravan a fantastic version of that song.
Brown: I play the fretless bass on it and the creepy-ass keyboards in the background. Vinnie was playing bongos, and I think we did that song in about 45 minutes. To this day, I think it's got one of my favorite [guitar parts]; Dime's guitar on that is fucking hauntingly brilliant.
Paul: When we finished this record, we said, "Why don't we close the record with this?" We fucking go nonstop from start to finish, and, after your face gets bashed in, this would be a great way to sit down, fire up a joint, and chill at the end of the record.
Anselmo: I believe it was just a matter of irony to put it at the end of such an unforgiving record. The whole thing was, in my opinion, ironic to end the record with it. It is honestly still kind of an oddball song for us [to cover] to begin with.
Paul: We did Black Sabbath's final reunion tour with all the original members. They all thought our cover was really cool, man. I'm sure they don't sit around their house listening to this shit. Probably the most vocal one about it at the time was Tony [Iommi, guitar]. He came by the dressing room a bunch of times and said, "It's a really cool version." And Ozzy stuck his head in one time and said he really dug it, too. It was a really deep track for Sabbath fans and really deep for anyone not a Sabbath fan because everybody thought it was a Pantera song. They really didn't know that song. I have people to this day who still think it's a Pantera song.