Pantera have the ugliest fans in the world – proudly, defiantly, gloriously ugly – fans who revel in their ugliness, wear it as a badge of honor. Like the band's uncompromising, snarling music, its fans' very presence says, "Fuck you, yuppies, sophisticates and wimps. It's we who will endure and prosper."
Appropriately, Pantera have decided to begin the tour in support of their new No. 1 album, Far Beyond Driven, in a ferociously ugly city, Philadelphia. At the Tower Theater, the audience is brandishing a finely honed bad attitude en masse, united by its fierce love of Pantera.
As frontman Phil Anselmo stomps around the stage with the hostile grace of a boxer (his favorite sport), growling over the pummeling hard-core rhythm of "Strength Beyond Strength," a bald, goateed fat guy with multiple earrings and a huge Grim Reaper tattoo dances in the aisle, ominous, barely in control. During the gross-out, I-fucked-your-girlfriend tune "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills," a throng of kids surge relentlessly toward the mosh pit, restrained by 10 rows of purposely empty seats and a phalanx of security.
It's Pantera's fans, rather than great critical acclaim or sudden trendiness, that have made them a platinum monster. So it's no wonder the stage curtain is a roughly assembled quilt of a hundred homemade banners (including FUCK LAST NIGHT'S CROWD, YOUR TRUE FANS ARE HERE TONIGHT and REX, WILL YOU GO TO THE PROM WITH ME?). When Pantera find out that a kid has come all the way from Japan without having a ticket to the show, which is sold out, they make sure he gets a VIP pass. On their recent promo tour, they spent hours signing autographs. "We signed this dude's prosthetic leg one time," recalls drummer Vinnie Paul, an affable Texan whose wardrobe relies heavily on Dallas Cowboys merch. "He was like 'Thanks, dude.' He hooked it back up and took off."
Pantera are less patient with their press duties, although they are willing to glower dutifully for the camera, over and over again, during a photo session for another magazine. "What I don't like about being No. 1 is that the criticism gets so fucking thick," says Anselmo, a muscular, combative, "uncomplicated, regular guy" who's finding life amid a media circus downright disgusting. "I hate the fuckin' press because they always mix everything around. There's all kinds of snide remarks about us, about our past, about our credibility. Heavy-metal kids buy these magazines and believe every motherfucking word. Before, everyone was patting me on the back; now, they want to tell me what I did wrong. I don't like that fucking pressure in my life. It makes me want to quit, and I'm dead serious."
Unlike some of the neometal contingent, Pantera came up the hard, unfashionable way. "We've been doin' this for 10 years," says Paul's brother, guitarist Dimebag Darrell. Adds bassist Rex: "We worked our butts off, just kept pushing it."
Two previous major-label albums, Cowboys From Hell and the gold Vulgar Display of Power, brought them national attention, but originally, "we were the greatest cover band in the world," says Paul. "We could do any tune. Van Halen. Iron Maiden." But the pair's father, Jerry Abbott, a successful country songwriter whose material has been recorded by Emmylou Harris, Freddie Fender and Buck Owens, advised them to start writing their own songs.
Pantera's early promo shots have now come back to haunt them. "When I was 17, I had long, blond spiked hair," says Anselmo. "But I was doing it when they were wishers." He spits out the word like an epithet. "And they're still wishers. I guess I was supposed to always be this bald-headed tattooed guy. They think you're born with tattoos."
Anselmo is also incensed at suggestions that Pantera's pro-marijuana stance was an attempt to get on a bandwagon. "I smoked dope with my father when I was 6 years old." He grins. "I coughed it up." New Orleans is like that, he explains. "There's every reason to drink. The Saints won, have a beer. They lost, get fucked up. It's Mardi Gras! It's Halloween! New Orleans has the highest suicide rate in America, the highest murder rate for its size."
It's Anselmo's hometown, and he never wants to live anywhere else. The frontman just bought a huge 60-year-old house that's actually haunted (the story is creepy, plausible and an article in itself). The ghost's "a plus," he says. "It doesn't bother me, doesn't take my weed."
These impulses seem to find a home in Pantera's fist-in-the-face music, along with the more good-old-boy sensibility of Anselmo's band mates, who live in Dallas. Paul and Darrell even went to the Super Bowl this year to watch their beloved Dallas Cowboys. "We gambled $1,500 apiece, tore it up," says the drummer." Atlanta [home of this year's game] is a great town, some of the most awesome topless bars in the world!"
Anselmo's view of all things Dallas is not as enthusiastic. Far Beyond Driven's most vehemently angry and potentially controversial song, "Use My Third Arm," spits out the singer's nasty experiences with the Dallas police during the years he lived there: "Kill that fuck to show him up/Equal his displeasure now." Just the sort of thing that sends would-be censors into apoplexy, especially when it's the subject of a metal (or rap) song. But Paul insists: "When people see Pantera, it's about reality. They see four people who are just people. The lyrics are about things that can happen to anyone on a daily basis."
After the show, Pantera are meetin' and greetin' fans. Not just making an appearance. Hangin' with them. Enjoying their company. Pouring enormous, chug-a-lug amounts of booze down throats (including the guy from Japan, who looks blissed out). Screaming and carousing. "Kids wanna jam, they wanna get down," says Darrell. "And that's what we're here for."
They're less ebullient receiving their platinum records after the New York show a few days later, but after all, that party's mostly press. They did cater in Pantera's favorite food, though.
It's Taco Bell.
This story is from the June 30th, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.