Heading into their seventh LP, and third for a major label, Pantera were bigger than ever. Their prior album, 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power, had gone gold, and expectations were high for what would come next. Some at their label felt it was the right time for the band to streamline the punishingly heavy sound they’d honed on Vulgar, as Metallica had done on their self-titled 1991 smash.
“The record company was pushing for something like [Metallica’s] ‘Black Album,’” bassist Rex Brown recalled to Rolling Stone in 2014 of the period. “We were like, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’”
Instead, with 1994’s Far Beyond Driven, the band crafted what was easily its most intense LP to date, an album that retained the massive grooves that had made Vulgar so memorable while exploring new extremes of speed, abrasiveness and lyrical perversity. In 2017, the album ranked at number 39 on RS’ list of the Greatest Metal Albums of All Time.
“We came up with the title Far Beyond Driven far before we came up with any of the songs,” drummer Vinnie Paul said. “That was the mindset going into it: Just make everything over the top.” The album’s harsh attack and razor-sharp sonic sheen proved to be highly influential.
Here’s a 1995 live video of Pantera performing one of the album’s standout tracks, “Five Minutes Alone” — a song inspired by a fan who claimed that Anselmo had beaten him up at a show, an account that the vocalist deemed “bullshit.” In the years that followed, drugs and infighting would cause strife within the band and ultimately lead to their breakup, but at this time, the quartet of Brown, Paul, frontman Phil Anselmo and guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott were still functioning at peak strength. This video handily demonstrates why they were one of the era’s most beloved heavy bands.
Far Beyond Driven would eventually climb to Number One on the Billboard Albums chart, a fact that, looking back, Brown called a “validation.” But at the time, the achievement was a source of stress.
“What I don’t like about being No. 1 is that the criticism gets so fucking thick,” Anselmo said in a 1994 RS feature. “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.”
Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Despite serious setbacks like Anselmo overdosing and nearly dying in 1996, the band would last for nine more years and make two more studio albums. But since their 2003 breakup, the Pantera camp has been plagued by tragedy, with Darrell being shot to death onstage in 2004 and Paul dying of a heart attack last year. Brown and Anselmo have both moved on to solo careers and various other projects.
Twenty-five years later, though, among fans of the band, as well as fellow musicians, Far Beyond Driven remains a high water mark. “To me, [Far Beyond Driven] was the first time that you could really hear how heavy they could go and how willing they were to just drive that shit home,” Slipknot’s Corey Taylor said in 2017. “Just when you thought you had some shit figured out, fuck you. You’re done.”