Two decades ago this week, metal torchbearers Pantera released their heavy-hitting seventh album Far Beyond Driven, and, implausibly, it made it to Number One on the Billboard 200. Even when compared to other metal albums by Metallica and Slipknot that have achieved the same distinction, it remains notable for doing so at the height of grunge, a commercial nadir for metal. Pantera were proud to be alternatives to alternative. “We called ourselves heavy metal at a time when the term ‘heavy metal’ was extremely uncool,” drummer Vinnie Paul, who now plays with the metal group Hellyeah, tells Rolling Stone. “People would do anything to call their band something else – ‘alternative’ or whatever – just so it wouldn’t get forced into that heavy-metal category and we carried the flag. That record was very extreme at the time compared to anything else that was out there.”
Leading the charge on the album was a muscular rager titled “Strength Beyond Strength.” With a galloping rhythm, a slow-grinding mosh section and wounded-animal howls by frontman Phil Anselmo, the track embodied the aggressive machismo that defined Pantera as they thumbed their noses at the mainstream. Looking back, Paul says “Strength Beyond Strength” was the perfect track to open the album with. “It’s heavy, it’s fast, we knew it was going to be a killer song live to play,” he says. “It had everything that the band stood for at the time: ‘Stronger than all.'”
After the record came out, the group toured as relentlessly as it played. The drummer says the group managed to play 312 concerts over the course of a year. But out of the hundreds, one show still stands out to Paul as a triumph: Monsters of Rock 1994, which was held at Donington Park in the U.K. A newly remastered, two-disc 20th anniversary edition of Far Beyond Driven – which comes out March 25th – contains the group’s performance at that festival as a bonus disc dubbed “Far Beyond Bootleg – Live From Donington ’94.” Midway into Pantera’s set, which contained fan favorites like “Walk,” “A New Level” and “Mouth for War,” the group played Far Beyond Driven’s opening salvo, which Rolling Stone is premiering here.
It’s a concert, as a whole, that Paul says is hard to forget. “I just remember it was pouring down rain,” he says. “And we thought, ‘This is really gonna suck.’ And we went out and 100,000 people lost their minds, the pits went up and they were loud as hell and it ended up being a really, really exciting show.”