The 25 greatest Pantera songs of all time

Dimebag Darrell
(Image credit: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

Dimebag Darrell was a true original. According to bandmate Rex Brown, a teenage Dime went into his bedroom with Ozzy Osbourne's Diary of a Madman and a handful of Van Halen records and came out a readymade guitar hero – and his inimitable playing with Pantera is testament to his next-level talents.

From the Texas institution's glam-metal origins to the heaviest album to ever top the Billboard charts, Pantera chiseled out a legacy that few metal bands can top – and Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown's recent revival of the band with Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante is keeping their distinctly southern brand of sledgehammer riffage alive for a new generation.

In that spirit, we celebrate the heaviest of the heavy with our guide to Pantera's 25 greatest songs, from Revolution is My Name and This Love to Cemetery Gates and Cowboys from Hell. But we begin with a deep cut from The Great Southern Trendkill

25. 10's

Album: The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)

One of Pantera’s most haunting compositions, 10’s comes into focus slowly, floating in on an ethereal, if crusty-sounding, bent-note Dimebag riff.

The warped guitars and slow pacing provide an appropriately uneasy environment for a weary vocal from Phil Anselmo, who documents a man “disgusted with [his] cheapness” and destroying himself from the inside out through addiction. An acoustic guitar interlude and a liquid Dime solo that, for a few bars at least, unexpectedly wanders into major-key territory, allow a few seconds of sunshine to poke through the black clouds.

But overall, 10’s is positively chilling and all-consuming in its atmosphere of impending doom.

24. Goddamn Electric

Album: Reinventing the Steel (2000)

Pantera’s final studio album didn’t actually reinvent the steel, but thanks to tracks like Goddamn Electric they certainly reclaimed their title as the masters of metal heading into the new millennium. This song’s main riff stomps along like Godzilla slowly moshing to Walk, and the entire tune wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Vulgar Display of Power

Dimebag’s solo is killer, but the thriller is a guest spot by Slayer’s Kerry King, who delivers a wicked whammy-bar blast to close out the song’s final 45 seconds. Pantera rarely featured guests on their albums, so this appearance by Dime’s blood brother is an unexpected surprise.

23. It Makes Them Disappear

Album: Reinventing the Steel (2000)

It Makes Them Disappear kicks off with a psychedelic, cleanly voiced guitar lick, but from there the song quickly descends into a molasses-thick pit of sludge. The downtuned, wobbly guitars and bloated bass, not to mention Anselmo’s raw-throated delivery, suggest a song that could have been tackled just as appropriately by the singer’s doomy southern metal side project, Down. 

And yet, the final two minutes of the tune are largely a Dimebag showcase, with the guitarist ripping out an incredibly bluesy and melodic solo, albeit one that sounds like it’s being delivered from the depths of a tar pit. 

“The majority of Reinventing the Steel was recorded with the guitar tuned down a whole step [low to high: D-G-C-F-A-D],” Dime told Guitar World in early 2000. “The cool thing about this tuning, besides sounding heavy, is that your guitar feels totally different – the strings are real loose and spongy, which means you can get some big-assed bends and killer wide vibrato happening.”

22. P*S*T*88

Album: Power Metal (1988)

Pantera’s pre-Cowboys albums aren’t particularly highly regarded – even by the band members themselves – but out of all of those efforts Power Metal had more than a few worthy moments. P*S*T*88 is particularly noteworthy as it features one of Dimebag’s rare performances as lead vocalist. 

The overall recording resembles a mash-up of Judas Priest and Kill Em All–era Metallica, and Dimebag even sounds like the mutant offspring of James Hetfield and Rob Halford, proving that he could have been a frontman if he so desired.

21. Planet Caravan/Hole in the Sky

Albums: Far Beyond Driven (1994) and Revolution is My Name EP (2001)

The list of Pantera influences is long and includes bands like Judas Priest, Slayer and even King’s X, Kiss and Van Halen, but Black Sabbath were their biggest influence. They name-checked them in the lyrics to Goddamn Electric, and of the six cover songs they recorded in the studio during their career, three of them were Black Sabbath tunes. 

Planet Caravan was originally intended for the Nativity in Black tribute album, but when it was cut due to a record company dispute, they added it to the end of Far Beyond Driven. Pantera’s faithful rendition of Hole in the Sky debuted on the Japanese 2001 Revolution Is My Name EP along with the non-LP track Immortally Insane.

20. Floods

Album: The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)

Despite the fact that Pantera called the album that Floods appeared on The Great Southern Trendkill, this song sounds an awful lot like grunge (particularly Soundgarden), one of the many musical genres at which the cocky album title takes aim.

Regardless, it’s a great song, which was made great by what many consider to be the finest guitar solo Dimebag ever laid down in the studio. The sweetly melodic main guitar figure in the intro and ending often gets overlooked, but it’s a fine example of Dimebag’s emotional range, proving that there was much more to his playing than his usual blunt-force trauma.

19. Shedding Skin

Album: Far Beyond Driven (1994)

Shedding Skin continues the theme of emotional cleansing that Phil Anselmo began on Far Beyond Driven’s previous track, 25 Years. Only here the singer’s object of ire is not his father but rather a former girlfriend. The song comes crashing in right out of the gate with a choppy, staircase-like unison riff from Dime and Rex. 

But then it abruptly shifts gears into a mellow verse punctuated by Dimebag’s gently plucked guitar harmonics, over which Anselmo paints a vivid and disturbing picture of a relationship as a scabrous membrane needing to be excised from his body. 

By the song’s climactic finale, Anselmo finds the only escape is to shed his own skin “to peel you off of me.” Dimebag then punctuates the singer’s cathartic metamorphosis with an appropriately anguished and squealing solo.

18. 25 Years

Album: Far Beyond Driven (1994)

Both this song and the same album’s Becoming are said to deal with Phil Anselmo’s difficult relationship with his father. But whereas the latter wraps the singer’s paternal purging in a catchy riff and an almost inspirational lyric, 25 Years is a dark and twisted descent into the deepest recesses of his pain. 

Anselmo delivers his lyrics to a “weakling” and a “liar” in a monotone bark, and each syllable he utters is backed by a similarly minimal one-note chord hit. It’s a brilliantly corrosive, almost claustrophobic arrangement that finally breaks four-and-a-half minutes in – Dime, Rex and Vinnie open up the song with a quicker groove and Anselmo turns the tables, announcing himself the bastard father to Pantera’s unwashed and unwanted masses of fans. 

“We’re fucking you back!” he screams repeatedly, exorcising his demons and finding a little bit of redemption in the almighty power of the riff.

17. Strength Beyond Strength

Album: Far Beyond Driven (1994)

Hardcore punk and thrash were always closely related, but rarely did the twain meet more effectively than on Strength Beyond Strength. Fans who popped new copies of Far Beyond Driven into their CD players in 1994 and were greeted by the initial sonic assault of Strength Beyond Strength can be forgiven for thinking that the Exploited’s latest album was mistakenly inserted in the case. 

When the breakneck pace slows to a grind a little more than a minute into the song, the mood and attitude becomes unmistakably Pantera, especially after Dimebag unleashes an eerie harmonized guitar interlude about another minute later.

16. War Nerve

Album: The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)

By the time of The Great Southern Trendkill, Pantera were bona fide rock stars. As such, their music and, in particular, Anselmo’s lyrics and actions as a frontman, had started to be put under a mainstream microscope. Among other things, the band and singer had been hit with charges in the media of racism and homophobia, and War Nerve was in a way Anselmo’s response to these and other accusations: “For every fucking second the pathetic media pisses on me,” he rants in the chorus, “Fuck you all.” 

The band backs him up with one of the leanest and most direct arrangements to be found in their post Vulgar-output. In fact, War Nerve is a rare instance in which there’s no Dime solo to be found. That said, his brother Vinnie picks up the slack with a vicious and unusually busy drum performance.

15. Mouth for War

Album: Vulgar Display of Power (1992)

Mouth for War is a prime example of Pantera at the height of their early '90s powers: Vinnie Paul bashes out a machine-gun beat, Dimebag and Rex pair up on a wickedly intricate yet incredibly catchy riff built on sheets of sliding power chords, and Phil Anselmo barks out a self-empowerment lyric with searing rage and intensity. 

And the music video, which presented the band mostly in stark black-and-white and with plenty of chaotic strobe lighting for effect, only further cemented their status as the new kings of metal. 

When people think of Pantera, it is most likely this iteration of the band, led by a shaven-headed, bare-chested Anselmo, that comes to mind. By the time they break into a ferocious double-time groove and Anselmo signs off with the line, “No one can piss on this determination,” only a fool would dare to disagree with the sentiment.

14. 5 Minutes Alone

Album: Far Beyond Driven (1994)

When the pissed-off father of a Pantera heckler who was beaten up at a show said that he wanted five minutes alone with Phil Anselmo, the band turned that threat into this song. Of course anyone who knows Anselmo also knows that five minutes alone with him is the last thing anyone would want. 

The slow, ground-and-pound groove behind this song suggests that Phil would probably take his sweet time delivering the beat down, but while the instigator who influenced this song would probably be screaming for mercy by the song’s end, listeners are begging for more as the riff fades into oblivion.

13. Domination

Album: Cowboys from Hell (1990)

Pantera are often seen as the progenitors of groove metal, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more defining example of the style than the first 30 seconds of this classic. In fact, from the raging intro/chorus riff, to the stop-start verse, to the brutal breakdown that ends the song, Domination is basically one ridiculously savage power-groove after another. 

Given this fact, the song was also used as the band’s live set opener during shows in 1990 and 1991, as it was guaranteed to immediately whip a crowd into a batshit-crazy frenzy. As for what is screamed at the very beginning of the song? General consensus points to “Fart stinks like a motherfucker!” Which might help to explain the ferocity with which the band then tears into the opening riff.

12. I'm Broken

Album: Far Beyond Driven (1994)

Pantera wisely placed Far Beyond Driven’s three best songs (Becoming, 5 Minutes Alone, I’m Broken) near the album’s beginning. I’m Broken was the last of this triple threat, neatly completing the band’s most devastating studio recording hat trick. 

“I think that I’m Broken is the riff of all riffs,” Rex Brown says, and for most Pantera fans it would be hard to disagree. Anselmo compares the song to the blues, but has there ever been a blues song with lyrics as cryptic and critical as “Too young for one’s delusion the lifestyle cost/Venereal mother embrace the loss”?

11. Becoming

Album: Far Beyond Driven (1994)

Anyone who went to a Pantera concert between 1994 and 2001 knows why Becoming is revered by the band’s fans. The combination of Vinnie Paul’s military drum corps–inspired double-kick rumble and Dimebag’s gut-pummeling riff instantly instigated the most violent mosh pits known to mankind, and the energy that filled the room was so electric that no-one would have been surprised if thunder clouds suddenly formed. 

Dimebag’s solo is the ultimate anti-solo, saying more in an obnoxious burst of noise than most players say in entire careers. The way he uses a Whammy pedal to make his guitar sound like a howler monkey in a Vitamix is simply brilliant.

10. The Art of Shredding

Album: Cowboys from Hell (1990)

A classic '80s-style thrasher, The Art of Shredding combines the heavily scooped guitar tone and speed-metal attack of bands like Testament and Overkill with the type of meta subject matter and gang-shouted background vocals that have always been Exodus’s stock in trade. 

In that respect, it’s hardly the most progressive moment on Cowboys from Hell. But with its rollercoaster ride of whiplash riffs and rhythms, it is one of the most enjoyable. Furthermore, Dimebag tops off the proceedings with a gonzo, whammy-filled solo that ably demonstrates that shredding is, in fact, very much an art.

9. Revolution is My Name

Album: Reinventing the Steel (2000)

While Dimebag’s atonal guitar howls on this song’s intro may be the weirdest sounds ever to grace a Grammy-nominated song, the remainder of this tune wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Black Sabbath album.

Anselmo even sounds a bit like Ozzy in a few parts – perhaps after Ozzy woke up hung over and gargled with benzene and razor blades. Beyond the classic metal melodiousness, what makes this song so damn good is the way it seamlessly darts between dramatic tempo and rhythmic shifts and somehow sounds cohesive.

After delivering a note-perfect metal solo, complete with harmonies, Dimebag returns to the groove with sounds that defy transcription, proving revolution was his name.

8. Drag the Waters

Album: The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)

As one of the most straightforward and definitively Pantera songs on The Great Southern Trendkill, Drag the Waters was the obvious choice to be the album’s first single. While it mostly treads familiar ground, it also finds the band growing in new directions. Dimebag’s guitar tone in particular is more massive than ever, and you don’t need to be Bruce Dickinson to love the cowbell that Vinnie Paul lays down with his drum track.

Anyone needing a track to explain what Pantera’s “power groove” means would be wise to choose Drag the Waters, as it’s heavy as hell, but you can still shake your ass to it. The solo is particularly tasty, as Dimebag goes for more of a slow burn than his usual balls-to-the-wall explosions of speed. 

“That lead is kinda like an old Van Halen thing, where the band breaks to feature the solo,” Dimebag said in 1996. “Actually, on this one I ended up keeping a lot of the original guide-track stuff I laid down while we were cutting the drums. Sometimes you record something that you plan on redoing later, but then when you listen back to it you decide to keep it because you realize that it’s gonna be real tough to beat!”

7. Message in Blood

Album: Cowboys from Hell (1990)

This deep Cowboys cut comes on like a demented sonic funhouse, replete with eerie atmospherics, detached voices laughing behind Anselmo’s vocal (with lyrics ostensibly about the Charles Manson murders) and constantly changing tempos and attacks. The first half is an all-out creepfest highlighted by Anselmo’s blood-curdling screams.

Then the tone abruptly shifts as Dimebag steps up with an intensely layered and textured solo, which only leads into more instrumental twists and turns. A disorienting and disturbing prog-metal death trip.

6. Walk

Album: Vulgar Display of Power (1992)

Pantera wasn’t the kind of band that radio warmed up to during the '90s, but in the rare instances when Pantera did get airplay it was usually this song.

Dimebag often described Pantera’s music as “power goove,” and Walk may be the best example of what he meant, even though it swaggered along to an unorthodox 12/8 time signature. 

The chromatic open low E string and first-fret riff seems simpler than it actually is, thanks to Dimebag’s expert string bends, salacious swing and impeccable feel. To match the menace of Phil Anselmo’s Travis Bickle-inspired taunts, he tuned his guitar down a little more than a whole step, until the strings growled through his solid-state Randall amps.

5. This Love

Album: Vulgar Display of Power (1992)

Back in 1992, This Love was a staple video on MTV and even climbed to Number Six on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. With a verse consisting of watery guitar arpeggios and Phil Anselmo’s crooned vocals offset by a mammoth, aggro chorus, the song signified Pantera’s big mainstream power-ballad moment – except other power ballads didn’t feature lyrics like, “I’d kill myself for you/I’d kill you for myself,” or a video in which a prostitute murders an overly frisky john in the back of a taxicab.

The song also wraps with a breakdown so crushingly slow and heavy that it could make a thousand metalcore bands wet their pants. But these moments still didn’t save the band from ridicule at the hands of the ultimate metalheads of the day, Beavis and Butt-Head: “Is that a tear, Pantera?” taunted Beavis while watching the This Love video in an episode of the MTV cartoon. “Is daddy’s little girl upset?”

4. Shattered

Album: Cowboys from Hell (1990)

One listen to Phil Anselmo shrieking his way through the verses on Shattered might lead you to wonder whether somebody slipped a Judas Priest disc into your Pantera jewel case.

But the singer’s histrionics are just one of many ways in which this Cowboys track deviates from the Pantera norm. From Anselmo’s vocals to Dimebag’s nimble, racing riff to his uncharacteristically traditional-sounding shred solo, Shattered is three minutes and 21 seconds of steroid-injected, '80s-style Technicolor metal, and one of the few post-major-label nods to Pantera’s “glam era” output.

And yet, while the song is miles away in tone and temperament from, say, Suicide Note Pt. 2, it’s hardly a puff piece. The jackhammer pace and explosive guitar pyrotechnics (both Abbott brothers shine here) – not to mention its sheer “otherness” in relation to the rest of the post-Power Metal Pantera catalog – make Shattered something of a hidden and enormously entertaining gem. 

As an added bonus, the song is spackled with a nice helping of '80s-metal cheese: Anselmo’s castrato screams on the song’s title (harmonized for our pleasure); Dime’s whiz-bang outro solo; and a finale that climaxes with the sound of – you guessed it – a piece of glass being shattered.

3. A New Level

Album: Vulgar Display of Power (1992)

Though it was never issued as a single, A New Level is arguably as well known as any of the Vulgar Display of Power cuts that were. Its intro riff, built on a slowly ascending barrage of crushing chromatics, is as iconic as the opening of Walk or Mouth for War.

The song also features some subtle shifts in dynamics, such as the chromatic half-step modulation that occurs as Anselmo’s vocal enters at the verse, and the way Dimebag varies his attack on the intro, sometimes playing the chords wide open, at other times with slight palm muting and yet at others with an extremely tight chunk. 

Of course, subtle is hardly the word to describe A New Level. Rather, it’s a classic Pantera rager that finds the band in full-on anthem mode, with Anselmo issuing a call to arms for the shit-, pissed- and spit-on metal masses. But it was Dime’s riffing that also helped the tune reach beyond those metal masses.

On the 2008-2009 Sticky & Sweet tour, Madonna ended performances of her retro-disco hit Hung Up by leading her band through a few bars of the song’s intro. What’s more, the Material Girl herself even riffed along on a black Les Paul. A new level, indeed.

2. Cemetery Gates

Album: Cowboys from Hell (1990)

As far as heavy metal epics go, Cemetery Gates belongs in the company of celebrated classics like Black Sabbath’s War Pigs and Metallica’s One.

Clocking in at 7:02, it’s the longest studio song Pantera recorded. It’s also by far the pinnacle songwriting achievement of Dimebag Darrell, Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown and Vinnie Paul when they worked together in Pantera, with a masterfully structured arrangement that seamlessly ebbs and flows to support the eerie mood before it builds to its dramatic conclusion. 

Dimebag’s virtuoso performance, from his melodic solos to the harmonic whammy-bar screams at the song’s climax, features some of his finest work.

1. Cowboys from Hell

Album: Cowboys from Hell (1990)

With its razor-sharp riff, pummeling groove and ominous “We’re taking over this town” refrain, Cowboys from Hell started life as a rallying cry for the reborn version of Pantera circa 1989. As the first track on Pantera’s major-label debut of the same name, it quickly became the band’s anthem for the rest of its existence.

The song proclaimed in no uncertain terms that Pantera meant serious business as the next contenders to metal’s throne, while Dimebag Darrell’s delicious solo boldly announced that a new guitar hero was in town and loaded for bear. 

Although Cowboys from Hell was allegedly the first song that Pantera wrote for the album, by the time Pantera finished recording Cowboys from Hell they contemplated cutting it from the final version. The band felt that the song seemed too tame and commercial compared to the album’s other material, particularly the newer songs they wrote in the studio while recording.

Pantera’s manager, Walter O’Brien, convinced them otherwise.

“I knew that Pantera were going to be called the Cowboys from Hell from then on,” he says. “Every great band has a nickname. Bruce Springsteen is the Boss. ZZ Top is that Little Ol’ Band from Texas. Cowboys from Hell was perfect for them. I rarely insist on anything creative from a band, but I just knew it was a massive song. Dimebag put the CFH logo on everything, and he lived that persona.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.

With contributions from