One of the most influential guitarists of all time, Dimebag Darrell had a sound that was – and is to this day – near-inimitable. Play his characteristic hard-hitting riffs and pinch harmonic squeals to any modern-day acolyte of heavy metal and they'll identify who's playing without a moment's hesitation.
But in spite of his ultra-nuanced playing style, Dimebag Darrell still – nearly 18 years after his tragic death – continues to inspire guitarists to try to recreate his sound. And few do quite as impressive a job as Kayla Kent, a YouTuber who has dedicated her entire channel to creating frighteningly accurate Pantera covers.
In her 12 videos so far, Kent – who is most often armed with her Kramer JK8000 – can be seen serving up a wealth of the legendary guitarist's leads, and doing so with both tremendous accuracy and apparent ease.
And these nail-on-the-head renditions aren't limited to the band's biggest hits, either (though she smashes the solos of Walk and Cowboys From Hell with enviable aplomb). She's also played the leads of deeper cuts like P.S.T.88, Message in Blood and in her latest video, Shattered.
“I feel like there aren't enough quality Dimebag covers on YouTube,” Kent reasons, “particularly for some of their deep cuts and glam-era records. That's the stuff I genuinely enjoy playing so much.”
“When my Message In Blood solo got 100,000-plus views that was so heartwarming, honestly, because that's a solo I feel hasn't been done much on YouTube,” she continues.
“I put my frickin' heart and soul into learning it and getting some of those licks and the tone and everything right on that one. To see a deep cut from Cowboys From Hell get that kind of appreciation is really, really heartwarming. Because I think every song off that album is just gold. It is my favorite album of all time.”
But despite the extraordinary uncanniness of Kent's playing, she maintains that she never purposefully intended to copy Dimebag Darrell's style.
“I genuinely adore his playing and Pantera's songwriting,” she says. “I learned a ton of Pantera songs by ear, and I wonder if maybe that is more accurate to picking up Dime's nuances than doing everything by tabs.”
She adds, “I'm too frustrated by tabs that I'll only bother to look at them when there's a complex lick that I really want to get right. As a result, I'm sure I play a bunch of his stuff ‘wrong’, but if it sounds good then I'm okay with that.”
To attain her extraordinary skill level, Kent has been playing for the best part of a decade, but started to take her woodshedding more seriously over the past couple of years.
“My dad bought me a USB audio interface for Christmas in 2019, and that enabled me to practice a ton more than I was – since I could play with headphones!” she explains.
“It's hard to get a lot of practice time when your only amp is a Johnson Millennium [JM]150. I love that amp, but it only sounds good loud.”
Despite her proficiency in nailing Dimebag's whammy bar divebombs, Kent adds that she only started using a trem in the past year.
“My old '90 Jackson Soloist Pro had a broken Floyd Rose for the longest time,” she says. “I was literally just lifting the edge of the Floyd with my index finger to get squeals with it!
“Since I got the JK8000, my squeals have probably gotten way more Dimebag-like. That, and I like to use the bar for vibrato on bends a lot – and that's probably a Dimebag thing, too.”
Coverage of Kent on the internet thus far has often fixated on the juxtaposition between her playing and her appearance – specifically that she doesn't look like a stereotypical Pantera fan.
“Honestly, it caught me by surprise,” she admits. “I mean, I get it – I don't personally know any girls who are into Pantera like I am. I guess I have my dad to thank for that. He's an amazing guitarist and was going to Pantera shows around the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the late '80s. So he introduced me to Pantera and their pre-Cowboys From Hell catalog.”
In terms of gear, aside from her Kramer JK8000 electric guitar – which is fitted with a stock '80s Kramer pickup in the bridge position and a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails humbucker in the neck – Kent achieves her monstrous Dimebag-esque tone using in-the-box amp plugins.
“I used to use [Positive Grid's] BIAS FX with a tone I modified and put together myself,” she says, “but lately I've been using [IK Multimedia's] AmpliTube 5 – with another tone I put together myself.”
While Kent proudly admits that Dimebag Darrell is her “biggest guitar hero ever – no question”, she also reveals a number of other guitarists she considers key influences.
They include Ty Tabor of King's X, whose leads she describes as “on another level”; Joe Satriani, who she credits with helping her transition from rhythm to lead guitar playing; and Rush's Alex Lifeson, who she commends for his ability to reserve his lead playing for “special occasions”.
“Playing with soul and passion is just something you can't really learn and he's one of the people who helped me understand that early on with his playing,” Kent says of the latter.
She might be receiving some well-deserved recognition for her Pantera covers on YouTube, but Kayla Kent is also an adept songwriter. Her releases so far consist of a number of standalone singles, including the brooding Halloween and searing Dimebag-inspired Fractured Soul.
“The most unexpected thing from all of this on YouTube was people appreciating my original music,” she notes. “I never expected that at all, especially since all my stuff is more indie rock than metal.”
On whether we can expect to see a full-length album from her in the future, Kent simply replies, “I am writing new stuff all the time… We'll see!”
- To see more of Kayla Kent's mind-boggling Pantera cover videos, head to her official YouTube channel.