After months of anticipation, the newly reformed Pantera played their first show in 21 years on Friday, December 2, when they brought a set packed with classics to Mexico's Hell & Heaven Metal Fest.
The group – which now features guitarist Zakk Wylde and drummer Charlie Benante, alongside core Pantera members Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown – delighted the crowd, opening with A New Level, before launching into Mouth For War and Strength Beyond Strength, tackling a selection of deeper cuts before rounding the set off with the devastating trinity of Walk, a down-tuned Cowboys From Hell and Domination/Hollow.
The show also marked the first time Pantera have paid tribute to Dimebag Darrell onstage, after the late guitarist died in concert with Damageplan in 2004, a year after Pantera broke up in 2003.
During the four-piece's cover of Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan – from 1970’s Paranoid – a video tribute to Dimebag and his brother, late Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul, played on screens behind and to the side of the stage.
Despite admitting that he still needed to learn some of Dimebag Darrell’s guitar parts for the Pantera shows as late as mid-October – and later revealing that he was using YouTube videos to grasp them, Zakk Wylde looked at home with the band, employing Wylde Audio Warhammer electric guitars – the closest thing in his company's catalog to Dimebag's trademark MLs – in front of walls of Wylde 4x12 cabs.
His live tone certainly captured the essence of Dimebag's trademark grind – credit is also due to guitar tech Grady Champion, Dimebag’s own tech who signed up for the new Pantera shows earlier this year, and even furnished Zakk with some of Dimebag's own pedals.
The band's full setlist at Mexico's Hell & Heaven Metal Fest is as follows:
- A New Level
- Mouth for War
- Strength Beyond Strength
- I'm Broken
- Use My Third Arm
- Drag the Waters
- This Love
- Yesterday Don't Mean Shit
- Fucking Hostile
- Planet Caravan
- 5 Minutes Alone
- Cowboys From Hell
Throughout the show, Wylde struck a fine balance of paying tribute to Dimebag's solos while adding his own flair, hyping up alternate-picked runs and pinch harmonics with his own distinctive delivery.
Indeed, last month Zakk Wylde spoke with Guitar World about his approach to the gig, stating, “No matter what I do, it's going to sound like me. I can practice all I want and stay as faithful as I want, but I am never going to escape that. It's like if Dime were still here, and he played Miracle Man or No More Tears – even if he played them spot on – it would still sound like Dimebag Darrell playing Zakk Wylde.
“So, that's a challenge, but it's not a bad thing at all. It's like if Randy Rhoads were to play Eddie Van Halen's Eruption, no matter what he did, it would sound like Randy playing, not Eddie. You're never going to mistake Randy for Eddie or Eddie for Randy, and it's the same thing here with me playing Dime's stuff.
“So, the way I look at it is I am going to go in, learn the parts, be as faithful to what Dime did as possible, and just be me. I'm gonna have fun with it, knowing that I am not expecting myself to sound like Dime, and no one else should either, which is how it is when I play with Ozzy or whatever else.”
The Hell & Heaven show kicked off what’s set to be a busy December for Pantera, as they gear up to hit a string of dates across South America, in Colombia, Chile and Brazil.
And after wrapping this year’s dates at Knotfest Brasil in São Paulo on December 18, the band will see a quiet start to 2023, before hitting the road again from May, first performing a handful of dates in Europe before heading across the pond for a US run.