This is an excerpt from the June 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story (and a never-published Dimebag Darrell interview from 1994), plus features on Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, Carlos Santana, the history of MXR pedals, Nergal, columns, tabs and reviews of new gear from EVH Gear, Dunlop, Randall, Taylor Guitars and more, check out the June 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.
Strength Beyond Strength: A lesser band would have played it safe. But in 1994, Pantera risked commercial suicide with their over-the-top metal opus Far Beyond Driven. The result was Number One hit.
Metal was in a strange transitional state in 1994 when Pantera released their third major-label album, Far Beyond Driven.
Bands like Metallica and Megadeth still remained dominant forces, but many diehard metal fans felt those groups were losing their aggressive edge. Slayer remained as heavy as ever but seemed unable to increase their following beyond the die-hard cult fan base they’d established with Reign in Blood.
Other contenders, like Cannibal Corpse, Corrosion of Conformity, Helloween, Mayhem, Napalm Death and Testament, appealed to disparate factions that splintered the scene into smaller subgenres instead of bringing together a large fan base.
With hair bands extinct and grunge entering a decline that was accelerated by the suicide of Kurt Cobain that April, a vacancy opened in the mainstream. The release of Far Beyond Driven was perfectly timed to fill that void, although it was not by design. It was instead a fortuitous coincidence: Pantera simply gave hardcore metal fans the intense, no-compromise album that they had been waiting for.
“We achieved quite a bit of success with Vulgar Display of Power, but we wanted to take our music to another level completely,” Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul says. “People were expecting us to go the Metallica route and make something like the Black Album that was a little more mainstream and commercial. We didn’t want to do that, and we knew that our fans didn’t want us to do that. So we set out to make the most extreme album of our career.”
The decision seemed like it would be commercial suicide, but it proved to be the opposite. Far Beyond Driven debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200 Albums chart upon its release on March 21, 1994.
“We knocked Ace of Bass, Bonnie Raitt and even Soundgarden out of the top of the charts,” bassist Rex Brown proudly recalls. “Magazines like Billboard called us this overnight sensation, but we were a band for the people that had been around a long time. MTV and radio didn’t create us. We built a strong fan base over the years, and our fans came out in numbers and really put us on the map.”
Far Beyond Driven is quite likely the most heavy and extreme album to ever reach the Number One position on the Billboard charts, with later efforts by Tool and Slipknot coming a distant second.
Unlike Pantera’s two previous major-label albums, Far Beyond Driven didn’t have any bona fide singles, although tracks like “I’m Broken,” “Becoming” and “Five Minutes Alone” became staples of Pantera’s live sets for years to come.
From the beginning, Far Beyond Driven was designed more to assault than appease, with singer Phil Anselmo’s growling, bellowing vocals rarely carrying a discernible melody and Dimebag Darrell’s guitars sounding like pneumatic drills and industrial tools.
“I’m into sounds, man,” Dimebag said in a February 1994 interview with Guitar World [See the June 2014 issue]. “I still love playing lead, and I’ve always loved playing rhythm, but I’m trying to open s--- up and get some new sounds on tape. And let me tell you, there are some sounds on this record.”
Pantera started work on Far Beyond Driven in November 1993 in Nashville, Tennessee. The band had previously recorded its albums at the Pantego, Texas, studio that belonged to Vinnie and Darrell’s dad, Jerry Abbott, but he had recently moved the studio to Nashville to get more work as a country music producer and songwriter.
“It just felt comfortable to keep working in my dad’s studio,” Vinnie says. “The studio had all of the same gear that we used to make Vulgar Display of Power, but the new facility was nicer. It still had the same MCI JH-500 console, which was a relic, but it had a really nice edgy 3kHz sound and midrange that we wanted to keep.
"We used a lot of vintage gear—Massenburg EQs on the kicks and these old Neves that we rented for the toms and snare. We were happy with our sound, and [producer] Terry Date was excited about moving in there and working in a new facility. Financially it was a much better deal for us too. It would have cost us a fortune to record in a studio in New York or Los Angeles.”
For the rest of this story (and a never-published Dimebag Darrell interview from 1994), plus features on Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, Carlos Santana, the history of MXR pedals, Nergal, columns, tabs and reviews of new gear from EVH Gear, Dunlop, Randall, Taylor Guitars and more, check out the June 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.