Starting in 1983, Pantera released three initial albums (Metal Magic, Projects in the Jungle, and I Am the Night) before life-long members Dimebag Darrell, Vinnie Paul, and Rex Brown ditched singer Terry Glaze in favor of Phil Anselmo with 1988's Power Metal. At the time, Glaze was apparently included in talks to sign with a label fronted by Gene Simmons of KISS, but Terry balked at the contract and he was kicked out of the band. The remaining members then located frontman Phil Anselmo in New Orleans and produced Power Metal, an album which had Phil re-recording some songs originally sung by Glaze, in addition to a few originals. Pantera's style in these first four recordings is best described as hair metal, a popular style of heavy metal music at the time.
The first commercially successful album Pantera recorded was 1990's Cowboys from Hell, which was also their first release not from their own independent record label. The band was turned down "28 times by every major label on the face of the Earth" until Mark Ross, an Atco Records representative, saw the band perform while stranded in Texas due to Hurricane Hugo. At this point, Pantera's music was still heavily influenced by "classic heavy metal," with Rob Halford-style vocals and more complex riffs and solos of guitarist Dimebag Darrell, though the album also began showing a much more extreme style than previous efforts. Cowboys from Hell, which nearly abandoned all of their previous hair metal sound, marked a critical juncture in the band's history; most fans, along with the band itself, consider it to be Pantera's "official" debut.This release includes the popular songs "Cemetery Gates," a brooding seven-minute piece that focuses on death and religion, and the thrashing title track, which gives the band their nickname and personality as "Cowboys from Hell."
Pantera's unique "power groove" style (referring to songs composed primarily of groove-oriented riffs) came to fruition in their breakthrough album Vulgar Display of Power (1992), which saw the replacement of the falsetto vocals with a more hardcore-influenced shouted delivery and a much heavier guitar sound. While some critics point to the rise of grunge as the subsequent downfall of hair metal, others claim Pantera, most notably on Vulgar Display of Power, as being the catalyst that overpowered popular '80s metal. Among critics and fans, it is frequently cited as the band's best effort. Songs "Fucking Hostile," a fast, aggressive challenge of authority, the riff-driven "Walk," and the first metal single to debut at #1 on the Billboard charts, "Mouth for War," remain some of the most popular songs in their catalogue.
The extent to which Vulgar Display of Power grew in popularity can be assessed by the instant success of the 1994 follow-up, Far Beyond Driven, which debuted at #1 in both U.S. and Australian album charts - the first metal album ever to achieve this. "I'm Broken," the fourth track on Far Beyond Driven, was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 37th Annual Grammy Awards. This was all accomplished despite the failing fortunes of metal in America at that time. In this release, Pantera took an even more extreme direction with their musical style.
Pantera's next album, The Great Southern Trendkill, was released in 1996 during the height of grunge rock and the emergence of rap metal. The album saw moderate success, especially considering the time at which it was released; it is often considered Pantera's "overlooked" album. Phil Anselmo recorded the vocals for this release in the studio of famous Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. In comparison to the band's previous efforts, there was a much heavier emphasis on vocal overdubbing in a somewhat "demonic" fashion. Drug abuse is a popular theme in The Great Southern Trendkill, as exemplified by tracks like both parts of "Suicide Note" and "Living Through Me (Hell's Wrath)." Perhaps the most popular song from Trendkill is "Drag the Waters," which advises the listener to take the motives of others with a grain of salt. "Drag the Waters" is the only song from Trendkill to be made into a music video, and likewise, the only track from the album to appear on their compilation album.
Some of the band's live performances were eventually compiled in their 1997 release, Official Live: 101 Proof. Aside from fourteen live tracks that appear in their first four studio albums (if starting from Cowboys from Hell), the compilation features two new studio-quality songs: "Where You Come From" and "I Can't Hide." Some tracks have slightly different titles then their originals (i.e., "Hostile" instead of "Fucking Hostile"), while a track like "Dom/Hollow" ("Domination" and "Hollow," respectively) merged two previously written songs together for their live performance version.
Pantera's final album (released in 2000) is titled Reinventing the Steel, and has several songs that deal with the topic of the band itself. Reinventing the Steel, debuting at #4 on the Billboard 200, includes the singles "Goddamn Electric" and "Revolution is My Name," of which the former's lead was recorded by Kerry King of Slayer during Ozzfest in Dallas. "Revolution is My Name" was also nominated for a Best Metal Performance Grammy at the 2001 Awards.
Around 2001, Pantera dissolved after Anselmo left the band to pursue other work with such bands as Down, though the Abbott brothers did not officially end the band until they began work on their new project New Found Power. Similar to the circumstances when Rob Halford left Judas Priest, the remaining members held out for a time, assuming that he would return to the group, but this never occurred. However, according to Anselmo, taking a break from Pantera was a "mutual thing" between each of the band members.
Anselmo instead decided to carry on full time with one of his (several) side bands Superjoint Ritual, who have, as of 2003, released two albums. Following the release of the second Superjoint Ritual album, Vinnie Paul (Abbott) and Dimebag Darrell (Abbott) formed New Found Power which was later renamed Damageplan.
The break-up of the band was not amicable and subsequently a war between Superjoint and Damageplan was waged via the heavy metal and musical press. Among the accusations thrown were that Anselmo and the Abbott brothers had difficulties in agreeing upon the direction in which they wanted Pantera's music to go in. Vinnie Paul and Dimebag later commented that Anselmo was forcing them to make the music that Anselmo wanted to make, and that they were not allowed to experiment and take chances with their recordings. In addition, Anselmo's drug habits (for example, a rather infamous heroin overdose during a show) are known to have caused some turmoil within the band. Finally, likely as a result of the other issues Pantera faced internally, the relationship between Anselmo and the Abbott brothers was rapidly deteriorating in general. Caught up in the torrent was bassist Rex Brown, who ultimately aligned himself with Anselmo, joining him on the second Down album - A Bustle in Your Hedgerow.
In December of 2004, a crazed Pantera fan named Nathan Gale shot and killed Dimebag Darrell at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio as Damageplan took the stage. An audience member, a club employee, and a member of the band's security entourage were killed before Gale was shot dead by police officer James Niggemeyer.
After Dimebag's death, a Pantera reunion has of course become impossible, but public comments made by Phil Anselmo following the shooting suggest that he had considered reuniting with the band.