I’ve got a little experiment for you: do you know what the covers of the latest releases of Katy Perry, Bruno Mars or Justin Bieber look like? Rihanna? Taylor Swift? Or Ed Sheeran?
Perhaps you can recall the ones of Adele.
But what about the Beatles walking over the crossing? You recall the purple, yellow, black letters on the cover of the Sex Pistols, or the naked baby in the water, right? I can also remind you of the licking tongue of the Rolling Stones, Paul Simonon smashing his bass on the cover of ‘London Calling’, or the yellow banana by Andy Warhol for Nico and The Velvet Underground.
Last one: As soon as I say “Dark Side of the Moon,” you see a glass prism dispersing light into colour, don’t you?
If you look at lists of the best album covers of all time you hardly see any releases of the last twenty years appear on the list, not to mention albums of the last ten years.
Why is that?
Back in the days, a cover was able to attract attention, and at best lead to a sale. For bands it paid off to reflect about it.
Today music disseminates in a much different way, you can listen to it on your smartphone anywhere, anytime. Listening to a whole album seems out of date when you can select your own hits and create your own playlist.
So why invest any effort and money if a name alone is able to generate a million sales and streams? A picture of the artist, preferably in black and white in a thoughtful or powerful pose does the job. Just look at the latest covers of Adele, Drake and Lady Gaga to see what I’m talking about.
Certainly it does have to do a lot with the fact that the way that people select and listen to music has changed. Listening habits have therefore changed as well. There are a lot of different streaming services that offer a countless number of songs. The music plays incidentally on the computer, in the car or in the train while reading a book. When do we sit down with a booklet and listen to a whole album? Well, who has the time to listen to music like back in the day? Oh, there it was. A short mention of the “everything was better in the past” that every generation keeps getting back to.
How were your early days?
In the summer of 1997 I went to the electronic market when I was 14 years old. A few months prior to this I discovered Crossover and I couldn’t get enough of the ‘groove’ and its powerful sections that you could bounce to. When finding new music I often relied on the outward impression: if a cover spoke to me, I grabbed the CD and took it to the listening station.
Sometimes the specific album wasn’t available on the playback station or I just didn’t like it. But if I was impressed I would buy the CD, although not without thinking about it twice, as such an investment was a huge part of my small monthly budget.
I passed the shelves of reduced CDs that were packed with a lot of Best of Santana or Jon Bon Jovi records from the eighties. (Random question: Why were there always innumerable copies of REM’s “Automatic for the People”?)
Strolling through the alleys of pop music, I spotted one single CD that made me stop all of a sudden. Still standing on only one foot, I looked at the record more closely.
At first sight it wasn’t just the cover, but also the lettering that surrounded the greyish photo.
It said “Pantera” in white, bold letters. Never heard of it. And what’s “Vulgar Display of Power”?
I was still wondering about it when at second glace I realized what the greyish photo on the cover portrayed: a man was getting punched in the face.
I counted my money, and even though I had the $7.99 I was still hesitant. The listing of song titles on the back was easy to understand, even for my English at that age. (“Walk”, “Mouth for war”, “Rise”…) Still, I couldn’t understand what a “Hostile” should be. The band portrait showed four men who looked like a lot of fun. I chose to listen to it but I forgot about my dad, who was already on his way out of the store and was calling to me to leave. Buying a CD without listening to it? No, I could not afford that, so I put the CD back.
It was right at that moment that I took a second look at the cover. I was lucky enough to have had a sheltered youth, so I didn’t know any violence like this, but perhaps this was exactly the reason I was drawn to it. It seemed so different from anything else I’d seen before.
I don’t know exactly why my hand reached out to grab the record and to run to my dad. A part of me didn’t want to listen to Bon Jovi anymore, but I also wanted to know what it sounds like when you want to punch someone in the face.
Credit: Tobias Melcher
I was so excited to get to know the boys of Pantera that I ignored the sceptical looks on the faces of my father and the cashier.
At home I put new batteries in my Discman and pressed play. When “Mouth for War” started, the groove already got me and my head started nodding. After exactly 37 seconds Phil H. Anselmo screams “Reveeeeeeeenge, I’m screaming revenge again!” directly into my head. I was sitting in my bedroom and was floored. “Wrong, I’ve been wrong for far too long!” My jaw dropped and I reached for the booklet to read the handwritten lyrics. By the time “Walk” started I was hooked. I looked at the photos of Vinnie, Paul, Rex and Phil, and I was a bigger fan of Pantera than all the girls from my school with their boy bands. The corners of my mouth pulled downwards and with every line I tried to look more fierce. Right then I accepted them as my new religion, and categorized my previous taste in music as ridiculous.
Now there was more groove. Now there was more in-your-face, a new level of aggression, and I loved it. The fifth track (“This Love”) showed another side of Pantera. At the beginning I was irritated. Is he singing? Is that a slow song? But the chorus pulled down the walls and towards the end it was more like a feverish dream. “No more head trips” Phil says and the band smashes it like I did in my room with my imaginary friends.
It went on and on like this, one punch followed another, like in a good pub-crawl. The opening riff from “By Demons be Driven” made me play air guitar and I sang along, asking myself which demon was playing the guitar. The timing, the riffs and the atmosphere that Darrell revealed in these minutes felt like an awakening. I didn’t know that this was possible. That was the sound I was looking for. Raw, dirty but produced with such great sensitivity that you could hear every detail, like the vibration of the voice. They reduced the songs down to the most necessary to give exactly that feeling that they wanted to get across. It didn’t matter if it was a blasting section, a vocal number or an atmospheric passage, every note was in the right place.
For example “Hollow,” with its atmosphere made me close my eyes.
Then, after eleven songs, “Vulgar Display of Power” was over. I had sweat on my face but couldn’t help but smile. That was exactly what I wanted.
From that point on I was aware of the power that music is able to release in humans.
I unplugged my earphones, looked again at the pictures and lyrics and pressed play. It was the second round and up until today there have been hundreds more.
The musical class is one of the reasons why “Vulgar Display of Power” is an outstanding album to me. Furthermore, it was a piece of pioneering work, for me personally and for my musical taste. This album unlocked doors. Within a short period of time I got to know Thrashmetal, Blackmetal and Deathmetal, and I loved it. Music was not only a hobby, but now a passion. I began to listen to music every day; every month my collection of records grew larger, and more and more patches plastered my backpack.
Pantera pointed me in the right direction and showed me new ways, and just made my happy too many times. I have countless fond memories that Pantera played the soundtrack to.
Just a few years ago I spent a night with one of my best friends in a club where they played a lot of heavy music. It was a tedious evening until they played two Pantera songs back to back. We headbanged and jumped across the room, then imitated Phil to “Walk”, just before starting a two-man circle pit around of the tables. We lost our beers but laughed because for a few moments there was only Pantera and bliss. All the other things just disappeared and were so far away. These are the moments that make life worth living, these moments are the reason I’m alive.
On June 1st 1998, Pantera came to my town Cologne to present their new album “Reinventing the Steel” in the time-honoured Live Music Hall. I had the opportunity to go there, but I was afraid to. None of my friends listened to that kind of music, and looking at the music or the home videos of the band, I had the impression I was not ready, manly or mature enough to enter the real world of Pantera.
Through these videos I had the impulse to get to know the members of the band.
There was so much mischief, a lot of alcohol, and vandalism.
Of course I was intimidated, but also inevitably fascinated.
That kind of mature fun I didn’t feel ready for yet. The fans of Pantera, who were known for being wild, loud and outrageous didn’t help. For them it was also more than just a band.
They came again two years later, but the show was sold out before I knew what was going on. A year later 9/11 impeded another tour of the band in Germany. Anselmo kept working with his side project Down, and in 2003 Pantera dissolved. I was shattered. Obviously, over the past few years I fell in love with other bands as well, but Pantera held a special place. They were the first and played their way into my life with an album that was already a few years old when I first listened to it.
I saw Phil and Rex live with Down, and Dime and Vinnie too with their new project Damageplan. However, like thousands of other fans I wouldn’t give up hope for a reunion and a new album with a subsequent tour.
Eventually all of our hopes were destroyed when on December 8th 2004 a man entered the stage in Columbus, Ohio during a concert of Damageplan and shot Dimebag Darrell.
This horrible crime not only shook up the metal scene, but also brought a brief “Pantera” hype with it. Their music was back in the charts, clubs held Pantera nights and you could see more merchandise of the band when visiting festivals or concerts. Over the years there were always rumours that the band would reunite with Zakk Wylde for one last tour to honour Dimebag. Unfortunately, these were just rumours, but I couldn’t help but keep on imagine it.
I stopped hoping last Friday, when Vinnie Paul Abbott died due to a heart attack in his home in Las Vegas.
Once again, the metal scene bowed down for this band, me being no exception.
One day later, alone and drunk I ran a circle pit around a bar table when they played “Cowboys to Hell” and thanked the four once again from the bottom of my heart for their music and the memories.