Pantera: The sultans of heavy, the Presidents of Power, the biggest collective middle finger in all of rock “n” roll. Much like an earthquake or volcano, Pantera is a natural disaster leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. But like a natural disaster, there is a certain duality: Within the destruction lies a kind of perverse beauty to the madness.
If Hell was to be a place on earth for just one day, Satan himself couldn”t have picked a more fitting location than Auburn Hills on March 1st. Hell”s favorite sons Pantera were to come to town along with their equally evil comrades Morbid Angel and Soulfly.
Morbid Angel seized the stage first in a bloodbath of Death Metal screams and torturous barking seemingly culled from the deepest pits of hell. Angel”s morose sound was driven by a relentless double-bass drum attack. The half-hour set would be best likened to one million consecutive rounds of machine gun fire. The bottom end was so brutal each note sent shockwaves across the floor, sending tremors up through each audience member”s tightly laced leather boots to the top of their shaved heads and back down again.
Sheer power is initially impressive but after ten to 15 minutes one has to look past firepower and examine musicality. Beyond incredibly precise headbanging, hemmorage inducing volume, and vocals that closely mirror the vomitous sounds heard at nine a.m. Sunday morning in any given fraternity bathroom, Morbid Angel was essentially dull. Every anguish saturated hell nugget of a song seemed to be a clone of its predecessor. The paltry crowd seemed to respect Morbid Angel for their uncompromising style and longstanding devotion to the Death Metal scene but nary a mosh pit formed, signifying a general sense of apathy.
Breaking away from the gothic overtones Morbid Angel draped over the crowd, Soulfly swiped the stage with an equally heavy but drastically more electrifying set. The undersized crowd that had seen Morbid Angel gradually grew to form a more respectable gathering for Soulfly. The growling throat, blonde dreads and all the rest of Max Cavalera, current front man of Soulfly and former member and co-founder of Brazilian metal wrecking crew Sepultura, marched on stage first. The familiar face and equally recognizable vocal discharges jerked the nearly comatose crowd into consciousness. Instead of crossed arms and laxidasical headbobs fans showed love the only way a metal can fan, with purposeful moshing, powerful fist pumping. A few even wailed along with every unintelligible lyric Cavalera disgorged. The acme of Soulfy”s set was a drum solo in which each member left the stage, except the drummer, only to return with a drum of their own. Even Vinnie Paul, Pantera”s punishing percussionist, joined the drum circle from hell.
Upon the culmination of Soulfly”s set, there were applause and cries of appreciation but still the Palace was at less than half-capacity. While the fans had reacted favorably to Soulfly the communal pulse was still faint and flickering. The slowly dying crowd needed something prodigiously powerful to revive their collective failing heart. Pantera was now the lone hope for turning an uneventful evening into the unruly, untamable bonanza of metal that the thirty dollar tickets had seemingly promised by just bearing their name.
Vinnie, Rex, “Dimebag” and Phil hit the stage and plowed ahead full force into their extensive metal catalogue, clubbing the audience over the head with melodically challenged yet powerful songs like “Fucking Hostile,” “New Level” and “Primal Concrete.” An ominous steel backdrop which read “Pantera Reinventing the Steel” spat flames while projections of rebel flags assured the crowd that wherever the Cowboys From Hell go they bring a little piece of home with them. Vinnie Paul”s doublebass drum licks were brutal and sounded like a track team running through a minefield. “Dimebag” Darrell”s searing lead chops and chainsaw-esque rhythm parts were fearsome. Phil”s vocals had trouble finding their way through the bass loaded sound and often instead of words all that filtered through to the crowd were muffled grunts.
Such fan favorites like “Floods” and the ever-so-tender ballad “This Love” graced the setlist. Phil commented that they had been looking forward to playing in Detroit because of the abundance of “true metal son”s a bitches.” As he talked about Detroit fans loyalty to the band and the metal scene it was hard not to notice that the upper bowl was nearly empty along with large sections of the lower bowl. Where were the rabid fans? Had the commuter bus broken down on its way out of hell? Pantera threw punch after punch with “Becoming,” “Use My Third Arm” and “Revolution is My Name” yet the Palace crowd was not a worthy opponent. Mosh pits more ferocious have been formed by 12-year-old girls at Hanson concerts. Even “Walk,” a song as powerful as an atomic bomb, couldn”t ionize the audience. Phil even pleaded “I want to see three more mosh pits. That”s not asking for much.”
After Pantera left the stage many fans headed to the exits not even bothering to hear the encore. When Pantera came back out to an even smaller crowd, they showed no signs of packing it in. To close the coffin door on a show that was dead from the start they swung the proverbial steel shovel into the back of the “fans” heads for a cranium crunching encore of “Cowboys from Hell” laced with the Motor City Madman”s classic “Cat Scratch Fever.” Predictably, the crowd remained docile.
Is irreverence for authority just not in style anymore? Giving “The Man” the middle finger isn”t hip these days? Maybe not. Maybe Pantera fans will cut their long greasy manes or let hair grow on their shaved heads till they can mold it into trendy streaked blonde locks, or trade in their black jeans and flannels for Abercrombie and Fitch and join the local Greek System. The sagging attendance could be the last gasp for heavy metal or it could be a fluke. Either way Pan-FUCKING-tera has now just become (sigh) Pantera to me.