Everyone has seen the press photos of Pantera in their hair metal days and many have heard the music from the four albums they self-released before 1990’s post-thrash metal breakthrough Cowboys From Hell. To this day, Pantera don’t talk much about their early years, considering them the growing pains that were necessary to discover their true path.
“S— man,” drummer Vinnie Paul once told me. “Everybody makes mistakes when they’re young and stupid and nobody knows about them. Except all these people know how we started when we were teenagers.”
In truth, Pantera has nothing to be embarrassed about — except maybe the teased hair and spandex … Oh, and the ridiculous cover of their debut Metal Magic, which came out June 10, 1983.
At the time, Vinnie Paul was 19 and his brother Darrell was 17. The band was largely influenced by KISS and Van Halen, and had ridiculous song titles like “Ride My Rocket” and “Tell Me If You Want It.” Actually, the beginning of “Ride My Rocket” sounds a whole lot like KISS’ “Detroit Rock City,” but Dimebag Darrell (known in the ’80s as Diamond Darrell) was already a formidable guitar player, and while his leads throughout the record may lack the power of thrash, they’re fast and articulate, following in the style of his childhood heroes Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen.
Anyone expecting the songs to be angry, fierce or soul-stricken should look elsewhere. At the time, vocalist Philip Anselmo was fighting his own hair metal battles in New Orleans in Razor White while Pantera featured singer Terry Glaze, who was competent, but more enamored with the bratty, sleazy vibe of Sunset Strip bands like Ratt and Motley Crue than the brutal roar of Metallica or Slayer.
Back then, Pantera were managed by Vinnie and Dime’s dad, country music producer Jerry Abbott, and he and his boys were desperately trying to find a niche. They didn’t tour much, but played regular local gigs where they performed mostly covers by popular glam metal bands.
It’s worth noting that club owners at the time didn’t want new bands to perform originals and fared far better financially when their acts played two or three sets a night of mostly covers. By the third set, Pantera would add some originals and judging by the crowd reaction they’d decide how to proceed.
So is Metal Magic worth listening to? Well, maybe, but only as a curiosity (unless you’re a huge glam metal fan). The songs are definitely derivative of KISS and Ratt, and Glaze’s vocals are pretty generic. Even if you make it past the sex moans in “I’ll Be Alright” and the KISS-meets-KISS progressions of “Latest Lover,” the power ballad “Biggest Part of Me” is unlistenable. And the keyboards throughout are pretty horrible sounding. Still, it’s pretty impressive that Vinnie and Dime (who chose the moniker Diamond Darrell) and Rex Brown (who went by Rex Rocker) could put together a batch of tight and melodic songs before they turned 20 regardless of how silly and dated they sound today, especially in light of how great the band became less than 10 years later.
Everything — aside from Dime’s solos — isn’t completely dreadful. “Metal Magic” and “Rock Out” are almost speed metal, sounding somewhat analogous to what Raven were doing at the time. But yeah, the best thing about Metal Magic is that it shows how much room Pantera had for improvement.