Two decades ago this week, the pinnacle of Pantera’s catalog, Far Beyond Driven, was released. At the time, it was the most extreme metal album to land in the number one slot on Billboard, shocking critics and industry insiders alike. Grunge was hitting its apex in 1994, Britpop was attempting to break in the States while disposable acts like Enigma and All-4-One were dominating the charts, joined by hot singles of even bigger flashes in the pans like 69 Boyz and Crash Test Dummies who were getting the majority of video and airplay. Simply put, there wasn’t room for heavy metal in the public consciousness.

The monolithic Driven changed all of that by displacing Ace of Base’s The Sign, which was on its way to 102 weeks on the chart, from the top position and beating out a debut by then heavyweight Bonnie Raitt’s Longing in Their Hearts, which went on to win two Grammys. But what it beat out was only part of the story; Far Beyond Driven was ridiculously abrasive from the beginning notes of frenetic opener “Strength Beyond Strength,” which slowed just enough for Phil Anselmo to growl the prescient line, “Hail, kings/the new kings.”

Anchored by the equally bludgeoning “I’m Broken,” “Five Minutes Alone” and “Becoming,” Far Beyond Driven gets the reissue treatment with the 20th Anniversary Edition released today. In addition to the remastered version of the original album, there’s also a bonus disc, Far Beyond Bootleg – Live From Donington ’94 which captures Pantera’s full set at the Monsters of Rock Festival in England that June.

Vanyaland caught up with drummer Vinnie Paul, who celebrated his 50th birthday March 11 with what he called, “The most outrageous party anybody could ever have in Vegas,” to talk expansively about Driven, the end of Pantera (cemented when his brother Darrell was shot to death onstage in 2004) and what’s driving him in music with his current band, Hellyeah, who seven years strong are about to deliver their fourth album, Blood for Blood, out June 10 via Eleven Seven Music.

Michael Christopher: Career-wise with Hellyeah, you’re almost at the same point you were 20 years ago with Pantera; three records in, you’ve got a fourth one on the horizon. What are the differences in how you look at this point musically at 50 compared to how you did at 30?

Vinnie Paul: I don’t look at it any differently at all man; I’m a big kid, I’ve always been that way. I’m not married, I don’t have any kids, I’ve always been married to the music and I’ve always had the same dedication level back then to this point except maybe a little wiser – about a lot of things – and that’s about it.

I want to talk about both bands, with the 20th anniversary of Driven and the Blood for Blood release coming up. What I find interesting is that you have these milestones with Pantera, some pretty major ones, which you have to look back on while still moving forward on the path with Hellyeah. How do you find that balance?

It’s difficult sometimes, because I don’t live in the past. And it seems like a lot of people do and they can’t get past it. I’m obviously very proud of everything I ever did in Pantera and we did do some milestones and I’ll reflect on it as needed, but I’m still moving forward and I feel like I have a whole lot to accomplish with Hellyeah and I’m working my ass off to get there.

Pantera 1994

Pantera in1994: Rex Brown, Vinnie Paul, Phil Anselmo and Dimebag Darrell

With Far Beyond Driven, how did you approach it? Because [it’s predecessor] Vulgar Display of Power quickly became one of those landmark albums up there with Master of Puppets, British Steel and Rust in Peace; there must have been a certain degree of pressure going in to record it.

The only pressure we felt was the pressure we put on ourselves. We didn’t let any kind of record company pressure or anything like that affect us. We wanted to make the most extreme record we could make; we came up with the title Far Beyond Driven before we even wrote one song for it, and that kind of set the tone for the whole record.

Where were you when you found out that it went number one?

We were playing the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. We were holding our breath, kind of figuring that we’d be in the top 10 – maybe the top five if we were lucky – and there was an outside shot we’d hit number one, who knows? Our record company president called us and said they wanted to have a meeting with us at the Roseland.

About an hour before doors opened they pulled us into a room and said, “We just wanted to let you know that the album went number one in the United States of America…” and we thought that was it, that it was going to be the end of the meeting. We jumped up and down and high-fived and just went crazy. Then they said, “And also, here’s your platinum records; it’s not platinum yet, but it’s gonna be.” That was our first platinum record that we were ever given and we were really, really blown away and we went out and had a helluva show and then went out and did 312 more that year.

A lot of people don’t remember, but at that time many were saying the genre was dead. Even traditional metal bands were trying to get on the radio, obviously Metallica was the biggest one a couple years prior with the Black Album. Was it a validation of sorts that that type of music was still relevant?

I think without a doubt. MTV hated us. Radio hated us. There was no mainstream media that covered us except the heavy metal magazines. The fans made the album number one, they went out and bought nearly 200,000 units (the first week) and that said words above all the other things commercially. I think it really did validate heavy metal and hard rock and Pantera was one of the few bands that called themselves “heavy metal” and embraced the word. Like you said, at that time, the word was almost a bad word; it was looked at as uncool and we kept the flame burning bright and carried the torches high as we could man.

For the anniversary edition, there’s no bonus or unreleased tracks. I know that you’ve said there’s nothing left in the vaults as far as unheard original songs, but wasn’t it around the recording of Driven that you did a cover of a song off Van Halen II, whether it was “Outta Love Again” or “Light Up the Sky?”

Yeah, there are a couple of those things. Most of them are uncompleted, and we just kind of messed around with it. I don’t know; if I ever got around to listening to them and there was a way to complete them we might put it out at some point.

Why not add on the Poison Idea cover “The Badge” like you did with the version of Far Beyond Driven included in the Driven Downunder set that came out in Australia?

For different reasons. We did that song for a different label for the soundtrack to The Crow, and I don’t believe that our label and the label that that came out on got along with each other.

One of the things that you did with Vulgar that maybe some people aren’t aware of is you allowed remixes to be done (“Walk,” “Fucking Hostile” and “By Demons Be Driven” were remixed multiple times by both Foetus and Justin K. Broadrick of Godflesh respectively).

Yeah – never let it happen again after that [laughs].

I was gonna say, I assumed that it never happened again because at that point you’re giving up control or vision of where the song goes.

  • Isolate the Unknown

    Hell Yeah is shit Vince!