NUMBER ONE WITH A PUTTER

"I've been playing golf for a little over a year," says Vinnie Paul, drummer and producer for the Texas thrash-metal band called Pantera, "and if I hit the first ball of the day good, I can hit them all good all day long. The key is that I generally don't try to go up there and Juan Gonzales it. That's the wrong philosophy. It's all in the swing."
Paul takes an entirely different approach to drumming. On the solid new Pantera album, Far Beyond Driven, which startled music-industry types by debuting in the top spot on the Billboard album-sales charts earlier this year, Paul doesn't swing at all. Rather, he pounds the hell out of his kit for eleven of the disc's twelve tracks; only on the relatively low-key last cut--"Planet Caravan," a song originally recorded by Black Sabbath for the doomy Seventies classic Paranoid--does he take a quieter tack. For Paul and company (vocalist Philip Anselmo, bassist Rex and guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who is also Paul's brother), placing the Sabbath cover on an otherwise relentless record was something of a risk. As a result, they decided to include on the CD jacket of Driven a statement from Anselmo, who describes "Planet Caravan" as "a tripped-out song. We think you'll dig it. If you don't, don't fucking listen to it."

"The reason we made that note," Paul adds, "is that a lot of people who are Pantera fans are very, very young--thirteen or fourteen--and they might not even have heard of Black Sabbath. So we wanted to give credit where credit is due. Also, we didn't want people thinking, `Uh-oh, they're going off in some strange, mellow direction on their next record.'"

Don't lose sleep over that prospect. Pantera's recordings are uniformly punishing, something that Paul pledges won't change. He acknowledges that the band's growing popularity has led to criticism from a few longtime fans, but he believes this sniping is wholly unjustified. "The record is in no way, shape, fashion or form a sellout," he insists. "If anybody views it that way just because we're successful, then fuck them. Period."

Pantera has taken a similarly subtle approach throughout its career. The band was formed during the mid-Eighties by Paul, Rex and Dimebag Darrell, then Dallas-area high school students. Initially, these fledgling musicians focused on cover songs by acts such as Sabbath and Van Halen, but they soon started writing material of their own. A handful of independent platters followed, as did the departure of Pantera's original vocalist. Anselmo, from New Orleans, hired on in 1986, bringing with him a background in punk rock and a bulky stage presence that has defined the quartet ever since.

After signing a major-label deal with the East/West imprint, Pantera introduced itself to a national audience with 1990's aptly titled Cowboys From Hell and 1992's Vulgar Display of Power, which achieved gold sales status. Like its predecessors, Far Beyond Driven sports all the earmarks of the speed-metal genre: stop-and-go rhythms, monstrous guitar riffs and lyrics that won't be appearing on Hallmark cards anytime soon. "Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills," for instance, includes the lines, "I fucked your girlfriend last night/ While you snored and drooled.../Your girlfriend could have been a burn victim, an amputee, a dead body/But God damn it, I wanted to fuck."

Far from apologizing for the brutality of Pantera's approach, Paul boasts about it. "Our music and our lyrics are very honest," he claims. "They're about real things that people can relate to, things that happen in their lives and our lives. And you know, the truth is ugly. A lot of people turn a cheek to the truth--they don't want to see it or candy-coat it. But the bottom line is, it's the truth. If you're afraid of our music, then you're afraid of the truth."

Facts have been a rare commodity in recent pieces on Pantera, Paul believes. MTV, for instance, ran a news segment implying that the group is part of the white-supremacy movement. "They see one kid out front yelling, `White power,'" Paul notes, "and instantly go, `Two plus two equals four; these guys must be Nazis.' They ran retractions and stuff afterward, but still, it's stupid of them not to take a better look at what's going on. We're the least racist band on the face of the earth, but just because Philip has a shaved head, here I have to answer questions about racism. It's a bunch of bullshit."

With flak like this flying around, it's easy to understand why the newly moneyed Paul enjoys spending time on the links. "I look at music as something I attack, and I look at golf as a way to relax," he says. "They're completely different, except for one thing: If you just relax and do it, then it happens. If you think about what you're doing, you're going to fuck up."

Pantera, with Sepultura and Prong. 7 p.m. Monday, July 25, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, $22.50, 290-

 
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