Under no circumstances should a musician have to fear for his life onstage. Granted theres a considerable lunatic fringe that exists in society at large, but the thought of being attacked while performing is, and was, unfathomable. This situation took a sickening turn on Wednesday, December 8th, when Damageplan and ex-Pantera guitarist Darrell Dimebag Abbott was shot to death at the start of his bands set at the Alrosa Villa club in Columbus, Ohio by Nathan Gale, who allegedly was exacting revenge for Panteras breakup last year. His maddening actions included killing three more people, Nathan Bray, Erin A. Halk and Jeff Thompson, before Gale was shot to death himself with one bullet from Police officer James D. Niggemeyer. This hideous event is without parallel in metal music history, and any other genre to my mind. The waste of life, talent and humanity throws up more questions than answers. What remains are the memories that Dimebag left for a generation of metal fans. By all means there should have been more.
Any metal fan growing up in the nineties was familiar with Dimebag. Along with Metallica, Pantera were agrubaly the biggest metal band of the decade, thriving in a genre which suffered almost the entire ten year span. Although Pantera broke big with 1990s Cowboys From Hell, they had been in existence since 1983, their style more traditional metal in those days, rather than the thrash sound they would adopt in the 90s. Dimebag was joined for his entire career by his brother Vinnie Paul Abbott, who supplied drums for Pantera and Damageplan, and by all accounts was lucky to survive with his life intact after the shooting, as the assailant reportedly took aim at Vinnie Paul and missed. Dimebags innovative guitar work was the lifeblood of Pantera through their near 20-year career. He stayed true to metal through his entire career.
The highlights of Dimebags work are numerous. From the flawless AOR guitar work of early tracks like Takin My Life (back in those days he was known as Diamond) to the vicious shredding of Slaughtered, the man was undoubtedly a guitar genius. Idolised by a generation, he helped reshape metal in the 90s, making it more brutal and uncompromising. That he succeeded was evident when Pantera scored a number one album with 1994s Far Beyond Driven, one of the only truly authentic heavy metal albums to reach that level. That it occurred during grunges heyday is even more stunning. In the mid nineties it was impossible to walk the streets without seeing someone sporting a Pantera shirt with Dimebags image. The long curly dyed hair, the flying V, the wild stage presence, it made Dimebag an icon. I recall seeing Pantera in 1996 shortly after Anselmo nearly died from a heroin overdose, and walked away from a memorable concert experience in which Pantera stood tall for metal when no one else would.
Dimebags death may not mean much to the public at large who have no knowledge of the man, but for myself its hard to comprehend. Back in the mid nineties Pantera rarely left my walkman, and thats due mainly to Dimebags pure aggression. In my estimation Panteras last album, 2000s Reinventing The Steel was one of their best and it was a shame to see the band dissolve. But for one fan to take matters this far because of that is maniacal. If he did kill Dimebag for this reason he was surely deranged, as without Dimebag there will never be a Pantera reunion as Im sure there would one day have been. How was this supposed to rectify the situation? Days after this event Im still scratching my head in disbelief that this actually happened. Of course many have pointed out the incident took place twenty four years to the day John Lennon was also assasinated. The only difference is Dimebag meant more to me than that phony working class hero ever will.As expected the outpouring of grief from musicians and fans has been mammoth, which is expected when dealing with a legends demise. The shock and anger is evident in many statements from various bands who knew the man. Dimebag was well known as a hellraiser with a heart of gold, a genuine personality in a business rife with frauds. Many have reminisced about his excessive drinking and love of practical jokes. Truly he was one of the boys. Not long ago Slayers Kerry King said he, Zakk Wylde and Dimebag were essentially the same person. I know what he means. But as I sit here listening to Dimebags guitar work on Valhalla, the speed, the fury, its this that will remain with me forever.Lets not forget the other three innocent people who lost their lives. They were every bit as valuable as Dimebag. As the notable casualty Dimebag was always going to dominate the headlines, thats obvious. Nathan Gale rightfully was killed. He took away in a split second someone who enriched peoples lives, perhaps gave them hope and even the inspiration to start a band. This crazed event will take a long time to forget, especially among the metal world. I dont know if it will ever be the same. It should never have happened. It might have been a small club Damageplan were performing at, but Gale should never have made the stage. I hope it never happens again. The world is worse off for it.