Under no circumstances should a musician have to fear for his life onstage. Granted there’s 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 band’s set at the Alrosa Villa club in Columbus, Ohio by Nathan Gale, who allegedly was exacting revenge for Pantera’s 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 1990’s ‘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. Dimebag’s 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 Dimebag’s 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 90’s, making it more brutal and uncompromising. That he succeeded was evident when Pantera scored a number one album with 1994’s ‘Far Beyond Driven’, one of the only truly authentic heavy metal albums to reach that level. That it occurred during grunge’s heyday is even more stunning. In the mid nineties it was impossible to walk the streets without seeing someone sporting a Pantera shirt with Dimebag’s 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.

Dimebag’s death may not mean much to the public at large who have no knowledge of the man, but for myself it’s hard to comprehend. Back in the mid nineties Pantera rarely left my walkman, and that’s due mainly to Dimebag’s pure aggression. In my estimation Pantera’s last album, 2000’s ‘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 I’m sure there would one day have been. How was this supposed to rectify the situation? Days after this event I’m 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 legend’s 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 Slayer’s 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 Dimebag’s guitar work on ‘Valhalla’, the speed, the fury, it’s this that will remain with me forever.Let’s 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, that’s 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 don’t 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.