Rock Icons: Dimebag by James Monteith

The late Dimebag Darrell Abbott
(Image credit: Robert Knight Archive\/Redferns)

I was probably about 14 when I first heard Pantera. It was the Far Beyond Driven record, which was the third record from the commonly known version of Pantera – if you ignore the early records.

I remember being in school and somebody said to me, “Listen to this!” So I put in a pair of headphones and heard the riff to Five Minutes Alone, and it completely blew my mind.

I was already at the age where I was getting into metal, so I’d been listening to Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax – they were regular staples on my stereo – but there were two distinct things about Pantera that jumped out at me. I guess I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back and analysing my feelings I can see what it was that stood out.

First off, the guitar tone was like nothing I’d ever heard before: that really tight, punchy, transitory tone that he used in the early ‘90s was absolutely revolutionary. It was so precise.

Secondly, it was the swung groove in the riff. Most of the metal I’d been listening to up until that point had been so regimented and straight, and more about power and speed. But here was a guy who sat back in the groove and had a real bounce to his playing. I didn’t know anything about Southern rock before then, so it was a completely fresh sound to me– and as I later came to learn a very fresh sound in metal at that time.

His use of vibratos in riffs was unique at the time as well. It was the first time I’d heard anything like that. He’d make really large bends at quite high speed – the riff to I’m Broken is a perfect example of that – and his use of the whammy pedal on Becoming was a completely alien sound too. At the age of 14 when I first listened to those songs, I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was absolutely hooked from that point onwards.

After that I worked back through the other two, more popular records: Vulgar Display of Power and Cowboys from Hell. It was then that I really started to appreciate his lead guitar playing, as before that it was definitely his rhythm guitar playing that stood out to me. But then I realised what a great soloist he was.

The guitar solo in Walk is so fluid and smooth. It’s got a real blues-rock feel to it, but with this lightning speed as well, and a lot of that speed he got from using very quick vibrato in between notes. He had loads of really clever tricks like that. Obviously I couldn’t play anything like that at the time – I still can’t now, to be honest.

He was such an intelligent songwriter as well. The verse riff in I’m Broken, for example, is in a 78 time signature, and that’s not usually a time signature you associate with groovy music. It’s actually very disjointed and doesn’t feel very natural. But somehow that verse has a real bounce to it and you can bang your head, even though it’s in this very un-groovy time signature.

I was lucky enough to see Pantera live twice back in the day, once at Donington and once at Brixton Academy, and the one thing that struck me by watching him was how relaxed he was and how much fun he was having on stage. He was clearly someone who loved what he did and had a real passion for it. I remember reading the testimonials after he died, and the one thing I got from them was what a larger than life character he was, and he obviously loved to play guitar.

Dime was definitely a huge inspiration for me to take the guitar seriously. He’s one of the main reasons why I’m playing in a band today.

James Monteith was speaking to Matt Stocks.

TesseracT will release a Polaris Tour Edition on CD and vinyl in September and have been added to Devin Townsend’s 2017 UK tour as main support.