40. “Walk” by Pantera (1993)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

The Wikipedia page for “Walk” by Pantera says the following:

The riff for “Walk” is played in a time signature of 12/8. Dimebag Darrell played the riff at a soundcheck during the tour for Cowboys from Hell and the rest of the band loved it.

Vocalist Phil Anselmo said that the message of the song was “Take your fucking attitude and take a fuckin’ walk with that. Keep that shit away from me”. His message was aimed at friends that treated the band differently when they arrived home after touring for Cowboys from Hell. He said “they thought it had gone to our heads, like we’ve got this rock-star thing embroidered across our faces”.

I know basically nothing about time signatures so since this is their first mention in one of these articles,  I feel confident in proclaiming 12/8 the most terrifying time signature there is. What other explanation is there? Listen to that riff and tell me you don’t automatically feel like you’re striding toward a fight that you irrationally believe you’re going to win, and win handily. That riff punctuated by that snapping snare hit is some of the most brutally aggressive shit I’ve ever heard. This song is pure violence in sonic form, and I just fucking love it so much.

Rob Van Dam is one of the coolest professional wrestlers in the history of existence, and he used “Walk” as his entrance theme in ECW – which, here’s a bitchin tribute to him soundtracked by his entrance music – and it probably bears mention that one of RVD’s signature moves was called a “Van Daminator” where an opponent would threaten to hit him with a folding chair, and on the backswing, Rob would kick the fucking chair right into the opponent’s face. Here he is doing it to Jeff Hardy. It’s a great match of performer and entrance music.

I used to argue with my friends about Pantera, which is fitting because apparently this band scratches my itch for confrontation on multiple levels. Once upon a time, I hated this band mostly because I saw their Vulgar Video, which featured backstage footage, music videos, and a shitload of them partying with drinks, drugs, and groupies. I haven’t seen it since, but I remember back then being unamused by Pantera’s excess and particularly turned off when one vignette saw one of the members try to Xerox his ass, break the glass on the copier, and other band members squeezing a bunch of white blood cells out of the nasty cut in his butt cheek. It was really gross. Also, I’ve always had an immediate, visceral reaction to overt displays of being a redneck. I had no issue calling my friends who liked it dumb, but I was definitely a prick, and acting that way is stupid.

That aside – I mean, it was an early 90s heavy metal band VHS tape, and the benefit of hindsight has allowed me better perspective on it – I came around to Pantera years later as I realized their music had incredible GROOVE. It was undeniably metal, but it also sort of – I dunno – vibed? These guys could thrash (have you heard “Primal Concrete Sledge”?!?!), but their music also had an undercurrent of pop, which maybe you could chalk up to Pantera’s glam past.

I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know, sitting here and writing about Pantera in 2023 is that I’m happy they ever existed at all. Their music was HARD, but it was still accessible to a ton of people in a way that some godawful Meshuggah or Cannibal Corpse song never will be. I finally saw Pantera earlier this year, and despite both Dimebag and Vinnie Paul having passed as well as lead singer Phil Anselmo’s frequent flirtations with white supremacist ideology (and subsequent denials about it – truly, I think he’s probably just a general moron), I loved the shit out of it.

One of the things I love about heavy metal is that it’s ultimately a refuge for geeks, losers, squares, and other nerds who get to put on a cool front and freak out dorky normies by wailing about Satan or playing their instruments at a wildly offensive volume. Metal culture is misunderstood by many, but I think intentionally so, on both sides. Metalheads are some of the nicest people you will ever meet, but their aesthetic is off-putting, which manages to keep jerks at a distance. On the other side, gazing at a culture from afar and never making a real attempt to understand it is fun in an evil way. Of course, do that too much and you become the current iteration of the Republican party. But just a little bit of “Who do those freaks think they are?” engenders a level of smug self-satisfaction that is somehow symbiotic for both sides.

A little more than 19 years ago, some crazy asshole rushed the stage where Dimebag Darrell played, and shot him and three others, killing him instantly. I was in my first semester of teaching public speaking to undergrads, and in my class was one metalhead. The sudden and violent death of Dimebag hit me hard, and when I walked into class the next day, I saw this kid sitting there with his head down, covering his face.

I stood at the front of the classroom, made whatever opening announcements I had to make, and then said this, “I hope that guy who shot Dimebag Darrell is currently in Hell where they’re shoving a flaming pineapple up his ass.” The metal kid looked up at me, and went, “Fuck yeah, man.” We shared a glance of bereaved solidarity.

The rest of the class probably empathized with our sadness, but they didn’t have metal in their souls. So they just looked at us weird. It’s a familiar feeling as a metal fan.

Up next: One quick minute got me 28 long years…

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