Pantera put in the time and started to see solid returns as the early ’90s hit, and by the time they were finished promoting 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power, there were a lot of metal fans anxiously awaiting what would come next. That disc, which arrived on March 22, 1994, was the band’s first No. 1 album, Far Beyond Driven.
“Our top priority with Far Beyond Driven was to make a balls-out, heavy-metal record with no compromising,” frontman Philip Anselmo told Rolling Stone of the disc. “I think we pretty much did it.”
The band set aside some time in 1993 to start work on the album, eventually hooking up with producer Terry Date in Nashville, Tenn. But after the success of Vulgar Display of Power, the pressure was definitely on. Bassist Rex Brown told Rolling Stone, “The record company was pushing for something like [Metallica’s] Black Album. We were like, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.” But the mindset was definitely there to do their best. “We came up with the title Far Beyond Driven far before we came up with any of the songs,” drummer Vinnie Paul revealed. “That was the mindset going into it: Just make everything over the top.”
Adding to the pressure a bit was Anselmo’s growing issues with alcohol and drugs which he used to offset the chronic pain he was having due to a degenerative disc disease. Speaking at an appearance at Loyola University in New Orleans, the vocalist recalled his days of substance abuse, explaining, “I was injured; I had a back injury from… And I don’t suggest anyone do this, but I would climb up on top of PA systems and dive head first either into the waiting crowd or into the waiting concrete; it made no difference. I would attack — I would attack on stage, and I paid for it. I ultimately injured myself, and like putting a Band-Aid over a cancer… When you rupture a disk in your back, it begins this thing called degenerative disk disease, so that means the next one’s going, and, obviously, the next one after that, and so on and so forth.”
He added that soon after getting the news that Far Beyond Driven had hit No. 1, he wasn’t as happy as he should have been. He revealed, I was pretty terrified. I was happy as hell; don’t get me wrong, man — I was like, ‘Oh, my God, yes!’ At that point, I had just gotten back from the doctor — [from having] my second MRI [done] — and I realized I had two blown-out disks. Now, in order for me to be this Superman that the media had built me out to be, I had to quell that pain.” For Anselmo, that meant starting with painkillers and muscle relaxers, then graduating to stronger painkillers and then starting to feel as though everyone was looking at him differently. “You feel like this 20-something-year-old — which I was — juggernaut, man; you wanna leap out of your skin, but you can’t anymore — you can’t just hang out anymore, because it hurts to hang out, or you’re too loaded,” said Anselmo. “And once everyone starts laying this trip on you, that’s when you close the door and the needle slides in. And from that point on, you are on your own, you’re on a ride, and I wouldn’t suggest on anyone in this room — I wouldn’t suggest on my worst enemy — this particular ride.”
Despite some of the physical issues for Anselmo, the band forged ahead with Far Beyond Driven, and not long after it was released on March 22, 1994, the group got the news that they had hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Brown recalled to Rolling Stone, “We were going to the airport the day the record came out, and I picked up a USA Today, and it said, ‘Pantera: The overnight sensation from Texas.’ And I went, ‘Overnight my ass.'”
Anselmo meanwhile had grown weary of the scrutiny the band had come under with their sales success. “What I don’t like about being No. 1 is that the criticism gets so f–king thick,” Anselmo revealed to Rolling Stone at the time. “I hate the f–kin’ press because they always mix everything around. There’s all kinds of snide remarks about us, about our past, about our credibility. Heavy metal kids buy these magazines and believe every motherf–king word. Before, everyone was patting me on the back; now, they want to tell me what I did wrong. I don’t like that f–king pressure in my life. It makes me want to quit, and I’m dead serious.”
But he didn’t quit, and the songs began to hit their mark with fans and critics alike. “I’m Broken” got the first shot, arriving a week prior to the album’s release. The track, which features one of Dimebag Darrell’s greatest guitar riffs, was one of the instances where Anselmo put his woes right on display in the music. In a 2014 look back at the album, he said, “This is right when I started feeling the pain in my lower back, and it felt scary. I think this is one of the first times in my life, man, that I had this thing called ‘vulnerability’ kick in, and that was a very uncomfortable feeling.” He later added, “I think that was really my first glimpse into kind of screaming to the world, ‘F—ing… I am broken! Somebody f—ing help me here!’”
Pantera, “I’m Broken”
The band would later get some radio love for their cover of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan,” a haunting and moody curve ball for sure. Uncertain of how fans would receive the cover, Anselmo added to the liner notes for the album, “This is a Black Sabbath song off of the Paranoid album. So don’t freak out on us. We did the song because we wanted to. It has nothing to do with the integrity of our direction. It’s a tripped out song. We think you’ll dig it. If you don’t, don’t f–king listen to it. Thanks.” As it turned out, the worry was for naught, as Pantera’s “Planet Caravan” cracked the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart at No. 21.
Pantera, “Planet Caravan”
Getting back to Pantera originals, “5 Minutes Alone” got the next shot. The track once again pulled from personal experience. Vinnie Paul told Rolling Stone, “The story behind this song is we were opening for Megadeth, and there was a guy that was flipping us off the whole show and so we stopped the show. And I was like, ‘Listen, in case you haven’t noticed there’s 18,000 people who really dig what we’re doing. You’re the only one doing that stupid s–t without even having to egg the crowd on.’ Ten guys just jumped the guy and beat the s–t out of him. His dad called the manager after all the lawsuits and this and that, and basically said, ‘Give me five minutes with that Phil Anselmo guy. I want to whup his ass.’
Anselmo added, “There are always gold-diggers out there. The way I remember it was there was this kid that swore that I jumped off the stage and beat him up. Well, that was bulls–t. That did not happen at all. When the father asked for five minutes alone with me, our manager responded aptly and perfectly, “No, you don’t.” [Laughs] “I really doubt that,” and basically hung up on the guy. But once that story was conveyed to me, it actually made me angry because it wasn’t f–king true. I basically plucked out those words from my agitator’s mouth and yeah, man, ‘five minutes alone,’ f–king bring it.” “5 Minutes Alone” would climb to No. 13 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, continuing the band’s upward swing.
Pantera, “5 Minutes Alone”
The final song to be released from Far Beyond Driven was “Becoming,” a track that hit No. 12 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. In reflecting on the song in 2014, Anselmo recalled, “The most popular heavy metal bands in the world at that time were, in my estimate and definitely all of our estimates, playing the game. They had reached this pinnacle; now they were kind of tapering off and writing more commercial stuff, whereas we realized our strong point, once again, was sticking to heavy metal and making it as heavy as our style would allow. Therefore, with ‘Becoming,’ it is what it says. We were becoming. Honestly, we had arrived.”
Philip Anselmo Reflects on “Becoming”
The album also featured other fan favorites like the album opening mosh pit-ready “Strength Beyond Strength” and the bass heavy, stream of conscious track “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills,” and by the time all was said and done, Far Beyond Driven went on to become one of the band’s most beloved albums. The disc would go on to be certified gold in May of 1994 and by 1997 it had certified platinum by the RIAA.