Dimebag Darrell Abbott was a legendary guitarist and a metal music icon who left a priceless and irreplaceable heritage to metalheads the world round. The news of the devastating tragedy that took place on December 8th, 2004, in Columbus, Ohio – that Dimebag was shot dead onstage – made many a heart skip a beat. A deranged mind armed with a handgun took away one of the most gifted musicians of our time, yet nothing and nobody will ever take away his music and the impact it made on our lives. Pantera’s songs echoed in many souls and someone had to continue the story.
Finland once again got a chance to prove that there is a reason they are considered to be the Promised Land of Heavy Metal. The country where metal music runs in the water and floats in the air couldn’t let one of its most influential heroes pass away without an appropriate farewell ceremony. The concept of “Dimebag Beyond Forever” – a Dimebag Darrell tribute project – belongs to Nico Hartonen and Euge Valovirta from Finnish band Godsplague. On January 15th, 2005, the first concert gathered 47 of Finland’s best metal musicians on stage. It was such a great success that since then, it has become an annual tradition. The number of musicians has decreased but the overall power remains the same. Every year, at the beginning of December, they set out on a “class trip from Hell” and play Pantera covers all over Finland, ending it in Helsinki with a show that can move even the toughest and most hardened metalheads to tears.
Before the last show of the 2009 tour, we got to talk about Pantera and the project with Nico Hartonen (Godsplague), Jules Näveri (Profane Omen), and Ville Sorvali (Moonsorrow) – the people who have been doing this from the very beginning and are not going to stop.
All of them were kids when they heard Pantera for the first time and it gave them the unforgettable impression.
Nico: I was about 14 years old and I was hanging out with big boys. They were listening to Pantera’s “Fucking Hostile” on repeat and I thought that this song was pretty fucking offensive. Later I discovered that there were also other songs by this band and in that moment, the new level really hit me hard.
Ville: I was in elementary school and we were trading tapes with friends. Someone bought Vulgar Display of Power (1992), recorded it and gave it out to everyone else to listen to it. During that year, I was certain that Pantera is my favorite band. I was listening to that one tape only, which contained almost the entire album. I was 12 years old and I was very serious about music.
Jules: I was 14 years old when my best friend came to my place with “Cowboys From Hell.” We put it on and started to go crazy about it, jumping on my bed and stuff like that. We thought that it was the best thing in music so far. And I guess that’s where it started from… no return.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Pantera visited Finland a few times and left their brand on many hearts.
Nico: I saw Pantera a few times and got to meet Dimebag twice. The first time was in 1994 in the Helsinki Ice Hall; the band was on tour for the Far Beyond Driven album and there was an afterparty in a bar. The guys came over there so I had the chance to meet everyone. The second time was at Nummirock festival in 1998. Pantera played there with Slayer. There was a crazy Finnish band called Sleepy Sleepers and they had old-fart mopeds, really old models. Dime was driving one of them backstage and we laughed our asses off. When I turned 30, my friends gave me a bottle of Jaloviina [Finnish booze] with a tag on which Dimebag is shown driving that moped. I still have this bottle and I am 34.
Ville: I saw them once, at Nummirock ’98. That festival was really memorable in many ways. I was watching Pantera and some guy burned his shirt and threw it in the air, it fell on other people. But well, this is probably the way to watch the band.
Pantera gave a lot of fans the time of their lives, but on that black day, the world of metal music was never the same again – it was shattered by a senseless and unbearable loss. As any American citizen (in their 50’s) remembers where he was when Kennedy was shot, likewise every devoted metalhead remembers how the terrible news reached them.
Nico: I was working when a friend called me. He read the news from the teletext or something and I thought it was just a pretty bad gag. It wasn’t funny at all. My friend convinced me that he was very serious and that it was true. For me. the next 2 months were like hell in black. I don’t know why I got caught in it too much, it was pretty hard.
Ville: I can’t remember which weekday it was, but I had a day off so I woke up with a hangover. My friend called and told me to check the internet. I said all right, got online, and was just staring at the screen browsing through the news: “What? Dimebag got shot on stage?! Did this really happen?” I couldn’t believe this for many hours; not just because of Dimebag but also because of what happened. Do people actually shoot other people on stage?
Jules: When I woke up, I had about twenty text messages from my friends telling me that Dimebag was shot. I had the same feeling like Ville when I checked the news. Who does this shit? Is this for real? I was also thinking that if that happened once, could it happen again in a short period of time? Some other crazy guy could’ve read the news and thought to himself: “Oh, you can do this?!” and go on doing it. Luckily it didn’t happen.
The death of a larger-than-life musician requires a larger-than-life tribute. That’s how Dimebag Beyond Forever was created. Covering a band like Pantera has to be done on an appropriate level so as not to make a fool out of oneself. These guys play their shows in a true Pantera style, as well as maintaining Pantera’s famous reputation offstage, which was very well pictured in the “Watch It Go” videos.
Jules: I think we have the same spirit with our crew, it’s constantly there.
Ville: The things that happen on stage and especially off stage – Dimebag would be proud of it.
Nico: He would be the MC at our parties. There was an article in the newspaper in Pori advertising the gig that said, “If you are not familiar with Pantera’s music, you should come and check out the show because it is really what it’s all about.” And one of the coolest things is that we don’t really have to re-make anything, it just goes this way. It’s the same spirit that got stuck with us.
This year’s tour almost cost the musicians their lives as the tour bus’ engine caught fire on the road while they were on the road. The bus burned to ashes a few minutes after the guys managed to escape.
Jules: There is also a bunch of personal stuff that got lost along the way but the main thing is that we’re all alive.
Ville: You can always buy stuff but we were really happy when we got out of the bus and the name call was over and everyone was there. We’re alive!
Nico: A newspaper wrote that there were twenty musicians standing shaking on the pavement but we were like “Fuck yeah!” drinking booze. It was natural after we got over this emotional moment, when we realized that we’re alive and how lucky we are. We weren’t down at all; we were going to blast at the gig that night.
Jules: That show definitely had a special feeling going on stage. I think the audience also felt it. I guess a lot of them knew what happened and they were showing their support and giving us all 120%. It seemed like a mass-psychosis.
Dimebag’s brother, Vinnie Paul, has heard about these Cowboys from Hell(sinki), and was so moved by what they do that he sent them a hand-written thank-you letter.
Nico: This is a long story. Euge has a friend who is working for Vinnie Paul in the States, so the news got to Vinnie Paul’s ears and he was very touched. He saw the videos from the DBF gigs around Finland and wrote us that letter. We printed it on last year’s crew T-shirts on the back. We tried to get Vinnie Paul here too but he has been busy and it’s also very expensive but… someday. He also keeps Pantera’s blog on MySpace and he posted our video of “Heresy” there, which got a great feedback.
When the music of a band like Pantera goes hand-in-hand with you through your entire life, there must be one certain song that you could name as your personal anthem.
Nico: “Revolution Is My Name.”
Ville: “13 Steps to Nowhere” – that’s my motto.
Jules: “Strength Beyond Strength.”
One more peculiar thing about the Dimebag Beyond Forever tribute project is that all musicians play there absolutely for free. The profit goes to Crime Victims Support Finland charity organization.
Nico: There’s a lot of shit going on, so we’re contributing this little token for those who suffer(ed).
Jules: The Victims Support Finland organization told us that it is a huge help for them. We’re doing some really important stuff and I am proud of being a part of this.
Ville: There are not many things I can do in life: I can play and be on stage. But it’s great that I can lend my talent to actually help someone and I am pleased to do this for free because I know that the money is going in the right direction. And we still don’t get a dime.
Like most gigs on this tour, the last show was sold out. For all the people who never got to see Pantera live, it is a great opportunity to feel the unique atmosphere inherent to genuine Pantera gigs. The energy is so intense that it makes your entire essence shake on the brim of explosion. There are no boundaries to how crazy you can go: endless crowd surfing, insane moshpits, headbanging till you drop, etc. These guys slayed the crowd, showing absolutely no mercy. And what mercy can there possibly be when we’re talking Pantera?
I am not exaggerating when I say that their shows are the reincarnation of the legendary band itself. You may believe my words or not, but I would advise you regardless to come and check it out for yourself. The next morning, when you wake up with your neck telling you to fuck off and your whole body unbearably sore, you will know that every moment from the previous night’s show was absolutely worth it. “Once you’re into it, you’re into it for a lifetime,” said Darrell. Pantera’s music is the essence of power, metal as pure as it can get, and unbreakable unity. The DBF tribute delivers it all in the best possible package. They do it from their hearts while standing firmly to their beliefs.
So raise your fists in the air, for Dimebag is truly beyond forever.
Photos: Jana Blomqvist