Song Spotlight: Pantera’s “Mouth for War”


Ever since its inception, Heavy Metal has been marred in controversy. Whether it’s concerned parents or out-of-touch politicians, several figures have voiced their concerns about the effects metal has on listeners. Some have even gone so far as to blame metal for various tragedies, the infamous lawsuit against Judas Priest for the song “Better by You, Better Than Me” being a noteworthy example. 

However, much like the case with video games, there is little to no evidence to prove that metal music has had a negative effect on the minds of listeners. And even if the circumstances make it seem like the music was at fault, like the case with Judas Priest, it’s the person and the environment that matters. Blaming music or video games for tragic events accomplishes nothing, and takes away from bigger issues such as mental health. 

At the end of the day, heavy metal has its fanbase, with many explaining that not only does metal not have a negative impact, but it also can lead to positive emotions, by channeling someone’s negative energy into something much more positive. Personally, I can’t think of a better example of this than today’s Song Spotlight: Pantera’s “Mouth For War.”

Pantera was formed in 1981 by the Abbott brothers, Vinnie Paul and “Dimebag” Darrell, with bassist Rex Brown joining in 1982. They were originally a glam metal band, and would release three studio albums under this style with lead singer Terry Glaze. This period garnered little recognition for the band; however, their entire image changed following legendary vocalist Phil Anselmo joining in 1986. In 1990, Pantera would be fully introduced to the world as the groove metal powerhouse most recognize them as with “Cowboys From Hell.” Dimebag’s incredible guitar playing mixed with Anselmo’s powerful screams and vocals, alongside Vinnie Paul’s impressive drum chops and Brown’s thundering bass, turned them into one of the most successful and pioneering metal acts ever. They followed “Cowboys From Hell” with two other legendary albums: 1992’s “Vulgar Display of Power” and 1994’s “Far Beyond Driven.” 

Despite their massive success and status, the band was marred by personal troubles during the later stages of their career. This was compounded by Anselmo’s drug use and the bad blood between him and the Abbott brothers. This greatly affected both 1996’s “The Great Southern Trendkill” and 2000’s “Reinventing the Steel.” While both albums have their fans, they failed to leave the same impact as their predecessors. The band would ultimately break up in 2003, while both Dimebag and Vinnie would perform with various other bands, namely the heavy metal group Damageplan. 

Tragedy struck on December 8th, 2004, when Dimebag was shot and killed by a crazed fan while performing with Damageplan; Vinnie Paul would later pass away on June 22nd, 2018 of natural causes. In 2022, Phil Anselso, alongside Rex Brown, guitarist Zakk Wylde and drummer Charlie Benante reunited Pantera for another tour. By all accounts, Pantera has earned its legendary status and has a dedicated fanbase to this day. 

Of all the classic songs released by the band, from “Cowboys From Hell,” “Domination,” “Cemetery Gates,” “Walk,” and much more, one of my personal favorites will always be “Mouth For War,” off of “Vulgar Display of Power.” The song is not only a fantastic example of everything great about Pantera, but also exemplifies how not every song in metal is dark and angry. 

“Mouth for War” was released as the first single off of Pantera’s sixth studio album, “Vulgar Display of Power.” The song was written by the entire band, and was produced by Terry Date. The song earned moderate success on the charts, reaching number 73 on the UK Singles Chart. Beneath its aggressive charts and pounding rhythm, the song’s lyrics reinforce a rather positive message about channeling negative feelings into something more productive. It’s a case of a song having deceptively positive and uplifting lyrics. 

The song starts off with a powerful guitar intro from Dimebag, placed together with Vinnie Paul’s impeccable drumming. Before long, the intro morphs into the song’s iconic riff; a series of strong chords and sliding, complete with harmonics that sound like a hammer striking an anvil, accompanied by great drums and Rex Brown’s thundering bass. Soon, Phil Anselmo’s powerful, aggressive vocals enter the fray, hammering in the song’s positive message with lyrics like “When I channel my hate into something productive, I don’t find it hard to impress.” And as always, Dimebag delivers an absolutely amazing solo, with flawless bends, incredible use of whammy bar and impeccable riffage. Following his solo, the song suddenly picks up the pace, finishing everything off with every member of the band giving it their all. 

With a discography full of amazing songs, and coming off one of the greatest metal albums of all time, “Mouth For War” still stands as one of Pantera’s best songs. It’s a great testament to the band’s talent: Dimebag’s spectacular guitar chops, Anselmo’s powerful vocals, Vinnie Paul’s pounding drumming and Rex Brown’s heavy-hitting bass. Not only that, it’s a perfect example of how not everything in metal needs to be angry or dark; It reinforces a good message that so many people can get behind.