Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera By Rex Brown Da Capo Press, 304 pp., $15.47
Back in Pantera's '90s heyday, few fans would have guessed that the first guy to write a tell-all history of the band would be Rex Brown.
Though an indivisible component of Pantera's larger-than-life crunch, the bassist was always the band's most reclusive member, seemingly uninterested in the media coverage and controversy courted by the group's louder personalities.
Given the band's turbulent relations toward the end, however, maybe Rex was the only man for the job. He was there from the group's earliest days to its last, when band relations got so bad that frontman Phil Anselmo and brothers Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul found themselves unable to pick up a phone and call one another, let alone get together in the same room.
By his own assertion, Brown served as mediator and go-between through it all, giving him perhaps the most complete view of the band's greatest triumphs and most devastating losses.
In his new book, Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera, the bassist spills the goods on all of it, starting with the band's absolute nadir: the onstage murder of guitarist Dimebag Darrell at the hands of a mentally ill fan.
Mercifully, Brown quickly shifts to detailing a happier history: the band's meteoric rise from the Dallas club scene to metal godhood and all the money, fame and partying that came along with it.
It's hard not to smile when reading about the band's glee at blowing Skid Row offstage every night on its first major U.S. tour. Anecdotes like that are a potent reminder that in the '90s, Pantera was a truly devastating musical unit destined for stardom on their own terms.
Naturally, though, it wouldn't be rock and roll if that stardom didn't come at a price. The obvious model for Brown's book is Motley Crue's The Dirt, heavy metal's gold standard when it comes to unvarnished autobiography.
Much like the Crue, Brown pulls few punches in his story, frankly addressing the substance abuse and rock-star egos that he blames for the band's dissolution.
Much scorn is directed toward drummer Vinnie Paul in particular, whom Brown characterizes as childish and impossibly stubborn. Anselmo is handed his fair share of the blame for the group's demise, as well, particularly for his drugged-out failure to return the band's calls for three full years following the release of Down II.
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These are the gory details that many Pantera fans have been hoping to pry out the group's three surviving members for years, and Brown doesn't sugarcoat any of them.
Where the book does fall a bit short, though, is in its portrayal of Brown's own personal struggles. While he readily acknowledges his excessive drug and alcohol abuse, the role it played in his health problems, failed marriage and split with Down is largely glossed over.
Whether that's because he's ashamed or simply oblivious isn't clear. After all these years, it seems, Rex still isn't entirely comfortable airing his dirty laundry in public, even in his own tell-all.
Maybe some of those details will be filled in by Phil Anselmo's book, which the singer has promised to get to work on sometime soon. Until such time, though, "Official Truth" will remain the most comprehensive insider account of Pantera's rise and fall. That should be reason enough for longtime fans to pick it up: After all, with Dimebag gone, the legend of Pantera, sadly, is all we've got left of them.