December 8th, 2004… A date that will forever be carved into the memories of the metal community.
On that day at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio, legendary guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was playing on stage with his new act Damageplan – along with his brother Vinnie Paul Abbott, a little over a year after the breakup of his former band, the metal legends Pantera with whom he had played for some 23 years. With Damageplan’s debut album “New Found Power” receiving mixed critical reviews but going over well with fans – reaching number 38 on the Billboard 200 and eventually selling over 100,000 copies – the future looked bright for the relatively new band. The metal world awaited the unveiling of a second album.
But fate had other sinister plans…
The concert had just started when 25-year-old former U.S. Marine Nathan Gale began firing a 9mm Beretta 92FS handgun at the stage. A paranoid schizophrenic, it is widely-believed that Gale was under the impression that Pantera had stolen some of his songs, and held a grudge against Darrell and Vinnie for the break-up of the band in 2002; therefore decided to turn to violence in order to exact his revenge. Gale fired 15 rounds in total, striking Dimebag three times in the head.
Alrosa Villa employee Erik Halk was shot and killed while trying to tackle the gunman, as was Damageplan security guard Jeff “Mayhem” Thompson. Audience member Nathan Bray was performing CPR on Darrell and Thompson when he was also shot and killed. Three others were wounded before Gale was killed by police officer James D. Niggemeyer, who arrived on the scene minutes after Gale began his rampage. Considering that Gale was later found to have had 35 rounds of ammunition still remaining, Niggemeyer action potentially saved the lives of dozens of fans, band members, and club staff.
Tragically though, Dimebag Darrell was pronounced dead at the scene, despite efforts to revive him. He was 38.
Darrell and Vinnie formed Pantera in the mid-eighties in Texas. The band recorded four independent albums before their 1990 major label debut, “Cowboys From Hell”, introduced a heavier sound and made them a favorite with metal fans. 1994’s “Far Beyond Driven” debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 without benefit of a commercial hit single. The group splintered in 2002 following the departure of lead singer Philip Anselmo. Dime and Vinnie, as they were known to their fans, regrouped with Damageplan.
Darrell‘s death was a devastating blow to the close-knit hard rock and metal community. He was known to his fellow musicians for his hospitality, friendship and partying spirit, and was a legend among fans and peers for his powerful, innovative and unmistakable playing style. Anyone who has had a taste of heavy metal knows who Pantera were, without a doubt one of the top 10 most influential heavy metal bands of all time. And Darrell was one of the greatest heavy metal guitar player of all time. He had attitude, style and conjured for too many memorable riffs; he commanded melody, speed, shred, bends, whammy bars, finesse, harmonies, etc. Dimebag was the essence of the Pantera sound, and spearheaded the modernization of heavy metal from fast thrashing, galloping guitars to a thicker, heavier and meaner un-reverbed variation which took the metal world by storm in the early 90’s.
Dimebag was buried with bottles of Crown Royal. A lifelong Van Halen fan, Eddie Van Halen’s original red-black-and-white 1979 Bumblebee Charvel Hybrid VH2 guitar – the same one featured on the inside sleeve for the “Van Halen II” album – was placed inside Abbott’s casket at his funeral by Eddie himself.
R.I.P. Dimebag Darrell Abbott, Erik Halk, Jeff Thompson, and Nathan Bray. You all will forever be missed.